10 Questions To Help Socially-Isolated Teens Take Better Care Of Themselves

by Kara Kinney Cartwright
Girl sleeping on couch, wrapped in blue blanket
Scary Mommy and Klaus Vedfelt/Getty

We’re all having a hard time. Let’s not get into some kind of weird suffering contest, sizing up who deserves to be sad and how sad they deserve to be. I think we can all agree that nobody is living their best life right now.

For parents of teens, one real challenge is finding a way to provide our young people with the space and grace to process their feelings while we also somehow encourage them to move forward and grow into the good men and women we hope they will become. To do this, we need to acknowledge not only the turmoil taking place in our teens’ bodies and brains right now, but also that adolescents are people capable of exercising some degree of control over how their reactions to the world will impact them (and others, as any parent who has tensed up upon hearing the angry stomp of an approaching teen knows).

Here’s the thing: Every functioning adult has developed a toolkit for getting through tough times. You might not realize you have one, or you may have a whole go-to routine. Either way, you’re doing it. You’re handling the crap that comes your way and you’re moving forward. It’s our job as parents to give our kids those tools and teach them how to use them, so they can then handle their own crap and keep moving forward. If we succeed in this, not only will we be teaching our kids resilience, but maybe there will be slightly less stomping and door slamming and we can all unclench just a little bit.

So here’s a starter toolkit we can pass on to our kids. It’s basic, like the one someone gave you when you moved into your first place—just a hammer, screwdriver, a few little nails, and some duct tape. If none of these tools work, or if you or your teen feel too crappy to even try one, please reach out to a professional and tell them that you may need help. I worry, you know. OK, here we go:

10 Questions for Teens to Ask Themselves When They Feel Like Crap

1. Am I sleeping well?

You may be young and healthy enough to pull an all-nighter now and then, but don’t make it a habit. Sleep deprivation is torture under the Geneva Convention. Why would you do that to yourself? If that’s not your problem, if you’re sleeping all day, think about (1) how lonely that schedule is and (2) how painful it’s going to be when you eventually have to show up at school or a job some morning. Maybe give the vampire hours a rest and see if it helps.

2. Am I eating well?

Your metabolism is faster now than it ever will be. Enjoy it while it lasts. But watching Netflix or playing video games all day is not the same level of activity as school followed by practice, followed by …whatever you were doing in The Before. So maybe scale back on the snacks. Look at what you’re eating, too, and do better. It really is true that eating crap makes you feel like crap. AP-level advanced tip: Being bored is not the same as being hungry. Learn the difference.

3. Do I feel well?

I think we’re all acutely attuned to this one at the moment. If you’re not feeling 100%, let your housemates know, even if you feel guilty for sneaking out, or scared about getting sick. Don’t panic. It might just be allergies. But get checked out, right away.

4. Am I drinking, smoking, vaping, or taking crap that makes me feel like crap?

Lay off and see if you feel better. If you can’t lay off, you need to ask someone for help—someone who can really help, not one of your drinking buddies.

5. When was my last break from gaming/social media/porn/online crap?

You might need a brain break to reboot. Give your brain the day off. If that feels good, maybe give it another day and see how it goes. If you can’t give it a day, your screens have become the boss of you. Talk to a counselor or trusted adult. Don’t be ashamed. It happens.

6. When was the last time I showered?

If you have to think about it, it’s been too long. Clean hands, fresh breath, can’t lose. Seriously, wash those hands. Right now. Go!

7. When was the last time I went outside?

I know you can’t actually go anywhere, but you can probably step out the front door and do a little something. Shoot around your old hoop, pump up the tires on your bike, drag the dog around the block. It helps, I promise. By the way, please don’t do that thing where you “accidentally” run into friends who “just happen” to be in the same place at the same time and you all break your families’ quarantines, exposing each household to every other household’s whatever. Teenage brains overestimate pleasure and underestimate risk, I get it. Do the right thing anyway, for everyone.

8. When was the last time I talked to another human person, in person, with my face?

Even if you don’t feel like it, force yourself out of your bedroom and into the kitchen and living room to talk to your people. Don’t run away when they say, “Oh, look who decided to get up today!” or whatever. Hang around for a few minutes and see what they say. Say something back. It’s called conversation. It helps.

9. When was the last time I exercised?

Don’t think that because you can’t do your regular thing, you shouldn’t do anything. What matters is that you do something.

10. When was the last time I did something fun?

We all need a laugh, and fun doesn’t happen by accident. Somebody needs to say, “Hey, let’s do something fun!” Do yourself a favor and be that person. And don’t be afraid of looking silly. If you’re laughing, too, nobody can laugh at you. People are loving TikTok for that very reason, but it’s not the only fun available. Find your own fun and make it happen.

Adapted from Just Don’t Be an Asshole: A Surprisingly Necessary Guide to Being a Good Guy.