The lockdown has been especially tough on teenagers – deprived of their friends, unsure about their exams, worried about job prospects in a post-pandemic economy.
For many, who thrive on predictability and routine, and who need constant reassurance as they grow in emotional maturity and approach adulthood, it doesn’t look good; sometimes it looks overwhelming.
Priory child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg says there is “lots of anxiety” among teenagers right now, but parents can take significant steps to help them.
“Many teens are also dealing with illness, or loss of income within their families. For those who may already have struggled with anxiety or depression, the pandemic has disrupted treatment. The lack of structure has also posed huge challenges for teenagers who did not have mental health issues before. Some may be depressed as well as anxious, and turned, or returned, to self-harming.”
Dr van Zwanenberg’s top five tips:
COPING WITH CHANGE
“The most important thing is to reassure your teenager that they will cope with the changes. It is really good to have more practice with change, as everyone faces change throughout their lives. Those who handle it best – who can ‘go with the flow’ – will often save themselves a lot of unhappiness and heartache.
GET OFF THE WORRY TRAIN
“There is no point in spending time worrying about things we cannot change. We know this as adults, or should do, but children really struggle with this concept. So if a teenager finds themselves doing this, they need to jump off the repetitive loop, the ‘thought train’ that is going round and round the rickety track in their head, and distract themselves. To truly distract themselves, teenagers need to completely fill their minds with something else – talk with a parent, ring a friend (talk not text), engage in a hobby or skill. I discuss ‘mindfulness’ and how important it is to engage in an activity and just focus on that activity while doing it, and not let thoughts from the past, or worry about the future, distract them or change their focus or emotions.
DON’T PREDICT THE FUTURE
“No one can predict the future and if teenagers try, they will often just put an anxious or negative spin on it to ‘feed’ their worry. Discuss with them how they can prepare themselves for their future, rather than worry about it. This could include, for example, starting to read books for their ‘A’ Levels, learning to touch type, doing some fund raising or volunteering to enhance their CV, and keeping themselves healthy through exercise. You could talk to your teen about important factors employers look for other than academic grades such as team working, good communication skills, knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, hard work and how your teen can demonstrate those good qualities.
NURTURE YOUR FRIENDSHIPS
“I also advise young people to think of something they have in common with a friend. It might be they are going on to do the same ‘A’ Levels, it might be that they both like exercise or it could be that they both feel quite bored. I suggest they engage with a friend over a video call and do the activity they have in common together. For example, if they both like exercise, they may want to take it in turns each week to run a HIT session that they both do. If they are both bored, they could discuss a new skill they could learn together, such as sign language, Spanish or cooking. Doing an activity together tends to lead to enjoyment and laughter.
“Exercise and getting outdoors is crucial. Discuss the importance of going out of the house for daily exercise and contacting someone outside their household daily so that they are practising some social skills for when lockdown eases and social contact occurs face-to-face again. I advise teens to smile at strangers when they see them on a walk, to practice eye contact and eventually to make a comment such as “Isn’t it a lovely day”, or even just “hello”. This exposure is small but it helps prevent total avoidance of social contact, and will aid in reducing anxiety regarding this.”
Dr van Zwanenberg adds; “Yes, the new normal will be a challenge. But young people are often very good at challenges, even those who don’t think they are. Tell them change is difficult for so many people, but your teen will not be doing it alone because you and all those around them who love them will be there to support them, verbally, emotionally – and as parents, physically, with lots of extra hugs if they want them.”