Raising a teenager might be one of the most difficult parts of parenting. As a single father of a teenage girl and a pre-teen son, I wish I had a roadmap that would tell me that I’m doing it right, keeping them happy, successful, independent and self-sufficient—but most importantly, keeping them safe.
Finding a balance of being supportive but not overprotective is a daily challenge, and the kids seem to change right when I start to figure it out. Add the once-in-a-lifetime COVID-19 pandemic, and parenting just got even tougher. If it is tough on parents, imagine how tough it is for a teenager. In an already-vulnerable time of their lives, the current environment is very confusing and scary.
Our children have lost routines and the ability to live life as they have grown accustomed. We all are managing the pandemic as best we can, but teens can have an especially difficult time dealing with it emotionally. Teens might use unhealthy means to cope with COVID-19. Some of these signs might appear in the course of normal teenage life, but an increase in the duration or frequency of these changes should be noted.
So, what are a few of the signals that your teenager may be struggling?
Withdrawal or Isolation
These are very common, as are mood swings. But being alone or withdrawn for an extended time can lead to anxiety or depression-like symptoms. These symptoms might present themselves as an attitude of hopelessness or indifference.
Sudden Changes in Behavior
A sudden change of behavior (outside of the changes expected during COVID-19, such as not getting together in person with friends) can be another indicator. This could be something such as sleeping all day or not sleeping at all. Stressed teens might also show a loss of interest in normal activities or hobbies that they used to find fulfilling.
Changes in Communication
Changes in the regularity or type of communication can be yet another sign that a teen is struggling to cope. Teens already tend to be very selective with what they choose to share with parents, but any significant or sudden changes may indicate unhealthy coping.
Not showering or shaving could be a sign too. This could also include general poor health, such as eating poorly or not exercising.
Many parents might already be noticing these signals with their teenage children. But why are these changes significant?
The long-term effects of being depressed or down about our current situation today might lead to more serious issues if not addressed early. Some teens might experience continued difficulty in maintaining healthy relationships or making new relationships. Another long-term effect might be rage or bursts of anger. School grades might even drop. And teens dealing with long-term depression or anxiety have a higher incidence of developing an eating disorder or substance-use disorder.
Parents might find this list scary and feel helpless to prevent the effects of the current COVID-19 pandemic from harming their child. There are solutions, though intervening can feel difficult. Many therapists specialize in working with teens. They do not have to be “diagnosed” with a mental health condition or addiction to receive the benefits of working with an outside person to process all these feelings of change and uncertainty.
Telehealth makes therapy very accessible and can be attractive to a teen as an alternative to venting to a parent. In today’s environment, many therapists are using sliding scale payments or accepting insurance to keep costs low for families.
When is it time to discuss your concerns with your teen? A good rule of thumb: If you think it might be a problem, don’t wait to see if it really is a problem. Call a mental health professional and seek advice. There is no harm in educating yourself so you can show up informed as the best parent you can be to your child.
Parenting is one of the most challenging things many of us will ever do—and the pandemic complicates that. Staying present, aware and mindful, and being willing to take action can help ease the burden we are all feeling.
Ryan Cain is president of Nashville Recovery Center, a recovery center offering clinical sessions, 12-step meetings, wellness classes, and other services dedicated to a life of recovery. A recovering addict, Cain’s passion for recovery and mental health led him to a career in behavioral services. Cain founded the Spero Group, which offers treatment centers, detox facilities and sober housing for men and women.