How to help Teens Cope with the Pandemic?

I thought about writing this blog because I am seeing my daughter- an 8th grader and many other teens I work with having a difficult time to cope with the changes the Pandemic has brought into their lives.

“I won’t have a graduation ceremony for going from Middle School to High School” cried my daughter.

Just like her many teens are facing a lot of losses- be it sport events, plays, dances, concerts, clubs, proms, graduations, seniors’ trip, summer internships and jobs or a test they had been preparing for. To add to that they cannot see their friends and spend time with them, after all that is what they like to do and care about the most at their age.

In addition to that, most of them are finding the online/distance learning much more challenging. And for some of them there might be added stress might be coming from their parents working as essential worker/first line workers or parents losing their jobs causing financial strain.

Our general instinct as parents is to fix every problem our children are facing and make them happy, unfortunately, we cannot do that, but we can at least try to do the following:

1) Acknowledge their loss and Validate their feelings:

Remind yourself that most of teens don’t have the life experience that would help them put something like a canceled prom or graduation into perspective. Discounting their very real frustration and sadness will only make them feel worse. But, We have experienced some adverse events, so we can help them feel better by acknowledging both their losses, and also their feelings. Use Empathy to validate their feelings.

Here is an example of Emphatic validation:

“I understand that you are super sad that your first play was canceled. And you’re mad that every day seems to bring a new frustration and disappointment.” Then, throw in a little empathy: “That’s just plain hard. I totally get why you are angry and sad.”

2) Allow them to express their feelings and grieve:

Help your teen identify and name the feeling and talk about it freely. Help them understand that Grief is natural response to loss and its okay to grieve for the losses they have had. You can share your feelings about the losses, fears and worries you are experiencing as well to open the communication channel with them. You can have them listen to this mindfulness exercise on feelings to help them identify and deal with their feelings.

3) Help them to focus on what they can control:

One of the biggest losses is the loss of sense of control and predictability that our lives had a couple of months ago. Ask them what they can do/ control in the present moment than worrying about the future. Establish the same routine as before and help them find ways to connect with their friends virtually.

4) Have them participate in an Intention setting exercise every week: Teens have a lot more free time now because most of them don’t have nearly as much schoolwork and no after school activities. A lot of them have lost motivation to study or do anything. This activity which parents can do with them and in fact the whole family. Pick a time to come together, put some snacks on the table, do the intention setting activity and then play a favorite family game after.

What is Intention setting/conscious goal activity?

1. Ask them to determine your goal-based intention for the week: What is your goal for next week?

2. Ask them how they would like to be held accountable? - daily check in or weekly check in.

3. Ask how intentional were they with their Goal this week? at the weekly check in meeting.

5) Help them find meaning and purpose:

David Kessler has continued the work on grief that he started with Kübler-Ross, recently adding a sixth stage to five stages of grief : “meaning”.

Meaning comes from the light we find in dark times. It might come from the gratitude we feel for being with our family or a sense of awe that overcomes us on a walk when we walk and see the blooming flowers in spring. And often, meaning comes from helping others.

As we approach what is likely to be a long summer for our kids. We can ask them: How can you be helpful to others during this time? How can you channel your frustration and anger? Our questions may or may not spark something in them. They may not be ready or able to find meaning but that is okay.. no need to worry. Please reassure yourself that whether or not, they see it now, meaning will likely come from simply enduring this difficult time. The silver lining for this generation is that, like it or not, they are gaining the skills they need to cope with difficulty. Remember we build resilience when we face adversity in life.

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