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COVID-19: How to Help Teens Stressed by Social Distancing

A teenage boy doing his homework.
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Social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic is stressful for everyone. But teens are one group that may react strongly to stress during a crisis, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Consider the stresses your teen may be experiencing, and learn about the signs of stress to watch for and factors that may affect your teen’s emotional responses. There are ways you can help them cope and avoid lasting negative effects from the COVID-19 public health emergency.

We will get through this difficult time. Try to think of this intense time together as an opportunity to build a better relationship with your teen.

Infographic: Help Teens Stressed by COVID-19 Social Distancing

Stresses Experienced by Teens

Leaving childhood behind and growing into an independent adult can be a tough transition. Many changes are taking place in teens’ bodies and brains that affect how they think, learn and behave, the National Institutes of Health says.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the need to practice social distancing may be adding a whole extra level of stress for your teen. Usual routines are upended, social support from friends has moved to online only and your teen may be afraid that you or other loved ones may become seriously sick.

Missing out on important milestones may have your teen thinking that their future is in jeopardy. High school seniors are missing graduation ceremonies, proms and college campus tours. Schools and community organizations have canceled extracurricular activities and sports: The final competition that your teen had been training for has been taken away by an invisible virus.

Finishing out the school year through online learning may be more difficult than in-person classes for some teens. And your teen may have seen news reports of large groups of teenagers having a great time at parties or gatherings at public parks and wonder why they can’t flout the rules, too.

Common Signs of Stress in Teens

During the coronavirus outbreak, watch for these signs of stress in your teen, as described by the CDC:

  • Avoiding school or poor school performance
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Excessive worry or sadness
  • Irritability
  • Unexplained body pain or headaches
  • Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits

Factors That Affect How Teens Cope

How your teen responds emotionally to the COVID-19 pandemic will depend on their experiences and personalities, your family’s economic and social circumstances, and the availability of community resources, according to the CDC. The following specific factors may also affect your teen’s response to an emergency:

  • Belief that they or a loved one are in danger or may die
  • Direct involvement with the emergency
  • How parents respond
  • Loss of a family member, close friend or pet
  • Previous experience with a stressful event
  • Relationships and communication among family members
  • Repeated exposure to news coverage about coronavirus
  • Separation from parents or caregivers

Help Your Teen Manage Strong Emotions

Talk to your teen about the coronavirus outbreak. You are in the best position to help them make sense of the current situation.

The CDC suggests these general principles for talking about COVID-19 with your teen:

Remain calm and reassuring. Remember that they will react to what you say and how you say it. Make sure they have some amount of freedom and autonomy: Don’t tell them what to do; ask them about their ideas or plans and discuss from there.

Be available to talk and listen. Keeping the lines of communication open with your teen is especially important right now. They need to know they can come to you to talk about any concerns or worries.

Avoid blaming others and using language that leads to stigma. COVID-19 is spreading and making people sick, regardless of ethnicity or race.

Pay attention to what your teen hears or sees about the pandemic online or on TV. Consider or suggest limiting their exposure to news.

Provide honest and accurate information. News stories and social media posts can be inaccurate and based on rumors. Suggest these reputable sources instead: the CDC, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the World Health Organization (WHO) and your State Department of Health.

Teach them to help reduce the spread of germs. Teens can do their part to help prevent the spread by:

  • Coughing or sneezing into a tissue and throwing it in the trash
  • Helping to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces in the home
  • Practicing social distancing
  • Staying away from anyone who is sick
  • Washing hands properly
  • Wearing a cloth face mask in public when social distancing is difficult

Help your teen stay active. Garden or shoot some hoops together in your own yard. Try some online fitness classes or cook a favorite meal together.

Encourage your teen to stay connected with family and friends. Your teen is likely already pretty savvy about staying connected with friends online. However, this is a great time to have them connect with extended family members through video chats.

Positive Parenting During COVID-19

Try to see the positive side of parenting while sheltering at home. This time together could be an opportunity to forge a better relationship with your teen that will last a lifetime.

Parenting experts from the CDC, the WHO and collaborating organizations have created a new set of helpful resources for parents and caregivers to help their children and teens during the pandemic. You can download the series of six one-pagers for free.

Healing with Hope

If your teen is showing signs of stress and strong emotions or behaviors related to the COVID-19 outbreak, contact us today to set up a telemedicine video visit using the AdventHealth App.

Our mental health and behavioral health teams are ready to provide you and your teen with trusted, compassionate care and support. Visit our Coronavirus Resource Hub for more information and to find answers to your coronavirus FAQs.

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