The pandemic has been hard on everyone, and many parents and kids have experienced mental health struggles as a result of social distancing and other measures. In fact, researchers say nearly half of all teens have experienced new or worsening mental health conditions since the start of the pandemic.
As restrictions begin to lift, however, many parents may falsely assume that their teen's spirits will instantly lift as well. Unfortunately, though, that may not be the case. For this reason, parents should know how to help their teens cope with their mental health this summer.
Validate Your Teen's Feelings
The past year has been especially difficult for teens because of the lack of connection to their friends and classmates, especially if they attended school virtually this year. Even as COVID-related restrictions begin to lift, your teen may still experience a great deal of anxiety or emotional dysregulation this summer.
For this reason, Dr. Allyson Holmes-Knight, the clinical director of Daybreak Health, says parents should plan out regular conversations with their teens so that they have a safe space to express themselves on a regular basis.
When talking with your teen, Dr. Holmes-Knight says you should validate their feelings and practice active listening skills so you truly hear what they say. Validation is an important parenting tool that many parents don't use often enough.
When used regularly, however, validation can help strengthen your bond with your teen and help them feel heard and understood. Validation also helps remind your child that they’re not alone, and you can follow up your validation by sharing ways in which you also relate to the stress and anxiety they may feel during this time.
In fact, you can sit down with your teen on a regular basis and just share your feelings and encourage them to do the same using emotional words and labels to describe those feelings. By doing this, Dr. Holmes-Knight says you actually show your child that they shouldn’t feel any shame or embarrassment because emotions are a normal part of life and we all experience them on a regular basis.
By sharing your own feelings too, you lead by example and model social-emotional learning for your teen.
Look For Ways To Maintain Routines
Believe it or not, teens thrive on routines just as much as moms do. For this reason, Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez of Columbia University Irving Medical Center told Greater Good Magazine that re-establishing and maintaining routines can be a critical component for stabilizing a teen's mental health this summer.
When teens stay up late, sleep in, snack throughout the day, and discard typical daily routines, they lose that sense of structure and consistency in their lives. Unfortunately, this lack of structure can deteriorate a teen's already fragile mental health, and it can cause even more stress and fear.
Therefore, it's essential for teens to get back into the swing of things with a regular routine that includes some semblance of structure and normalcy. You can help your teen create a framework for this routine with an established bed and wake time, regular meal times, and dedicated times during the day that are "screen-free."
While the routines don't need to look exactly the same as they do during the school year, they should remain fairly consistent throughout the week and during the weekend (unless you go on vacation).
Look For Ways To Engage As A Family
Even though some restrictions are lifting as COVID cases continue to decline and more people receive vaccinations, the summer will still look very different for most teens, especially those who are used to traveling or spending lots of time with friends. Because of this, Dr.
Terrill Bravender of the University of Michigan says parents should look for ways to make time for engaging, fun family activities.
Dr. Bravender says parents should take advantage of any opportunity to spend quality time with their teen that they can, especially if the teen themselves initiates it. This may require parents to keep an open mind or go along with something that isn't their usual style or preference, but it can ultimately help parents build a stronger connection with their teen and help their teen feel less alone.
Taking advantage of this time now before life fully "returns to normal" may also help your teen avoid mental health complications later on.
Don't Be Afraid To Seek Professional Help
While some anxiety and sadness are expected because of the pandemic, there are times when your teen's symptoms may go above and beyond what you can help with, and that's okay.
Unfortunately, poor or unmanaged mental health conditions can affect your child’s physical health, schoolwork, and relationships – and in some cases, it can even put their lives in danger.
According to the Australian parenting website Raising Children, parents can seek help for their child's mental health through several resources, such as a primary care doctor, a school counselor, a licensed psychologist, or another therapist.
These trained professionals can help give your child appropriate coping skills or process their emotions in ways that can ultimately help them. There's no shame in getting help, and you should make sure your child understands that and sees the value in therapy.
Even as things return to "normal" this summer, your teen may still be coping with some mental health concerns. By implementing these tips and closely monitoring your child's mood and habits, you can ultimately help them out this summer.