What can parents of young people aged 12-17 do to support their wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic? In our third episode of Parenting in the age of coronavirus podcast, internationally-recognised child and adolescent health researchers and paediatricians from MCRI provide useful tips on anxiety, boundary pushing and talking to teenagers. Listen to episode 3:
Balancing the emotional needs of a family with the extra challenges of a global pandemic can be tough for parents. Especially for parents of young people, who may have to navigate their teenagers mixed feelings about physical distancing, self-isolation and potential anxiety?
Murdoch Children’s Research Institute is bringing together some of our experts in child and adolescent development, health and wellbeing to come up with simple ways to make life a little more manageable during coronavirus.
Frustration and fear. Young people are experiencing many of the same fears and frustrations that adults are in this pandemic. They’re worried that someone they love could get sick. Some will be worried that they could get sick, particularly those who are still at school or have part-time jobs. Those in year 11 and 12 might be worried about the impact that this time is having on their studies. But for most, the feeling is overwhelming frustration that they can’t see friends and they’re missing out on significant events.
Information check. It’s important not to assume that just because your teenager is tech savvy and well connected, that they have all the information that they need about COVID-19, physical distancing and the importance of social isolation and excellent hand hygiene. Find time to talk to your teenagers, listen to what they understand, and correct any misinformation. Think about opportunities to talk when you’re feeling calm yourself, and at a time when you’re side by side or engaged in another activity, perhaps while making dinner together.
Boundary pushing. Part of adolescence is seeking out new sensations and testing boundaries, particularly for boys. Another part of adolescence is that it’s a time when brains are not yet fully developed, particularly the part that helps us to make good decisions. This combination, plus a global pandemic that requires new and difficult restrictions, is leading to increased amounts of boundary pushing and anger among many young people. Encourage your young person to do plenty of virtual connecting with friends to try to maintain the social connections that are so important in adolescence. And as in pre-COVID times, ensure there is still space to negotiate boundaries and to appreciate when no still means no.
We’re all in this together. Try to encourage your young person to see that the restrictions are to protect the people they love and care about, such as a grandparent, a family member who’s a frontline health professional, or a friend who’s at uni and studying to do that sort of work. Having these sorts of conversations can be hard, especially when you’re feeling stressed and under pressure yourself. Choose a time when you feel as calm and relaxed as you can at the moment.
Stay in touch with the school. Stay in regular contact with your child’s school and teachers for feedback and advice; email them directly if you have concerns. It’s incredibly reassuring for parents to know that your child’s learning is progressing well from an education perspective.
Managing anxiety. Feeling anxious is part of the normal range of emotions and is part of how we all react to difficult circumstances. As parents, it’s important to be alert to your young person telling you they’re experiencing any of the normal symptoms of anxiety – a racing heartbeat, dry mouth, sweaty palms or an upset tummy.
Other common symptoms can also be a feature of anxiety, and depression, such as difficulty sleeping, trouble concentrating on their schoolwork, or having more emotional outbursts than is normal for them.
To address anxiety, encourage basic mindfulness activities such as controlled breathing (in through the nose for a count of four, hold for four, breathe out through the mouth for a count of six, repeat a few times), and taking a walk or ride around the neighbourhood to blow off some steam. GPs and psychologists are still open and offering telehealth appointments, which is an excellent first step if you’re considering further mental health supports.
Some of us will experience stresses through the pandemic that need extra help. Your GP is offering telehealth appointments and that’s the best place to go first.
Don’t hesitate to reach out and seek the support you need.