Supporting your teen’s mental health during COVID-19

Supporting your teen’s mental health during COVID-19

Practical advice from Dr Jodie Lowinger and the signs of suffering to watch out for.

BY Business Chicks, 12 min READ

Thanks to our partner Suncorp and their Team Girls program.

Here at Business Chicks, we are committed to delivering you with the information and practical tools needed to ensure you and your family not only get through COVID-19, but come out thriving on the other side. After our recent Masterclass on overcoming fear and anxiety with Dr Jodie Lowinger from The Sydney Anxiety Clinic, we’re bringing you more useful advice on ways you can support your teens during this time. We asked Dr Jodie Lowinger for her professional tips on ensuring your family stay well.

How can I support my teen’s mental health during this time?

The Covid-19 crisis means teens might be missing out on some big moments in their young lives – as well as everyday things like catching up with friends and participating in sport or activities. All of this while coming to grips with the impact of an unprecedented global crisis. Teens may be feeling disappointed, anxious and isolated.
It is important to acknowledge your teen’s feelings at this time, even if they appear unnecessary or irrational. Well meaning attempts to explain why “things aren’t that bad’, might sound to a teen like their feelings aren’t being taken seriously. Acknowledging feelings will make your teen feel understood, supported and safe.
Explain that some anxiety is a normal healthy function that helps them to make decisions that ultimately protect them and their community – like not spending time in large groups, washing their hands and trying to not touch their faces. Anxiety is actually a special kind of superpower.
It is when anxiety escalates to unmanageable levels that it becomes a problem. Encourage your teen to limit their exposure to constant media coverage about the crisis which can heighten their anxiety. Factual information from one or two trusted sources like the Australian Government’s Health Alert or the World Health Organisation is enough. Tune in regularly as a family perhaps.
Communicate openly and honestly and share information about what is happening calmly and factually to help ease anxiety about the virus. Talk about how they can help to slow the spread of the virus and protect those who are most at risk. Most teens have a wonderful social conscience and will take their role in protecting their community seriously which gives them a real sense of purpose.
Help your teen look forward by shifting their focus from what was lost. Talk about and identify ways to move on with proactive plans and goals.This will help them move from anxiety to action.

What are the warning signs I should look out for if my teen’s mental health is really suffering?

Occasional bad moods and acting out are to be expected from our teens, but if you notice any of the following signs, your teen’s mental health could be suffering. Depression is more than just low mood. It causes overwhelming sadness, despair or anger and can fundamentally change the essence of a teen’s personality.

Some signs that a teen may be suffering from depression can include:

  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness and guilt
  • Tearfulness or frequent crying
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Unexplained aches and pains such as headaches and stomach aches
  • Problems with school work including concentration difficulties, a drop in grades, frustration with school work and not wanting to participate.
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Running away from home or talk about running away
  • Drug and Alcohol Abuse
  • Reckless, high-risk behaviours including binge drinking, reckless driving and unsafe sex.
  • Violence and aggression (seen more often in boys who have been victims of bullying).
  • Other mental health conditions such as self harm and eating disorders
If you recognise any of these signs in your own child, connect with a mental health professional early – don’t wait and hope that things will go away. Be reassured in knowing that scientifically supported strategies for teenage anxiety and depression are highly effective and problems can typically be turned around quickly. Seek out a child and adolescent clinical psychologist who will work with your teen and also empower parents with a practical tool kit to help.

How do I validate their disappointment on missing out on things they had been looking forward to?

It is understandable that your teen will be feeling disappointed about missing out on planned and anticipated events. Let them express their feelings and acknowledge them. Empathise with their feelings of disappointment. Share your own disappointments and how you are managing your feelings. Be a role model of resilience, helping your teens to recognise that all feelings are okay and how they can respond to those feelings with helpful and resilient actions.
Keep in mind that while we wouldn’t choose for our children to face these disappointments, seeking out opportunities to connect and guide your teenager through adversity will ultimately help to build your teen’s resilience. They will look back at this time and remember their creativity in finding ways to connect with their friends, how they found new ways to entertain themselves and celebrate milestones at home and how they persevered with new challenges like online school.

Do you have any tips on creating a new normal for my family?

Seek out opportunities to connect with your children and teenagers. Recognise that this is a unique opportunity for the family to be together for more prolonged time. Work together to agree a family schedule that fits in around online learning and your own work routine. Allow for flexibility and accommodate digital time for catching up with friends. Connection is key to mental health and wellbeing and an important component of teen development. Ensure opportunity for exercise and movement within the family, even if it means adjusting your furniture to create space.
Let them have their downtime. It’s normal for teens to want privacy. Give them space for some quiet time, creative time, music time or to hang out virtually with friends.
Eat at least one meal together each day – ideally dinner. Dinner is a great time for everyone to talk and share about their day.

Should I try to limit my family’s screen time?

Phones and technology will be an important way for teens to keep contact with friends and help ease feelings of isolation, so allow them to stay safely connected. Agree some boundaries around use that you’re all comfortable with, especially during the school day.
Technology should work for you – and within your family values. It is understandable that under these circumstances, your teen’s (and your own) screen time will likely increase. Your new family schedule should include both on and offline time each day, for all the family including yourself.

How do I encourage my teen to focus on school work at home?

Establish a schedule and structure for the school day by following the normal school timetable where possible. Setting alarms or calendar invites can be a reminder for teens to focus on the next subject. Social time is part of your teen’s usual schedule and should be included in planning as well as short breaks when your teen can have a snack or check social media.
Your teen is nearly an adult so don’t impose the schedule on them. Get their buy-in by planning it out with them. Suggest that the schedule is reviewed and adjusted once you know how it is working. Include a wake up time in the schedule as teen’s do need some structure around sleep. Lack of sleep can have a negative impact on attention span, emotional and behavioural control.
Encourage them to create a comfortable work space free from distractions, with books, supplies and a power source for their device. This space will signal that it’s ‘learning time’.
If your teen wants to collaborate with school mates this can be useful. Modelling on-task behaviour with your own work habits at home, will also help to set expectations for your teen around work ethic. Knowing that other family members are working as hard as them, will be motivational for your teen.
Accept and empathise with how your teen is feeling about online learning and above all be patient. The current shift to remote learning is unprecedented – it is an evolving transition for everyone.

What resources can I use to support my teen during this time?

At the Sydney Anxiety Clinic we are offering remote video conferencing therapy for anxiety, stress, mood and behavioural challenges for parents, children and teenagers. There are also an abundance of online resources from reputable sites for easy digital access to tools and strategies to help.
Business Chicks and Suncorp Team Girls have teamed up to bring you the Business Chicks of the Future content series. Visit the hub to find more content to equip you to build meaningful connections with your teen and tween girls in order to build their confidence, strengthen their mental health and overcome difficult circumstances.
For more information on how Suncorp is helping to build a nation of confident girls, visit the Team Girls website. 

©2020 Business Chicks

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