With the abrupt end of the school year, many teenagers mourn the loss of important opportunities and milestones, noted Beata Mostafavi of Michigan Health, the University of Michigan’s health website. That would mean not having end-of-year goodbyes and celebrations with teachers and classmates, baseball games, or a school musical. For high school seniors, school closures entail that they would not march across the stage on graduation day.
Households are experiencing the woes of social distancing, but for teens, it can be hard for them to adjust since their lives and rites of passage are being redefined. “Not being able to see friends, go to school events, play sports, all of this can cause sadness and major disappointment,” noted Terrill Bravender, M.D., M.P.H. chief of adolescent medicine at Michigan Medicine C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
In fact, this is a stage in life when social connections and experiences aid in the healthy development of your teen. Although you may struggle to manage your teen’s reactions to social distancing, there are effective ways to help them cope with the new norm.
Parents In the US Worry About Their Kid’s Emotional and Mental Wellbeing
Save the Children, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of children through better education, found that 67% of parents were somewhat or extremely worried about their child’s emotional and mental wellbeing due to the virus. When kids were asked how they were feeling, 52% said they were bored and 49% were worried. 34% also reported feeling scared, 27% were anxious, 24% were confused, 23% were stressed, and 22% were unhappy. 49% of kids were worried about a relative contracting the virus.
Out of 1,500 households with children aged 6-19 and parents, 52% of kids said they were concerned about not learning enough to be prepared for school in the fall. 51% stated they spend two or three hours a day on school work. Only 4% spent six hours on schoolwork, which is the average length of a typical school day.
Likewise, 66% of parents said they want to make sure that their child does not fall behind in school. 53% of parents with young children were worried that their child will not be ready to enter kindergarten in the fall. The social impacts of school closures and social distancing were also one of the top concerns of children, with 74% and 70% saying they were worried about missing out on end of school year and after school activities and about not saying goodbye to their friends, respectively.
With regard to caregiving and employment, money was the top concern of 71% of parents along with not being able to see older relatives (61%). 51% of parents said they changed the way they are managing the household budget to pay for food and other needs. 28% said they are trying to balance working from home and taking care of their children. 26% said they have lost wages or taken a pay cut. However, 72% of children said they are excited to spend more time with their family while 61% of parents stated that they are looking forward to having a bigger role in their child’s schoolwork.
How to Help Your Teen Understand the Importance of Social Distancing
1. Discuss Social Distancing
Ann Murphy, director of the Northeast & Caribbean Mental Health Technology Transfer Center (MHTTC) and an associate professor at Rutgers University’s School of Health Professions, said teens tend to feel invincible and have a lower sense of vulnerability towards COVID-19, reported Patti Verbanas-Rutgers of Futurity, a website that brings research news from top universities. For them, it is highly important to connect and socialize with their peers and without these interactions, teens feel sad and lonely.
Help them understand the importance of social distancing by sharing or looking into credible sources of information such as those from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Take your time to discuss social distancing, including the things your teen can do to stay connected to their peers— albeit virtually.
You can also ask your teen what they know about social distancing and self-isolation or whether they have any questions, suggested Raisingchildren.net.au, an Australian parenting website. For example, you can try saying, “Yes, everyone needs to stay at home now. Do you understand why we have these new restrictions?” or “‘That’s right. People returning from overseas are being quarantined in city hotels. What do you think about that?”
If you are a parent of a younger teen, this may mean loosening up rules on social media. Explore and try using new apps and tools that facilitate group chats and video connections such as Google Meet, Facetime, and more. It is important to emphasize the benefits of socialization and connection; however, this does not mean you should encourage your teen to be glued to their devices all day.
2. Acknowledge Their Feelings
Some teens might be fine staying at home the whole day, but others might feel frustrated or worried. Ask them how they are feeling and listen. Validate their emotions and ask what your teen needs to feel better.
You can also share your own feelings and what you are doing about social distancing to reassure your teen. For example, you can encourage your teen to video chat with their best friend or do some exercises with you. Bear in mind that some teens might be working during the crisis. Given that, you can say, “I know you want to keep earning money, but I can see you’re concerned about being around so many people in the supermarket. Why don’t we sit down and talk through your options?”
3. Respect Your Teen’s Privacy
Encourage everyone at home to have some private time. Teenage years mark the period when adolescents deviate from parental connections and forge closer bonds with their peers. This is a healthy process that occurs throughout young adulthood. Converse with your child about how you can respect their privacy and their “me time” while still respecting the family’s needs.
4. Follow Their Preferred Shared Activity
Ask your teen about what you can do as a family to enjoy your time together. It could be board games, family movie marathons, video games, or nerf gun fights. Bravender reminded, “If your teen initiates or suggests an idea for a shared family activity, don’t shoot it down. Parents should jump at the chance and just go with it.”
Parents should also be aware of signs of mental health issues like depression and have them checked via a virtual consultation with a professional. It is recommended for parents to acknowledge their teen’s emotions and to find ways to help them adjust to social distancing.