The COVID-19 situation is real. And Stressful.
What’s this like for your teenager? Are they freaking out? Completely ignoring things? Depressed that they can’t see their friends? Turning their room to a hibernation cave? A year ago, we weren’t thinking we’d be here reading an article on how to get along with sitting in the house all day. But here we are. COVID-19, Coronavirus, Novel Coronavirus – whatever you like to call it – is stressful. We stress about being infected, and we especially stress about the huge changes it’s causing in the world and our daily lives. And by now, we all probably have a touch of cabin fever.
How’s your teen adjusting to a COVID-19 world?
This situation sucks. There’s no way around it. Anxiety, depressed mood, irritability – it’s all likely to be affected. Some things you may be seeing and that you should keep an eye out for:
- Changes in sleep – way too much, not enough, or just sleeping a couple hours here and there.
- Isolating almost all of the time – never speaking to anyone else in the house.
- Expressing a lot of worry about the current situation. Worry is normal, but it’s important to watch for “overworrying” and explain what’s realistic and what’s not.
- Increases in irritability, anger, or outbursts. Again, some increase would be expected, but huge outbursts are something that should grab your attention.
- Constantly worrying about how this will affect grades, sports performance, and some of the other things that you may have already been seeing them stress about “perfection” in doing.
- Controlling behaviors – for example, if they previously spent all of their time getting perfect grades, but now they spend a great deal of time cleaning, perfectly arranging or rearranging their room, or similar things. Control is a common compensator for anxiety.
Here are 6 tips (plus a bonus) for teens to get through the COVID-19 situation a little easier.
Give each other space.
We’re going to be in the house with each other most of the day. We’re going to spend time together. A LOT of time. As parents, we have a tendency to push for things like family time – which is usually not readily available when we’re not in the middle of pandemic lockdown. Usually, we’re starving for time together, but right now, we may be having more family time than we want. I’m not saying “no family time,” but let’s not force it simply for the sake of having it or because “it’s what we’re supposed to do.” Who really wants lots of family time with pissed off teenagers for days on end?
Do some fun things together. Let your teens pick those things!
If I’m going to promote you giving each other space, I should probably include a little more about that. “Space” doesn’t mean that you become completely estranged from one another. So try to set up some fun things to do as a family while we’re in our COVID-19 situation. Positive parent-child relationships do great things for teens’ long-term mental health. You can let your teens pick those things (you’ll find that giving your teen a say in what happens, within reason, will usually have pretty good results). If they want to get together and watch BoJack Horseman on Netflix, take that time. If they want to play Call of Duty or Animal Crossing with you, go for it. Them not wanting to play Monopoly or watch Eighth Grade (which all parents of teens should watch) probably won’t be a surprise. In short, though, lockdown is a perfect time to have some quality parent-teen time, even if you’re doing things you may not be so crazy about or have yet to do. This is your chance to hang out with your kid.
Careful with social media.
While we know we’re going to be on social media (I mean, chances are you found this blog on Facebook) – it’s important to be mindful of what we’re finding. There is a ton of information and probably more MISinformation out there written by whoever felt like saying it. Personally, I get stressed out when I read all of the end-of-world stuff over and over and over. So I eventually stop. Check-in with your kids on what they’ve been hearing, watching, and reading via social media and YouTube. Social media can be helpful for a lot of teenagers to interact with friends during the COVID-19 crisis. But if they’re getting their information from places that make their anxiety turn to panic, let’s try to cut that out. If friends are saying things that are increasing stress, discuss that with them.
Use technology to your advantage.
It’s important for you as a parent and for your kids as teens to get some social interaction. It’s well-documented through tons of research that people need social support. Even introverts. Even people with social anxiety. At the moment, technology is still allowing people to attend therapy sessions, via online counseling. At the moment we’re limited in our ability to have social interaction. However, we do have FaceTime, Facebook messenger, Skype, Zoom – tons of ways to still see and communicate with others. I’m hugely extroverted, so I’ve been FaceTiming friends and other therapists all week. I know we’re usually telling our kids to get off the phone and video games, but we’re in a unique situation right now, and those are some of the most effective ways that we can have human contact outside of our home. So whether kids are making (safe, appropriate) videos on TikTok or trash-talking with their friends on Fortnite, remember that these are ways for them to have contact with people they would normally talk with at places like school or practice.
So there’s still outside. COVID-19 doesn’t seem to just be floating around in open air without being fairly close to someone. A lot of us are still in a spot where we can do some active things outside of the house or even sit on the porch and get some air. Exercise (as much as just taking a walk) does things to our brain that help us to feel a little better. This is a reason that I offer Walk & Talk therapy, under normal circumstances. Take a casual stroll, go for a run, play basketball in the driveway, whatever. Exercise and the outdoors don’t fix all the problems, but those things can help at least a little. But you can go outside. It’s there. Obviously, as of March 23 at 1:00 pm CDT (right now) we’re still recommended to stay 6 feet or more away from people. But I just went for a walk with my dog, and I was able to do that easily.
Full night’s sleep. Naps. Meditation. All of those kinds of rest. COVID-19 can’t take our free time to relax and recover, right? Your teen suddenly has time for this. Needed rest helps reduce things like irritability, outbursts, anxiety, and depressed mood. We think more clearly and reasonably. As long as they’re not sleeping 16 hours per day, let them rest. Most teens need around 10 hours of sleep per day, anyway. Trying to keep some kind of regular sleep cycle is still important, though.
Bonus tip: Pet a dog.
I add this as a bonus, because I know that not everyone has a dog. But if you do, pet them. There is a lot of hard science that says petting a dog makes things happen in your brain that cause you to feel better. This is a go-to for me when I’m not feeling so great emotionally (you know, because counselors aren’t immune to feeling down, worrying, etc.). Like exercise, it doesn’t fix all of your problems. But it’s something to take your time, make cool things happen in your brain, and your dog is going to love it. You don’t have to stop at petting your dog. You can talk to them, too. Edge has been a great listener for me before.
Ultimately, take care of each other.
No matter what happens, we still need to be kind to each other. That will have a positive impact on everyone. I saw a sign one time that said “Be the person your dog thinks you are.” I would argue that you’re already that person, but it would be great for you to be that person toward others right now. It’ll be best for everyone. You’ll probably feel better, too.
Begin Counseling for COVID-19 Related Anxiety and Adjustment in Franklin.
Even in a world where we’re encouraged to stay home, your teen doesn’t have to live with overworrying, searching for control and perfection, or constant stress. We are still offering online counseling on our regular schedule. Just a few days ago, I was on Channel 2 WKRN to speak about the move to online therapy so that we can continuing helping people through this uncertain time. Counseling can help teens to feel more confident, comfortable, and improve their ability to handle stress. Our counseling office is located in Cool Springs – Franklin. Edge and I specialize in working with teens and young adults struggling with anxiety and self-worth. To start your counseling journey, follow these simple steps: