How to Support Teens’ Mental Health During COVID and Beyond
As parents, we can’t control the course of the pandemic. But we can help teens by modeling good coping skills, encouraging healthy habits, and working to understand and relate to what they are going through.
Understand what teens are going through
The first step toward supporting young people through this challenging time is for caring adults to have empathy for the teen experience. And to work to understand how their developmental stage impacts their emotional well-being.
Adolescence is a time when tweens and teens are supposed to be stretching their boundaries and testing limits. That means getting out of the house and trying new things. Figuring out their place among peers and within their communities. Making mistakes and learning how to bounce back. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, as a matter of safety, tweens and teens are limited from many growth opportunities. And that flies in the face of typical teen development.
Strategies to support teen coping
Start with yourself. One of the most important strategies for parents looking to help their teens is too often ignored: self-care. Parents must take care of themselves. You know, the whole “put your oxygen mask on first” concept. When parents show teens the hard but productive work it takes to cope with stress, they’re teaching them how to face challenges.
Children haven’t fully developed the ability to regulate emotions, so they need to co-regulate with the important adults in their lives. They look to see how their parents and other trusted adults are coping to figure out how they should react. They “borrow” our calm and gain a sense of safety by watching us. But they can just as easily “borrow” our frenzy or catastrophic thinking.
Check in with teens. Amid all the changes and chaos stemming from the pandemic, how do parents learn how their teens are really doing? Ginsburg stresses the importance of listening and taking cues from what teens are saying. And if they’re not saying much, ask open-ended questions that show you care about their well-being. For parents struggling to find the words, try saying, “This is a tough time. I want to know how you’re experiencing this. What are you finding that’s helping you get through it? How can I support you?” Parents don’t have to offer immediate solutions—sometimes kids just need a sympathetic ear.
Re-establish routines. It’s essential for our teen’s mental health to get back some structure. Routines offer a sense of order that is calming in the midst of uncertainty. Help your teen re-establish bed- and wake-up times. Encourage them to get dressed in the morning, eat regular meals, and spend time away from screens.
Set the tone. Parents and caring adults can adopt an attitude that is honest, future-oriented, and hopeful. This doesn’t mean denying problems exist. These may be challenging times, but it is also an opportunity to demonstrate how to manage uncertainty. A time to find creative ways to re-connect. And a chance to build resilience.
Don’t forget joy. As the number of vaccinations continues to rise, Bracho-Sanchez has been encouraging families to (safely) find joy in their lives once again. “Families have been in survival mode for a while now. And when you’re just surviving there’s so much that you don’t allow yourself to do and feel. Families have so much culture and tradition that they can bring to their young people.” She focuses on joy because it’s a powerful emotion for getting through hard times.
Excerpted from “How to Support Teens’ Mental Health During COVID and Beyond” in Greater Good Magazine. Read the full article online for additional details on adolescent development and the strategies to support your teen.
Source: Greater Good Magazine | How to Support Teens’ Mental Health During COVID and Beyond, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_support_teens_mental_health_during_covid_and_beyond | © 2021 The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley
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