With school closures, cancelled proms and now stricter stay-at-home measures, many teenagers are feeling disappointed and anxious. From talking to your teens about the current health crisis to ensuring their safety and mental well-being, here are some top tips for helping them cope at home during the COVID-19 crisis.
Although the physical risk of COVID-19 is less extreme for teenagers, their mental wellbeing may be affected, explains DR GINA DAHEL, a paediatric doctor at IMC Children’s.
“Teenagers tend to value peer group interaction highly, and the the teen years are a key stage in emotional and social development. Now, interactions with friends have been curtailed and they find themselves back in the family home, just as they were stretching their wings,” she says.
“Meanwhile, parents are finding their homes occupied by teenagers who would normally be at school, playing sport or seeing friends. This creates an unsettling shift in the normal family dynamic.”
This, of course, can pose a lot of challenges, says Dr Dahel. She suggests the following tips to help your teen cope with the change in circumstance,
Be positive role models
Teenagers will be watching their parents to gauge how to react to the current health crisis. In this challenging time, they will be looking to their role models for cues. It’s difficult to strike the right balance – if parents are lax and blasé, teens will fail to grasp the seriousness of this situation. Similarly, if parents are over-anxious, it will heighten their anxiety, explains Dr Dahel.
“Talk to your teenagers to see how they are coping and answer their questions honestly. Explain to them that we don’t know how things will evolve but measures are being taken to keep us all safe. No one knows what the future holds and we cannot control macro events. However, we can control our reaction to these events and our own environment. It’s best to focus on what we can control.”
Educate your teen on factual vs fictional news
It’s a good idea to use this as an opportunity to discuss the difference between fake and real news. Guide your teen towards evidence-based, trusted resources – for example, the Ministry of Health (MOH).
“Explain to them that not everything they see on social media is true and that the best way to keep informed is by looking at credited resources as a counter balance to unreliable content,” says Dr Dahel.
Also, she suggests discussing the use of memes and gifs.
“As adults we know that humour can help us manage our emotions in times of uncertainty and stress. However, to teenagers, they can be confusing by sending mixed messages. We can all enjoy the fun content (and may need it at times) but its role is as a counterbalance to the seriousness of the situation.”
With strict measures in place, it’s especially trying for adolescents who actively crave peer group interactions.
Luckily, there are many apps that enable virtual communications (including Houseparty, Facetime and Skype). These apps tend to work better than texting, as they require face-to-face verbal communication. “Suggest your teen video call his or her friends, and ask about how each other is going,” says Dr Dahel. “This will help address feelings of isolation and anxiety,”
An opportunity for family time
Although this situation has been imposed on us all, try to shift your perception to view this as an opportunity to reconnect, talk and develop deeper connections with your teen. This may be challenging – adolescents don’t always want to open up – but the situation gives parents more chances to find that moment when connection is possible. It is entirely normal that your teen may thwart parental attempts to connect (they are a teenager, after all!) but most importantly they will take note that their parents care. This expression of care and love provides the key message of ‘safety’ at this unsettling time.
We may never have this much time to spend with our loved ones, and, as life goes back to normal, our busy lives will no doubt once again take over. Grab this opportunity.
Getting daily physical exercise is very important for our ongoing mental health. It helps with anxiety, decreases stress, increases self-esteem, releases endorphins (which create feelings of happiness) and enables better sleep. All of these benefits are important at the best of times, but certainly in the midst of the current COVID-19 situation.
According to Dr Dahel, it’s important that your teen gets at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, whether it’s walking, swimming, biking or skateboarding. “Teenagers who aren’t inclined to exercise can be hard to galvanize,” she says. “Explaining how exercise can help their physical and mental well-being will help.”
Find what type of physical activity appeals to your child. Perhaps ‘going for a walk’ will always be met negatively but, ‘let’s go shoot some hoops’ or ‘let’s do an online workout as a family’ will be more positively received. Either way, it’s important to ensure that your teen goes outside at least once a day.
Look for signs of anxiety
In all, it’s crucial to stay aware of teen stress and look out for any signs of anxiety, says Dr Dahel. And do seek medical assistance if you are concerned.
For more information, visit imc-healthcare.com.
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