Michelle has been on staff with Heart Song Counseling for over 8 years. Prior to moving to the Tampa Bay area, she served as a counselor for Heart Song in Washington, D.C. She received her B.A. in Speech and Communication Studies at Clemson University and her M. Div in Biblical Counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In her spare time, she enjoys running, spending long days at the beach and Clemson football.
It’s no secret that the pandemic has impacted our teens in a myriad of ways over the last year. Some teens found themselves back in school full throttle, others transitioned to hybrid classes, while still others remained completely online. Teens have also been impacted by COVID restrictions in unique ways according to their personality type. For example, if a teen was extroverted, they found the pandemic debilitating while their introverted friends may have found it calming and safe. We have heard about the many challenging ways that quarantine has affected our kids and now we find them facing yet another difficulty—re-engaging in their world now that restrictions are lifting.
Many teens and parents have been surprised by the negative impact of being able to resume activities. After all, shouldn’t it make us happy to return to pre-pandemic routines? Isn’t that a sign of easier times ahead? It turns out that the “light at the end of the tunnel” for COVID can bring its own unique challenges along with it. The good news is that there is hope and, if we’re engaged with our teens, we can clearly point them in the right direction.
With that in mind, here are three major ways teens are responding to the current pandemic transition and how you can be prepared.
- Easily Overwhelmed
Observable Behaviors: Your teen may be easily overwhelmed by what seems to you like small things. This can include increased behaviors of snapping at others, being easily frustrated, excessive crying and making statements about how impossible it is to catch up as well as expressing a fear of failure.
What’s Going On Inside: Your teen just went from “zero to everything” when they returned to their routine. It’s important to remember that your teen has gone through an extended period of social deprivation and time without extracurricular activities, school events and community. Even if your student is thrilled to be back in the mix, the experience of re-engaging can cause sensory overload. There is much that is out of their control (social distancing, future plans, etc) so they will often hyperfocus on things that seem easier to control (grades, being on time, how they look, what they eat, etc) and express their anxiety on those things rather than the bigger issues.
What To Do: Give them time to adjust. Help them to create order where they can, (creating a schedule, planning ahead, having order in their room, exercise, sleep, etc), to remind them that there are many things that they can control with God’s help. And don’t worry. They will get used to the new normal again soon.
- Delayed Emotions
Observable Behaviors: Extreme Anxiety. Panic Attacks. Explosive anger. Depression. Lack of Motivation. Numbness. Seeming disconnected and not quite themselves.
What’s Going On Inside: Your teen may have been stuffing their emotions during quarantine. They experienced an abrupt end to their school year last year and lost many planned events and activities over the past year. Milestones like prom were missed entirely or looked completely different. Now that life has resumed and the uncertainty and loss of last season has ended, their body relaxes out of survival mode and finally gives itself permission to feel what it’s been stuffing for so long. Think of it as similar to the experience of being thrown out of a boat and having to tread water while you wait to get rescued. All you can do is survive. It’s only after you’ve been rescued and are safe and sound that you have the ability to process your emotions.
What To Do: Encourage your teen to talk about what was good and hard about quarantine. What losses made them saddest? What do they worry about now? If your teen doesn’t want to open up with you, point them to a safe adult they trust (teacher, youth leader, counselor) to ask them those same questions.
Observable Behaviors: You may notice that your teen doesn’t feel excitement about future plans (trips, school plays, athletic events, Homecoming, etc), because they fear it won’t happen. They may find it hard to plan for these events and do the necessary action steps required (working out for their sport, studying for SAT, etc). They may also question God’s presence and why He would allow so many terrible things to happen.
What’s Going on Inside: Your child has had to experience the reality of loss, chaos and the uncertainty of life in a way that no other generation has in recent years. They had to grieve the loss of what the rest of us experienced as normal in our high school lives. Even simple things like being able to hug grandma and grandpa without fear of getting them sick. Nothing feels certain and your teen likely is trying to protect themselves from future disappointment. It takes courage to hope these days and your teen may not feel like they have it in them to do so. Many teens report a feeling of powerlessness which can quickly lead to hopelessness.
What to Do: Don’t minimize what your teen has lost. Many parents are tempted to “fix” their teen by reminding them of good things they’ve had and dismissing the importance of what they’ve missed out on. Try just listening to your teen and putting yourselves in their shoes. Resist the temptation to have an answer.
The New Normal? Tips to Help Your Teen Thrive:
- Expect the unexpected.
- Create order where you can.
- Live in the moment.
- Focus on what you can enjoy and be thankful for it.
- Think of caring for others when frustrated.
- Practice Self-Care ***Sleep, nutrition, exercise, social time, outdoor time.
- Talk to God about EVERYTHING!
Signs Your Teen Needs More Help:
- If they are struggling to do even basic things.
- If they are finding it hard to fall/stay asleep or are sleeping too much.
- If they feel constantly sad or anxious.
- If their anger has become explosive.
- If they feel numb or disconnected.
- If they are using substances (food, vaping, alcohol, drugs) to “feel better.”
- If they are struggling with self/harm or suicidal thoughts, GET HELP IMMEDIATELY.
The good news is that God will direct you and your teen through this re-engagement process but making sure they have the space to express their feelings without judgment is key. We worship a God who wants us to come to him with our raw emotions and our tough questions. It’s good for us as adults to be honest and let our teens know that we are asking God the same questions. We can encourage them to remember that while the future is uncertain, God’s love and faithfulness are not. He can be trusted to guide us and to give us all we need as we adjust, once again, to a new normal.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Support and assistance 24/7 for anyone feeling depressed, overwhelmed or suicidal. Call or Text: 1-800-273-8255
Boys Town National Hotline (1.800.448.3000) Crisis and support line for children, youth and their parents, 24/7 and Spanish available. Multi-topic and issue assistance.
For non-emergency issues, schedule a check up with your pediatrician for your teen. Mental health screening questionnaires are a part of the check up for both you and your teen to answer. These questions are asked in multiple ways and can help determine if your teen needs additional care.