Written By: Amanda Summers, M.Ed., LPC
The changes, stress, and fear associated with COVID-19 can be difficult for anyone to manage, but research shows that it can have a particularly difficult effect on teens. As teens are adjusting to limited time spent with friends, adapting to school changes, and decreased extracurricular activities, they may also be experiencing increased feelings of depression, anxiety, and feelings of loneliness.
A study conducted by Harris Poll with the National 4-H council surveyed 1,500 teens ages 13-19 and found that 7 out of 10 teens reported struggling with mental health. 61% of the teens reported increased feelings of loneliness due to COVID-19, 55% reported increased feelings of anxiety, 45% felt excess stress, and 43% felt feelings of depression.
So, why is COVID-19 taking a greater toll on teens? During adolescence, connecting and bonding with peers and friends is a major developmental milestone. Teens rely on social connection to explore their own identity, interests, and independence. Without having the opportunities to interact with others, many teens may be struggling to feel fulfilled.
One way that many teens may be trying to adapt is through increased screen time. The survey reported that teens are using screens an average of nine hours – that is a three hour increase from prior to the pandemic. Although technology can be a great way for teens to continue to connect to their peers and engage in remote learning, it is also important that they continue to engage in healthy habits as well.
As parents, there are several ways that you can be a support for your teens during this time. First and foremost, empathize with their emotions, frustrations, and feelings of loss towards not seeing their friends, engaging in extracurricular activities, and managing school changes. It is okay to ask the tough questions and connect with how they are managing these changes. It is important that teens feel understood and validated. If you are concerned about your teens mental health, or feel that they need another layer of support, seeking out therapy can be a great resource for your teens as they process their emotions.
Secondly, be a support for your kids during remote or hybrid learning. These changes in learning can be a difficult adjustment for teens and it can be essential that they feel they have the resources and support they need to succeed. Helping them find ways to set a schedule can aid them in staying on task and feeling that the workload is manageable.
Finally, encourage healthy habits with your teens. Remote learning, lack of activities, and increased screen time can make it very difficult to have a sense of structure for the day, but finding ways to set consistent routines can be beneficial mentally, physically, and educationally. Setting times to go to bed and wake up can help ensure that your teens are getting enough rest while also increasing a sense of structure. Also, encourage your teens to stay active and engage in hobbies in order to continue to feel a sense of fulfillment each day.
Although COVID-19 has brought on many unforeseen challenges, you can help your teen endure these changes through understanding, validation, and support. If emotional difficulties persist or worsen, seeking out individual counseling for your teen, family therapy, or having a consult with a therapist, can provide the additional support they need to more effectively cope with the current challenges.