Covid-19 has undeniably upended life as we knew it, redefining what normal is. But the disruption brought on by the pandemic has dealt a heavier blow to teenagers. With educational institutions still closed and extracurricular activities at a standstill, young adults have lost out on their main avenue of human interaction and socialisation – schools and universities.
“This can result in a feeling of boredom, social isolation, helplessness and even fear of exclusion from social connections,” says Tanya Dharamshi, clinical director and counselling psychologist at Priory Wellbeing Centre, Dubai, who has seen a marked increase in anxiety, depression and OCD in teenagers since schooling went online. She suggests some tips families can follow at home to help their teenagers manage thoughts and emotions.
1. Develop a “worry box”
Get your kids to write down their worries about exams, missing their friends, loneliness, college placements. Writing feelings down will help them process it and discuss them with parents. Reassure them verbally, emotionally and physically; even the most independent and grown-up teens need a hug.
2. Lead by example
Children, no matter their age, look up to their parents as role models and mirror your calm and confident demeanour. But do normalise being vulnerable and acknowledge how the current situation is worrying for you as well so they know they’re not alone.
3. Limit screen time
There is real potential for some teenagers to be addicted to their electronic devices and isolate from family and friends. Prevent that by scheduling time for digital learning, slots for communication with friends and time for accessing the news, so they’re not overwhelmed by grim news reports and never-ending statistics that can also exacerbate anxiety.
4. Count the positives
Missing out on important events to mark milestones, such as graduations, sports meets and farewells, can exacerbate emotions of anger and disappointment. It’s important to redirect their attention to what they can do. Point out how there’s now time to bond with siblings and family members, rewatch their favourite movies, or even learn a new instrument or language.
5. Don’t predict the future
Trying to foresee what’s in store in terms of internships, job opportunities and university admissions can make them feel anxious and being left in limbo. Instead guide them to prepare for the next part of their future by reading books for their upcoming academic year or university course, learning to touch type, doing fund raising or volunteer work to enhance CVs, etc.
6. Nurture friendships
Peer interaction shapes a teen’s identity and beliefs and equips them with skills such as reading body language and non-verbal cues, how to react in a variety of situations – all vital stepping stones into adulthood.
So it’s critical their communication with friends now is over the phone or video chat instead of just texting, so that they can also hear changes in voice and see facial expressions.
7. Go outdoors
Encourage them to step out of the house daily. Running errands lets them interact with people other than family, which will hone their social skills, instil a sense of independence, make them feel valued and stop them from withdrawing into themselves. Also, outdoor exercise releases feel-good chemicals in our brain, such as endorphins and serotonin, which can reduce stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety.
8. Keep routines intact
Try and continue rituals such as sit-down family dinners, at least one meal per day. It’s a chance to chat about what’s on their mind and check-in on teens who spend a lot of time studying alone in their rooms.