Knowing the signs your teen is struggling amidst the pandemic —and how to help

Knowing the signs your teen is struggling amidst the pandemic —and how to help

The pandemic has upended everyone’s lives, but coping may be especially difficult for youth. Many have been physically isolated from their friends and peers for months and have been left without their typical coping mechanisms like sports and social activities.

Many school districts are launching the school year with online instruction, and adolescents will once again find themselves with a lot of idle time on their hands. Just like adults, they are grieving for their loss of normalcy — and just like adults, they may be turning to unhealthy behaviors in response.

Signs that your child may be struggling

For teens, it’s normal to be moody and brooding. But isolation is especially difficult at this age because biological changes and brain development increase the pleasure of socializing with others — and socializing opportunities are currently in short supply. Friendships and social hangouts are exciting for teens, and the pandemic limits their ability to carry on.

To help young people through these times, parents and other caring adults need to observe their teens’ behaviors closely for new patterns that last for extended periods.

Each individual reacts differently to stress. Parents and other caretakers know best what’s “baseline” behavior for their adolescents. But these may be among the indicators that a child is struggling:

  • More frequent or unusual changes in moods (e.g. becoming “cranky” or angry for no reason or showing sadness and hopelessness)
  • Changes in daily routines, such as difficulty sleeping or altered eating habits
  • Difficulty maintaining focus and remembering things, increased hyperactivity and restlessness, loss of energy
  • Changes in appearance, such as less attention paid to personal hygiene
  • Loss of interest in activities the child enjoys (and can still be carried out during the pandemic), such as texting and video chatting with friends
  • Increased defiance and rule-breaking, and increase in risky behaviors such as vaping and drinking alcohol

Starting a conversation

If you suspect that your teen is not coping well with the pandemic, the best place to start is by having a conversation. Start an open dialogue about your child’s concerns and fears.

Remember that it’s easy, as a parent, to rush to judgment and react negatively to what you’re seeing and hearing. But doing so will not achieve productive results.

A few strategies to consider:

  • Even if you don’t see clear signs of struggle, check in regularly with your child. Ask how the teen is feeling and what he or she may be struggling with.
  • Before you start asking questions, steel yourself and be prepared to listen, no matter how difficult that may be for you.
  • Don’t be afraid to share your own emotions and struggles as a conversation opener.
  • Maintain a positive tone about a brighter future and the return to normalcy. If you express fear and thoughts of “doom and gloom,” your child will catch on.

Connecting with resources

Don’t hesitate to ask for professional help. Talk to your child’s pediatrician or a mental health counselor for strategies on helping your teen.

Many behavioral health centers are slowly reopening, so an agency that you couldn’t connect with during the summer may now be offering appointments again.

As the school year gets under way, stay in touch with school teachers and counselors. To help students succeed in a remote environment, schools may be offering new opportunities and resources that weren’t available before.

Remember that children are emotionally resilient, and as a parent you can help boost that resilience.

Help children to bounce back by offering a sense of safety and security — but don’t try to solve all the problems for them. Encourage them to discover their own healthy ways of coping and offer support as they navigate their own solutions.

Worried that your adolescent is coping with COVID-19 with risky behaviors such as drug and alcohol use? Contact Olalla Recovery Centers for expert advice. Our doors are open.

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