Teens, Youth & Covid-19: How Parents Can Support During The Outbreak
COVID19 as we are aware has had a considerable impact on those who haven’t contracted the virus as well. A paradigm shift is happening where people have shifted from real interactions to virtual interactions for a lot of purposes. While that makes sense and is the need of the hour, what also makes sense and is the need of the hour but is not under consideration is how the pandemic has impacted the teens.
A recent poll conducted by UNICEF shows that the COVID-19 crisis is having a significant impact on the mental health of adolescents and young people in Latin America and the Caribbean as well. 1 in 3 people who sought help reached out to their family members instead of a professional, 2 out of 5 people did not even seek help despite feeling the need to.
A study on Teen Mental Health During COVID-19 indicated that well over 50% reported that the pandemic and response has created problems. A little more than 25% of students said they had experienced a “great deal” and 30% a “moderate amount” of changes, as well as stress and problems. A subset reported a “great deal” or “moderate” increase in depression [19% and 17%, respectively]. A very large number reported having changes in sleep and eating patterns.
During these times, parents need to take some time from their schedules and sit with their children to discuss what they’re going through rather than assuming that they’ll be fine because everyone is going through something or the other.
One thing that parents can do to help their teens is to practise, CALMNESS.
L– Leisure and Down-time
S-Structure The Day
Regular check-ins with your child around how they have been feeling, how they have been handling stuff, what has been on their mind since the beginning of this phase, how can you help and support them in this difficult time of theirs. Often, each of the parents feels that the other parent will definitely be checking in and you can do that on a weekend when you’re off work but that is an assumption. And even if one parent is checking-in, that doesn’t compensate for your care.
Acknowledge your child’s emotions, validate them and assure them that you are actually there for them and that they can share what they’re going through. They might be feeling, “How will we ever get out of it? Will we ever get out of it?” This is when your reassurance comes in as a tool for them to rely on as a cushion of support in these trying times. Acknowledgement goes a long way in building trust and comforting the child.
Leisure and Down-time:
Teens might not feel as connected with their parents as they do with their friends. And during covid19, this disconnect has more potential to grow if not worked on well in time. Spend your leisure time with your children, engage with them, have meaningful conversations, play with them, et cetera.
Similarly, when you notice your child experiencing downtime, do not engage in blame conversations or dismissive conversations like, “you don’t study; these are excuses for not studying; you are old enough to handle this, don’t have time; you can’t even handle this, what would you do in life?” These statements or conversations put them in a spot and lead them towards thinking that you aren’t available to understand their emotions.
Dealing with children who are anxious and stressed during the current times can be very difficult because even parents are going through a lot of stress and anxiety, the stressors may be different but they are very much present. Parents need to be very mindful that they do not displace their emotional response onto their child’s because that would again lead to being dismissive of their emotions and will widen the disconnect if at all exists.
For teenagers or children, it can be very difficult to even talk about their emotions constantly. They get overwhelmed and might as well withdraw from expression. It is important to help them navigate through this by balancing the art of expression and creating meaningful, healthy distractions like playing a game with the entire family, every alternate night, or singing or dancing together or watching a good show that they are interested in.
While taking care of children all through their tough times, it is imperative to feel exhausted and overwhelmed. Take a moment to identify, acknowledge and experience the emotions that you might be going through. Find your emotional regulation as well. Some find solace in writing, cooking, art, singing, workout, et cetera, but let these emotions come out and let yourself experience them. Discuss them with your partner if need be.
Structure The Day:
Structuring the day does not necessarily mean bringing in a rigid routine in place. Structuring is all about bringing a system in place which can ease out the process of travelling through these tough times. Like a game every alternate day that we discussed above. It is important to not just plan for something that we got to do, it is also important to plan our breaks during the day because we often miss out on those and then it gets exhausting.
A lot of times, we need to present to the children a model behaviour for them to follow. Speaking up and discussing emotions is one such behaviour that might be unknown territory for children until you take them there and tell them that it is okay to feel what you’re feeling. They might be of the opinion that our parents are okay with it, why aren’t we? Tell them if you’re not okay, or tell them that it is okay for them to not feel the same way that you’re feeling.
Therapy has also gone online in most cases which has increased the accessibility and affordability for people. Help your child access online counseling and deal with the problems that they are facing. Online therapy is as effective and supportive as traditional therapy setups, if not more.
In the words of John Green, “There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.”
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