COVID-19 and Adolescent Mental Health

Adolescence is challenging under the best of circumstances, but it can be especially formidable in the age of COVID-19. For tweens and teens, the coronavirus pandemic has added a whole new set of pressures that can trigger mental health issues or amplify pre-existing problems.

As mental health experts who specialize in adolescent care, the team at EXIS Recovery has seen a major, pandemic-related increase in the number of young people who are struggling with their mental health. 

Here’s what that may look like for your adolescent, and how you can support their mental and emotional well-being as they make their way toward the other side of this global crisis. 

COVID-19: Changes and challenges 

The pandemic has ushered in a “new normal” defined by school closures, cancelled events, limited social interaction, and isolation. Simply put, adolescents are missing out on many of the relationships and moments that are supposed to shape their young lives. 

Young people face a wide range of changes and challenges during the pandemic, including: 

Altered social norms

Limited in-person gatherings and social distancing measures are two of the best ways to avoid COVID-19 and slow its spread, but these simple mitigation strategies can take a toll on socially driven tweens and teens.

Not being able to connect in a normal way with friends, a boyfriend or girlfriend, extended family, or even a supportive worship community can be difficult, especially when it seems like there’s no end in sight. 

Missed life events

Physical distancing and lack of social interaction can make it feel as if life is perpetually on hold. But in reality, the pages of the calendar keep turning. 

Significant life events and activities — ranging from birthdays, holidays, and vacations to extracurricular sports, traditional school outings, and even graduations — will be altered considerably or missed completely during the pandemic.

Disrupted learning 

Full or partial school closures in communities around the country mean that many adolescents are participating in some form of remote learning via an online platform.

While these tools have been essential in keeping some form of continuity in young people’s learning and advancement, tweens and teens who struggle with virtual learning environments can have a hard time staying motivated and engaged. 

Undermined security 

Job loss, money problems, and housing insecurity is a major problem for many families across the United States, and these basic economic instabilities can have far-reaching effects on an adolescent’s overall safety as well as their physical and mental well-being.

Besides increasing the risk of food insecurity and neglect, diminished economic security can prompt young people to spend more time online, increasing their risk of exposure to damaging content, cyberbullying, and other online harms.

Finding ways to navigate the new normal

While they may be temporary, the changes and challenges brought on by the pandemic can seem overwhelming, and they can leave many young people feeling lonely, worried, anxious, depressed, and disappointed.

For example, many adolescents struggle with altered social norms. Some become anxious or depressed and opt to stay in their rooms as often as possible, while others may sidestep social safety measures with risk-taking behaviors in order to restore their own sense of normalcy. 

If you’re a parent, it’s more important than ever to help your adolescent:

Get plenty of sleep each night 

Adolescents need quality sleep to function normally and maintain balance. Tweens and teens who don’t get enough sleep, especially if they also lack a solid routine, tend to spend more time online and have a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and social isolation. 

Sticking to a reliable daily schedule, a steady sleep schedule, and daily online time limits can go a long way in giving your adolescent the structure they need to regain their balance.

Find ways to safely connect with loved ones

Social distancing may be physical, but it doesn’t have to be mental or emotional. Encourage your tween or teen to reach out to friends and extended family regularly and safely — either by phone, video chats, social media, or even through a favorite video game. 

When virtual connections just aren’t enough, help them plan a socially distanced gathering that facilitates in-person connection without sacrificing safety. This may mean heading outside for a socially distanced bike ride or walk, or gathering in someone’s yard for some much-needed face time. 

Recognize that their feelings are normal

Help your adolescent recognize that their feelings, whatever they happen to be, are perfectly normal. At the same time, help them understand that, like all momentary trials in life, “this too shall pass.” 

Make yourself available for honest conversations, and don’t be afraid to let them experience their grief. In short, give them your ear, your shoulder, and your support, but don’t hesitate to seek professional help if their struggles become overwhelming. Our team at EXIS Recovery in West Los Angeles is always ready to help.

Call 424-244-3513 to schedule a virtual counseling session with one of our seasoned mental health experts today.

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