by Jill Sylvester, LMHC
“Anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in America, and it affects nearly 1 in 3 teens between the ages of 13 and 18. The number of young people experiencing anxiety is on the rise, with a 20% jump in anxiety disorders in kids and teens seen from 2007-2012,” according to Daniel Amen, MD.
This statistic was prior to the outbreak of COVID-19.
Sure, some teens are loving the structure-free days of no school for the foreseeable future, but for many, they are feeling the overwhelming angst of uncertainty, the paralyzing fear of illness and what that might mean for their families, particularly their grandparents, and the potential threat to the world-at-large and life as they know it.
If you are an adult reading this and have teens in your life, whether in your home or in your classroom, please take time each day to connect to your kids, all our kids, about the following:
1.) Allow them time daily to vent. Give teens your full attention, away from the TV and social media screens, to allow them to express the way they feel. Please don’t dismiss their concerns. You don’t have to feed the beast (please don’t), but allow them to state that they are scared, confused, concerned, uncertain. Give them space to release their emotions due to everything they might be taking in on social media. This needn’t be long, maybe five, ten or fifteen minutes. By creating a space to share and express their emotions, teens can release stress. This is how they stay healthy.
2.) Validate their feelings. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree, what teens are feeling is what they are feeling. Listen. Don’t try to rescue them right away. Instead, tell them yes, things are uncertain and a bit scary right now, and that you understand. Once you validate their feelings, then start to create a conversation of solutions.
3.) Help them focus on what is going right. Show them good things happening in the world, like Italians, who, in a gesture of courage while being on lockdown, are singing on balconies and sharing inspiration.
4.) Encourage structure. Help kids to create a loose structure of attending to school work, while also encouraging exercise and even learning about subjects they might not have time for when life is in normal mode. Create time as a family to watch documentaries, read books, view movies, and then have discussion. All as a way to keep things moving, keep things purposeful, keep the brain challenged and your teen in as normal of a schedule as possible.
5. Encourage connection. Kids need to stay connected. Social media is a good thing right now, in that they can continue to talk to their friends, share their concerns with their peers and know they’re not alone. Encourage connection with extended family members too, talking on the phone to grandparents and checking in with extended family members in order to feel a sense of love and belonging that is important for everyone.
6.) Get them outdoors. Get kids outside every day for fresh air. My sixteen year old has been meeting her friend up at the park each afternoon, in separate cars, and talking out their windows while they listen to music and chat. It’s become part of their daily routine since school stopped and one that has brought a little pick-me-up to their day.
7.) Give them a sense of control. This is not the time to demand your teen to tidy their rooms. Allow them time to deal with this transition and the uncertainty. This doesn’t mean they get a free pass to disrespect or take over the house. It does mean though to be mindful of understanding that the world has changed as they know it and they need to feel a sense of control, as we all do, in order to feel safe. Pick and choose your battles. Let things go a little if need be.
This can often be the silver lining, for parents and caregivers, that during these stressful, uncertain times, we have to learn to let those things within ourselves go, resulting in our own personal growth in the process.
Jill Sylvester is a licensed mental health counselor and author of the self-help book, “Trust Your Intuition: 100 Ways to Transform Anxiety and Depression for Stronger Mental Health.” Her work has been featured in Well+Good, Bustle, SheKnows, WorkingMother, Parenthood, TeenMentor, and OprahMag.com. To receive her free weekly blog containing tips to better your life, subscribe at www.jillsylvester.com.