First, it was a few weeks of school. Then, it was important moments like final sporting events and school plays. Eventually, it was the big stuff: the final days of the school year, prom, graduation — you name it.
Teens across the world are missing out on significant milestones due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and these lost moments are just the beginning. This summer, social distancing is causing them to be stuck at home away from their closest friends. As for the fall, many high school seniors are suddenly finding their college plans in flux.
Over 60% of the world’s student population was affected by nationwide closures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you’ve ever spent time with an adolescent (or remember the feeling of being one), you know they’re already more susceptible to emotional turmoil, which is largely due to hormonal changes and brain development. Add in the uncertainties of a global pandemic and loads of canceled events, and it’s safe to say this age group may be in need of some extra support.
Here are 3 ways teens are being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic — and what you can do to help support them.
1. They feel like they’re being robbed of important memories (and they’re not exactly wrong).
Being a teenager may come with challenges, but for many, it’s also one of the best stages of life. Teenage years are all about spending time with friends, developing your own identity, and learning about the world around you.
Plus, from extracurricular activities and favorite classes to celebrations like graduations, proms, quinceañeras, and bat mitzvahs, there are a lot of significant moments in teens’ lives — and the pandemic has ripped many right out of their hands.
Schools and families have certainly tried their best to recreate some of these events virtually, but, unfortunately, these events just aren’t the same. During online classes, you miss out on the social interactions and relationship-building that occurs during in-person classes. At a virtual graduation, you can’t throw your caps in the air together as a class. And a virtual prom? That almost seems contradictory, doesn’t it?
How You Can Help
Before anything, it’s important to acknowledge and validate their feelings about these missed moments. What they’re experiencing right now is grief over the loss of many important events they’ve looked forward to for years.
Then, try to help them shift focus to what they can control. For instance, graduation may not be happening this year, but maybe they can plan a celebration later on, such as a best friend’s trip or post-graduation party. And for now, encourage them to stay connected, whether that’s through online interactions like virtual game nights or socially distanced gatherings, like an outdoor picnic (with all the proper safety precautions, such as wearing masks, using hand sanitizer, and maintaining distance).
2. Their independence is being limited at a time when they’re craving it like never before.
Whether they’ve entered the workforce with their first job, they’re looking forward to going away to college, or they’ve simply learned how to do their own laundry, independence is an important part of growing up. However, for the time being, the coronavirus has been keeping many teens from experiencing rites of passage, and many teens are feeling particularly frustrated with their lack of autonomy.
What’s more, teens are constantly being reminded to follow safety measures such as social distancing, hand hygiene, and mask-wearing — some of which may not exactly fit into their idea of their teenage years. On top of that, frustration and boredom can lead teens to rebel in order to assert their independence, which can be especially risky during a pandemic.
How You Can Help
Similar to the missed milestone dilemma, start off by recognizing that these are frustrating times, especially for teenagers. It may be helpful to say something along the lines of, “I know you may feel somewhat restricted right now, and I am sorry you have lost so much so quickly. You will get through this — but that doesn’t mean you can’t be frustrated right now.”
Keep in mind — teens are usually pretty resourceful, and you may want to include them in some decision making. Rather than dictating the schedule for the day and what they’re allowed to do, ask them if they have any ideas regarding how to stay in touch with friends and how they want to pass their time. This will help them feel more in control of their own day-to-day experiences.
Don’t forget to allow them privacy and alone time, as well. Just because you might see this as a months-long bonding opportunity, they may not view it that way. Let them know you enjoy their company, but don’t take it personally if they want to spend time in their room and FaceTime with their friends for a few hours at a time.
3. They don’t know what the future holds for them.
The coronavirus pandemic has presented the world with so many uncertainties. From what the next few months will look like to if you’ll be able to go on that vacation in a few months — the future is a little murky right now for everyone.
Meanwhile, teens are at a turning point in their lives. While they were once excited about next steps like college or a new job, these things may not look the same, if they even are able to happen at all. As a result, teens are (understandably) feeling a little anxious right now.
How You Can Help
Since the state of the world is changing so frequently these days, it’s hard to know what the next few months will bring. For instance, while many colleges are planning on an in-person semester this fall, there may be some very drastic changes, such as wearing masks or having fewer students in dorms.
Talk through these factors with your teen. Ask them how they feel about these possible changes and if they’re considering any alternatives, such as a semester at a local community college. These are disappointing realities to face, so be sure to recognize any frustrations they might have. Also, try to hold off on giving too much unsolicited advice — your role of being a listener will be extremely valuable during this tough time.
Teens Are Resilient — But They Deserve Our Empathy
From breakups to getting cut from a sports team or musical, adolescents are used to bouncing back from challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic will be no exception — and they’ll make it through using resiliency and determination.
Without directly comparing their struggle to others’ struggles, it may be helpful to gently remind teens of challenges that other generations have had to face. From the Great Depression to wars to natural disasters, plenty of teens have seen their plans upended due to unforeseeable events. Inevitably, they will come out on the other side.
However, that doesn’t mean teens don’t deserve our empathy and understanding. Don’t hesitate to set high expectations for how they will handle this time in their life, but give them a shoulder to cry on when they need it — which may be a little more frequently than normal right now.