Helping Teens Cope with COVID-19

We often have visions of how things are supposed to be and when these don’t happen there is a grieving process that needs to occur.

Jessica Pladsen, MA, LMFT, RPT

Jessica Pladsen, MA, LMFT, RPT

Jessica has years of experience working in a variety of settings supporting individuals, families, and children. She has experience working with anxiety, anger management, depression, relational and attachment issues, child and adolescent behavioral issues, and trauma.

A huge developmental part of being a teen or moving into adulthood is focus on social engagement and fostering sense of independence or autonomy. Try to view things from your teen's perspective. Virtually overnight, they have gone from having the most freedom they have ever experienced to the least amount. This is hard!

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Please note, the information in this post is not a replacement for personal medical advice.

Expect Push Back

A huge developmental part of being a teen or moving into adulthood is focus on social engagement and fostering sense of independence or autonomy. Try to view things from your teen’s perspective. Virtually overnight, they have gone from having the most freedom they have ever experienced to the least amount. This is hard! They may logically understand the importance of following recommendations, however they are not going to like it and will often push back against a caregiver trying to restrict them. You come out as the bad guy, not the virus.

Another developmental milestone that highly impacts a teens perspective is called the Invincibility Fallacy. Meaning, they believe they are impervious of harm or in other words, “That won’t happen to me”. As frustrating as this can be, remind yourself this is normal human development, and teens brains are not fully developed. Try to make some accommodations or promote social engagement in safe ways. This may mean some negotiation between you and your teen. 

Remember, your kids have not grown up in the same world as you. It is easy to slip into stories about how things were when you were a teen. Everyone knows, our grandparents “walked uphill both ways in the snow with no shoes, just to get to school.” This wasn’t relatable to you nor is your story relatable to your teen’s experience. You can either choose to connect or disconnect with how your kids are feeling. Start by validating their feelings as real. Then, work together to in problem solve. Your teen wants (and needs) to have a sense of control and freedom. Explore ways to support them in this need.

Validate The Loss 

There are a lot of losses right now. So many things have been postponed or cancelled. Many of these experiences may not be viable to re-schedule. Often we have visions of how things are supposed to be and when these don’t happen there is a grieving process that needs to occur. In our home we have a Senior in high school, this is an important milestone, one she and we have worked to for the last 18 years. We don’t know whether she will have her senior prom, what graduation will look like, or whether we will be able to have a graduation party. College campus visits have been put on hold. This is so much…. While we do our best, the vision and dream around this is not going to be happen in the way we traditionally believed or planned.

Spend time with your teen and allow them to share their feelings, create an open space without judgment, and validate their experience and the loss. Caregivers may be grieving these losses too. We can’t fix these situations and it might not be easy to say that everything will be ok. While we know this to be true, reassurance that things really will work out can minimize what they are going through. Try to just listen and be present around these feelings, moving to a supportive role to work through these losses. Once they feel heard, your teen may have some great insights and be able to voice what they would like or need. From there, you can make a plan together. 

Healthy Balance

Routines are important for everyone including your teen. A sleep schedule is especially important. Teens may struggle both with depression and anxiety due to losses, not having social contact, and the unknown of their futures- how this will impact school, graduation, etc. This makes healthy habits and routine even more vital to support mental health and overall well-being. Have a schedule and expectations. But, as a caregiver, you don’t need to engage in power-struggles or problem solve every detail.

Help your teen focus on eating healthy and getting exercise. It’s easier for teens to fall into cyber-traps of binging on TV or social media. Also encourage them to talk to friends via video chats and phone calls. They need to connect with people in real time.

Support your teen in engaging in mindfulness practices. These techniques work and can make a big difference. Engaging in just 20 minutes a day (all at once or broken up into smaller increments) can really have a positive impact on promoting wellness.

There are a number of apps and platforms that can be used for this. I highly recommend Insight Timer , as there are thousands of free guided scripts and music. The app also includes tools for younger children. There are literally hundreds of other tools that can be used too many that are free. Making time for self-care is important and should be a priority in your daily routine. 

Just Breathe

This pandemic is unsettling for everyone. As a caregiver, give yourself time to breathe and validate your own feelings. You will do your best to help your teens and that is all you can ask of yourself.

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