Teens rely on their peers and social connections for emotional support. Restrictions applied to contain COVID-19 may be particularly challenging for teens. According to the Mott Poll Report, parents of teens ages 13-18 were asked about the emotional impact the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have had, describing how teens have been keeping connected with their peers. 73% of parents have reported that COVID-19 has had a negative impact on their teen’s ability to interact with their friends. 64% of parents said their teens have been connecting with peers via texting; 56% say their teens have been using social media; 43% say their teens have been connecting via online gaming; and 35% say their teens have been talking to friends on the phone every day or nearly every day.
Disruptions to teen’s normal routines including closed schools, canceled activities, and an inability to gather with friends and extended family have wreaked havoc on their lives. 46% of parents said they have noticed new or worsening mental health conditions for their teens since the pandemic began. Reported new or worsening mental health conditions in teens include increased anxiety or worry, depression or sadness, negative changes in sleep, withdrawing from family, and increased aggressive behaviors.
Mott Poll Report suggests that parents who noted negative changes in their teen’s mental health have tried a variety of strategies to help teens cope with the challenges experienced due to COVID-19 restrictions, including relaxing family rules to allow their teen to have more virtual contact with friends; relaxing family rules about social media usage; encouraging talking with teachers and school counselors; seeking help from a mental health provider; and looking up information on the internet or encouraging their teen to try web-based programs and apps to help improve their mental health.
“It is important to respect a teen’s need to have a balance of socialization with peers and time to connect as a family,” says Lisa Trickett, Clinical Programs Manager at Diversus Health. “Consider dedicating routine time for both. A virtual game night with peers or something outside with appropriate COVID-19 precautions in place can help boost your teen’s mental health and well-being. An example of a routine family game can include playing “High, Low, Buffalo” at mealtimes. With your family around the table, build connection and invite meaningful discussions by having each person take a turn saying a high point, a low point, and a random share (buffalo) from their day.”
Parents play a critical role in helping their teens cope with the stress of the pandemic. If parents hear their teen express any thoughts of suicide or self-harm, it is imperative to seek mental health assistance immediately. Mental health providers at Diversus Health advise parents to keep lines of communication open, ask their teens how they are doing, and create space for teens to speak honestly so they can receive help when needed.
“For parents and caregivers of youth who are struggling with increased feelings of isolation, sadness, and possibly contemplating suicide, do not be afraid to ask direct questions,” says Trickett. “Asking a teen if they are contemplating suicide does not increase the risk, but can help reduce stigma around suicide and invite discussion around the struggle a teen is facing so they can get help.”
Parents should be aware that it is normal for teens to seek privacy from their family. Giving teens space to get quiet time, creative time, or time to listen to music can be beneficial for their mental health. In situations where teens are not getting adequate sleep, parents can help teens cultivate a healthy and productive sleep routine that fits with their online learning schedule and social agendas.
*If you or your teen is in a crisis, speak to someone immediately at our crisis hotline at 844-493-8255, or text ‘TALK’ to 38255.