Navigating distance learning, dealing with separation from friends, and concern about world events are just some of the issues teens are dealing with right now. Adolescence can be challenging during normal times, but during the pandemic, being a teen is complicated.
The National 4-H Council conducted a survey of 1,500 teens between the ages of 13-19 in May. According to the survey, 55% of teens say they’ve experienced anxiety, 45% feel excessive stress, and 43% reported depression.
It’s clear that many teens are struggling to cope. And parents are wondering how they can help.
Encourage Open Conversation
In the same 4-H survey, 67% of teens polled reported pressure to keep feelings to themselves and they also pretend to feel better to not worry anyone. Your teen may be apprehensive about bringing up their concerns. This is where parents can make a difference. It is essential to engage in a conversation with teens about how they are doing. Talking about feelings can help teens feel less alone.
Ask your teen open-ended questions, like “can you tell me how you’re feeling?” This may sound simple, but may parents avoid bringing up conversations like this because it feels awkward or uncomfortable.
Validate Feelings and Concerns
As a parent, you may feel frustrated or even helpless watching your teen struggle. When parents feel powerless to help, it may come out as anger towards your teen. Or parents may try to problem-solve as a way to deal with their kid’s emotional distress. Even if parents say “calm down,” “don’t worry about it,” or “you shouldn’t feel that way,” teens can feel ignored or dismissed.
Validation can be hard for some parents, but here’s how it works. Validation is about acknowledging your teen’s thoughts and feelings. This involves saying things like, “that must be so hard” or “I understand why you feel that way.” Parents should work towards tolerating their teen’s negative emotions and resisting the urge to try to fix them. Practice really listening and showing your teen that you “get it.”
Identify Self-Care Activities
Self-care is important for both parents and teens, especially during this difficult time. Pay attention to when your teen feels relaxed and happy. Perhaps it’s when they’re listening to music, spending time with friends, or engaging in something creative. If your teen thrives while they are with their friends, try to help them find safe ways to be with peers. Maybe that is just through FaceTime right now.
Meditation is an excellent self-care activity, though it can be tough to get teens engaged. As a parent, practice what you preach and show your teen that you meditate. Also, there are a few meditation apps out there that are geared towards teen users, including Smiling Mind and Stop, Breathe, and Think. It may also help to find people who your teen admires, that also practice mindfulness and meditation.
If meditation is not a good fit for your teen, find what is. Pay attention to when your adolescent is at their best and try to encourage activities that make them feel good.
Focus on the Positive
Positive thinking is hard right now, particularly when we have so many negative messages. Even without a pandemic, our brains are wired to focus on the negative and worst-case scenarios. It is hard work to re-focus on the positive, but try to model this for your teenager.
One small thing you can do at the end of the day is to ask your teen, “what was the best part of your day?” At first, this practice might be hard. Many of us are having a difficult time finding the silver lining right now. But this could really be anything, like a good meal or a moment when you laughed. Our brains are good at negative filtering, which is just selectively focusing on bad things that have happened. It takes more work to focus on the good and what you have to be grateful for. Your kids mirror your behavior and energy, so try to practice finding the good, even when it’s difficult.
Reach Out For Help
If your teen needs extra help to get through this challenging time, feel free to contact us. We are here to support you and your teen.
Annie Miller is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice in the Washington DC area. Annie specializes in working with insomnia (CBT-i), trauma (EMDR), teen mental health, anxiety disorders and chronic pain. Interested in learning more about Teen Therapy? Check out DC Metro Sleep and Psychotherapy’s Teen Therapy Page.