As 2020 ushered in with gusto, many of us were feeling extra hopeful with the promise and potential of a golden decade. It was bound to be a wonderful year. Yet as January drew to a close and the pandemic became a reality, slowly, the glitz and glamour wore off and the stress and social distancing from COVID-19 were ever-present. To say this has not been the most ideal summer would be an understatement, but we all have to do our best to adjust to the current situation.
For parents, navigating your teenagers being at home, home-schooling and trying to keep the house afloat are all very real struggles that COVID-19 has brought us. But, supporting your teenager during this time doesn’t have to be a struggle—even when new emotions, such as anxiety, might be arising.
As a teen anxiety expert, I have spoken at more than 500 middle schools and high schools in the past five years. I remember what it was like to suffer from panic attacks (sometimes up to 20 a day!) as a teen. After learning how to manage my anxiety, I have become a resource for parents and teens to understand anxiety and how to navigate through its chaotic waters.
Here are my top three tips for connecting to/comforting your teen during this quarantine:
Hold the Space
What teenagers really want more than ever is not just to be seen, but heard, understood and treated like an adult as well. They want validation and to know that they matter. During this time, so many emotions are running wild. Imagine being a teen (with all the hormones, body changes, peer pressure, etc.) then add a crazy global pandemic. Holy Guacamole. Start by taking away any distractions, such as screens and devices, and sitting your teen down to look them in the eyes and let them know you are available to talk just to see how their day is going. This removes the pressure and allows the emotions to naturally flow. Keep in mind that you can act as a friend and parent but keep the parent role as a higher priority.
Exercise in Nature
Moving your body is not only important for your physical health, but there are many benefits to mental health that come from physical activity too—especially if you can exercise in a green space. Being in nature can be very calming and soothing for anxiety! The next time your teenager feels ungrounded, anxious or you see they have been scrolling on social media for too long, get them outdoors. It will be very healthy for them to disconnect from the digital world while also getting in some needed family time. It also allows your teen to decompress so they can see the bigger picture. Sometimes when we get stressed or overwhelmed, we can get lost in our heads! It’s important to show them that they can take a breath, get outside and not get caught up in the small stuff. Whether it’s hiking, swimming, walking or running—it will make them and you feel better!
Notice the Signs
Everyone processes emotions and life experiences differently. Some bottle up their emotions, while others pour their heart out and want to talk it out. For teens, they are just starting to come into their own. Their bodies are physically changing, and their minds are developing and taking on new information daily. As the parent or guardian of a teen, it’s important to be aware of your child’s “communication language.” Noticing how your teenager says what’s on their mind or when their personality changes for the better or worse. Trust your gut feeling as a parent and if your teen seems like they are struggling, especially with these current times, step in and take action. You can sign them up for weekly virtual therapy sessions, a virtual summer camp, book club or doing fun workouts in the garage together.