Helping your teenager through the pandemic stress
Updated: Feb 24
A recent study by NBC News and Challenge access concluded that students who are participating in virtual school are more stressed than their peers in classrooms. This is not a surprise, we are all witnessing it. Almost all children and adolescents are suffering from increased anxiety, stress, loneliness, and isolation. The study concludes that the percentage is more for those students who have online schooling than those who attend school in-person at least for some days. According to the study, 56% of the students report that school-related stress has increased compared to pre-pandemic. Grades, tests, and assignments are a major source of stress followed by workload and time management. 83% of the students report at least one stress-related physical symptom. Stress levels are especially higher for females and students of color. School engagement; which is a crucial factor deciding academic success, has declined significantly. Students are motivated to engage in school when they feel socially and emotionally connected to their teachers, peers, and the school environment. Online learning has cut ties with sports, cultural activities, social events, and teacher contact resulting in a lack of motivation and interest. Many students complained about increased workload which is driving them into the stress cycle even deeper.
What can parents do?
Watch for subtle changes in behavior
This could be a change in sleeping pattern, increased irritation, or lack of engagement in the family. It is sometimes difficult for parents to be mindful of their children because they themselves are dealing with work-related stress, relationship issues, or pandemic-related depression. Be mindful of how your stress and anxiety are affecting your teenager.
Whenever you see any signs of distress, talk about it. This can become a sensitive topic and your teenager might not want to discuss it with you. Letting them know that you are experiencing some of the symptoms too and that there is no shame about it can be helpful. When you lean in you are giving your child permission to reach out for help.
Acknowledge and validate
Many times children and adolescents feel supported when they know their parents are listening to them. As much as teenagers like to be independent, they look for help from adults in times of crisis. Validate the toughness of the situation, the ambiguity, and the confusion surrounding school openings, vaccination, and the duration of the pandemic. Acknowledge the loss of social connections, friendships, peer support, and the boredom of online learning.
Use active listening and non-judgmental responses
Do not dismiss or undermine your child’s feelings. Reflect it back to them to let them know that you have heard them. Focus on the child when they are talking to you. Provide vocabulary if necessary: “Seems like you miss your school friends. You are feeling lonely.” or “You are worried about getting the virus.” Acknowledge that this situation does not feel normal.
Encourage by taking the initiative
Take initiative in planning activities within the borders of social distancing and safety. Go for a hike or a drive. Arrange a virtual game night with your child’s friends. Encourage participation in cooking, baking, or projects of their interest. Get the children involved in the planning process so they have some sense of control. Go along with their ideas even if you don’t agree completely. Ask them to teach you a skill like making your social media posts more interesting. Yes, it is adding to the screen time but it allows you to build the connection and then expand it to non-screen activities.
Make plans for post-pandemic travel or events
We have lost the joys of get-togethers with friends and family, celebrations of important milestones, traveling. Events like these make our life meaningful. We used to plan and look forward to these events. You can have a discussion with your teenager about what they miss the most and plan to do it in the post-pandemic world. The anticipation of the event fuels imagination and provides joy. Get ready for the virtual prom or graduation to boost happiness. Make a small purchase related to the planned event which will help to keep the hope alive.
As a parent, you are worried about the impact of the pandemic on your child. There are many things that you can not control about this issue. Accept it and believe that establishing a strong relationship with your child while exemplifying how to respond to prolonged crises will help them endure and grow.