Our pediatric experts can provide a lot of help and advice during the COVID-19 pandemic. From answering parents’ questions to providing back-to-school Q&A to helping your family manage pandemic stress and anxiety, our providers are here to help. But there’s one thing they can’t tell you about during this challenging time – how teenagers feel and what they want.
So we went straight to the source. Teens from our Mental Health Youth Action Board provided some advice on how to best connect with them and check on their mental well-being as their reality changes.
What you should know about helping teens during the pandemic
Teenagers are going through specific changes that make dealing with the pandemic extra challenging. They are increasingly independent, place extreme importance on their friendships and are beginning to challenge authority. They are also dependent on technology more than the generations before them.
So here are things that teens on our Youth Action Board want parents to know about how they’re navigating this unprecedented time and how you can help.
Try not to snap at your teenager
This is good advice at any time, but it’s particularly important right now. The impact of COVID-19 is hard on everyone. Teens might be dealing with pressures you don’t know about or are hard for them to talk about. Try to summon extra patience and compassion if you can.
Give teens space
With your family likely spending more time together than ever, it can be tempting to hover over your child to make sure they’re doing what they should. But try to resist this urge. Check in with your teenager at the end of the day to review what they accomplished and what might need to change for the next day.
Help them form a healthy routine
The changes to everyday life, school and socializing are huge adjustments for most teenagers. You can help by providing structure and consistency. Get organized for school by helping them set up a nice space to do their work (homework for those returning to in-person classes or daily school work for those doing hybrid or at-home schooling). Talk to their teachers to help teens learn what to expect.
Going to school online may be more tiring than going to school in person. If this is the case for your child, keep bedtimes and wake times the same as regular school. Provide teens with healthy meals rather than a stream of snacks and encourage them to exercise for at least a half hour each day. And for every 50 minutes of schoolwork, have them take a 10-minute break.
Learn how to create normalcy for kids during the pandemic from experts in child development.
Create time for family
Set aside some time to do something for fun and bond as a family. Put away your individual screens and do something together. Movie nights, cooking, taking a walk, game nights and other communal activities are great options.
Encourage your teen, rather than punishing
As you probably know, teens don’t like being told what to do. Encourage them to do what you want and try to make it seem like it’s their choice. Let them know what they should do for school or at home and give them the leeway to figure out how to do it. This will increase their sense of accomplishment once they finish.
Check in on your teen’s mental health
Without hovering or pressing your teen too much, regularly see how they are doing mentally. Look for changes in their mood. Be empathetic and understanding of how much their world is changing. Don’t leave them to figure out this new reality entirely on their own.
You can start conversations individually or as a family so everyone can check in and talk about their mental well-being.
Questions to ask your teen
It can be hard to know how to spark conversation with your teenager or what questions will actually let you know how they are doing. Our Youth Action Board members told us what they want their parents to ask them. And remember that just asking lets them know you care about them.
- How are you feeling today, really? Physically and mentally.
- What’s taking up most of your headspace right now?
- How have you been sleeping? How do you want to improve your sleep?
- What have you been doing for exercise?
- What did you do today that made you feel good?
- What's something you’re looking forward to in the next few days?
- What's something you can do today that would make you feel good?
- What are you grateful for right now?
Living with uncertainty is challenging, and the pandemic won't disappear anytime soon. Feeling some stress, fear or sadness is normal. But you should also watch for signs that your teen may need help from a pediatric specialist.
Warning signs your teen may need help
If you notice your pre-teen or teen showing any of the following signs for more than a few days, check in with them:
- Acting out
- Being irritable and tearful
- Seeking constant reassurance
- Changes to sleeping or eating habits
- Isolating more
- Feeling less motivated or not being able to get things done, like schoolwork or chores
- Not enjoying activities they would normally
If you are concerned about your adolescent or young adult (or an even younger child) ask how they are doing and about their mood and low moments. This is especially important if your child already had mental health concerns before the pandemic. Asking about depression, mental health or suicide does not create or intensify the problem.
How to find help for your teen
If you believe your teen may need professional help, start with their pediatrician. They can screen your child for mental health conditions and recommend where to get care. Our Pediatric Mental Health Institute also offers outpatient therapy with child psychologists.
If you need urgent help for your teenager, do not delay. You can call one of the following hotlines for confidential advice, available 24/7:
Remember, there is no shame in asking for help, for you or your child.
Looking for more? Learn why you should talk to kids about suicide or get tips for how to cope with stress from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.