During Covid-19, everyone has had to adapt to a ‘new normal’, which poses unique challenges for every member of the family. Many teens are struggling emotionally through this unprecedented time. In this article, we’ll explore how Covid-19 is affecting teenagers and outline 12 ways parents can help them build the resilience they need to cope and thrive during, and after, the pandemic.
Your Teens are Grieving
A teenager’s emerging need for increased independence and developing their own identity has been jeopardized by the lack of social contact. Suddenly, the social highlights for adolescents such as graduation, prom, sports activities/playoffs, plays, have been abruptly cancelled.
Furthermore, teens have not been able to properly mourn or experience closure due to the social isolation imposed by Covid19. They miss hanging out with friends physically and long for the routines and daily interactions at school.
Many experts have weighed in on the emotional struggles felt very deeply by this generation of teens, from anxiety to loneliness and frustration. They point out that the restrictions placed on students evoke strong emotional reactions including heightened anxiety and low mood. What is missing from the conversation is an acknowledgement that teens are capable of bouncing back from adversity.
Are Teens Naturally Resilient?
Though interpreted in different ways over the years, this quote speaks to a critical life skill called Resilience. It is defined as the capacity to overcome difficult situations and goes beyond merely coping. Resilience involves drawing upon personal strengths and learning news ways to think about the problems we face. It’s what helps us to get back on our feet when life runs us down. It gives us the courage to keep going and try again.
Experts who study resiliency in youth state that resiliency is a combination of individual factors and environmental factors. Individual factors refer to traits that lie within the person, such as their temperament and their perception of life events or more simply, a person being ‘born’ with it.
So, does this mean that you cannot improve or shape a child’s ability to cope with life’s challenges?
Fortunately, the other half of the equation, environmental factors, play an important role in supporting and protecting an individual’s capacity for resilience. Specifically, strong interpersonal relationships are critical to building resilience. Having a parent, teacher, friend or mentor who provides love and guidance will strengthen a young person’s ‘roots and wings’, ie. their sense of belonging, ability to relate to others, self-confidence, perception of events, independence, courage, and flexible thinking skills.
12 Ways to Help Teens Build Resilience During Covid-19
How can you help your adolescent get through this difficult period and feel empowered to take on the next stage of their lives? Leverage the following tips and techniques to help them cope and give them hope for a bright future.
Ideally, kids would have the opportunity to continue to build their peer relationships in close proximity. However, it is still important that they create virtual social connections that are fun. There are many apps available that allow participants to have a face-to-face conversation while watching a movie or playing board games. Some popular ones right now are Houseparty.com and Netflixparty.com. See the App Store or Google Play and type in the name of a board game that you are interested in playing online.
Consider relaxing the restrictions around using social media during this time when the things teens value most, their independence and social relationships, are restricted. Using technology has become a saving grace for kids during Covid-19. For tips, read Online Gaming During Covid-19.
Optimize the opportunity for connection with family and other role models. Increase their exposure to people that care about them. Connect with family members that they are fond of, such as grandparents, aunts and uncles with virtual visits or physical visits, as long as the recommended physical distance is maintained.
Maintain the building blocks of good mental health. Encourage teens to plan a balanced day by establishing routines that incorporate healthy eating, good sleep habits, getting fresh air and exercise, and engaging in their distance learning assignments.
Don’t rush to the rescue. Provide teens opportunities to make their own decisions and encourage them to do their own research on the benefits of exercise, mindfulness and other good mental health practices to increase their sense of competence.
Build a sense of optimism. Teens tend to focus on the ‘here and now’ and may get stuck in negative thinking patterns based on their current situation. Encourage them to dream, problem-solve and think ahead to the possibilities for the future when Covid no longer restricts us.
Teach them how to reframe. Instead of fretting about how anxious your children are feeling, you can help them reframe their belief about anxiety. That is, anxiety can be helpful as it alerts us to threats and motivates us to take measures to protect ourselves.
Validate their feelings and experiences. Avoid rushing towards immediately providing advice and recommendations. Teens need to know that their feelings are heard, understood and respected. They may even require some time to just ‘sit’ with their feelings before being able to move on towards finding solutions.
Practice mindfulness. There are a variety of apps for this, such as Headspace.com and Calm.com, but it can also be very helpful to work with a professional, such as a psychologist, to learn how to develop this skill.
Teach them problem-solving. Help them to recognize that what they are currently going through is only temporary and help them to find creative ways to compensate for what they are missing out on.
Model resilience. The current situation has been difficult for us as adults as well. While it is ok to acknowledge your own discomfort, it is important to ensure that you also demonstrate effective coping strategies.
When teens are stuck in a negative thinking pattern, it can be helpful to access the services of a mental health professional, such as a registered psychologist, to help them to develop a more realistic or even positive mindset.
We all remember the confusion, the angst and the joy of our teenage years. Now put yourself in your teen’s shoes and imagine those negative feelings magnified and the joys, suspended. Use the recommendations above to support them through this crisis and make sure to let them know you trust their capacity to cope. We will get through this together.
About Dr. Anita Burhanpurkar
Registered with the College of Psychologists of Ontario (CPO) since 2003, Dr. Anita Burhanpurkar is licensed by the College of Psychologists of Ontario to work with children, adolescents and families. She currently works for the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board in Mississauga and also provides psychological services to children and adolescents through her private practice, Hummingbird Child Psychology.