The teenage years are notoriously difficult. With social pressure, body and hormone changes, navigating becoming independent while still being dependent in many ways–it’s no wonder teenagers can be moody and hard to read.
In non-pandemic days, 1 in 4 adolescents experience mental disorders that result in severe impairment. Add to that living through a worldwide pandemic and teenagers today have a lot of heavy things affecting them. There is stress and worry about their health and the health of loved ones, differences in beliefs about the pandemic and the best way to handle things, to mask or not to mask, vaccine or no vaccine, friends and family on opposing sides and their lives as they knew it turned upside down.
So what do you do if your teen is struggling with pandemic related anxiety and needs extra support? Read on for some tips, or schedule an appointment with one of our highly trained therapists.
How to Tell Your Teen is Stressed (If They Haven’t Told You Themselves)
Some teenagers feel compelled to keep stress to themselves out of fear that their parents will either not understand or will try to help by enforcing stricter rules or nagging them about what they should be doing differently in their life. That means that oftentimes parents are left guessing about what is really going on with their teenager.
Look for obvious changes in mood (irritability or withdrawn behavior) or physical symptoms, like overwhelming fatigue, unexplained muscle or stomach pain, headaches, and poor sleep habits. These things can be signals that something more serious may be going on, and your teen might need some extra support to work through it.
Be Patient with Explosive Behavior
Stress can manifest in some unkind ways. Try to be patient with your teen if their formerly compliant and pleasant demeanor suddenly turns into angry outbursts or saying rude things. Help them express their emotions and experiences in a more appropriate way, without discounting the message they are trying to send.
Ask them to sit and share a bit more about why they’re frustrated. Genuinely listen to what they have to say and dig deeper where necessary—is this explosion an isolated incident, or is there something else going on? Ask how their emotional state has been these days. Have they noticed they are having a hard time sleeping? Has their appetite changed? Help increase their awareness about what they are feeling and how those feelings are manifesting.
Oftentimes teens (and adults) just want to be heard. They want to know someone sees them and is aware of what is going on in their life. Maybe they need help navigating their friendships and early dating relationships, or they are having trouble balancing the workload of various classes. No matter what the content happens to be, the underlying need is to feel heard and understood by someone who loves them and can look past their sometimes prickly teenage exterior.
Take Your Role Model-ness Seriously
As one of the most consistent adult figures in their life, you are constantly modeling behaviors for your child to follow. If you’re able to identify when you need to slow down and rest, your teenager will see that. You can model good boundaries, self care, and managing big emotions in an appropriate way.
It is easy to get sucked in to our teenager’s bad moods, and as LR Knost said, “when little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it is our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.”
If you let cope with your stress with anger or yelling, chances are your teen will use similar responses. Consider the behaviors you’re modeling for your child and try growing together. Therapy is a great way to shift out of some of those patterns that might be keeping you stuck in conflict with your teen.
Give Them Credit—They Lived Through a Once-in-a-Lifetime Pandemic
This pandemic has taken a toll on everyone, especially families who lost jobs, experienced sickness, or lost loved ones. Acknowledging these pain points won’t be easy, but as parents you can help your children shift their perspective towards acknowledging the hard, feeling the grief, and coming to acceptance and peace about what they cannot change.
And a gentle reminder for your teen (and their parents): this year was tough on everyone. Give yourself some grace. None of us are going to get it right all the time, and fortunately for us all we get lots of opportunities to try again.
If you and your child are struggling to talk through the stress that lives in our post-pandemic lives, consider scheduling an appointment with one of our counselors. Together, we can learn to walk through our new world with less weight on our shoulders.
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