Since the pandemic started almost a year ago, I’ve seen different sides to my teenagers — sides I didn’t know existed.
My daughter started cutting herself last winter. As soon as the days started getting shorter, she seemed overwhelmed with life even though although overall she was doing less. I asked her if she was lonely, and she said she didn’t think so. She likes staying home because of her social anxiety. She has also been thriving in school since online learning and says it’s because the social pressures are gone from her life. But she was really struggling despite the positive things virtual learning has done for her.
My son came dangerously close to backing over me in the driveway last summer after I told him he couldn’t leave the house. He got in his car and started it up after I told him he needed to stay home. Something came over me; I know my son well enough to know he would have gone without my permission and accepted the consequences he would have received when he got home. So I stood behind his car.
He edged a bit closer to me, thinking I would move. Then, he revved his engine. When I asked my younger son to get a chair for me after it was obvious he wasn’t giving in anytime soon, I decided to sit behind his damn car and start working so he would remember who made the rules.
He’s been angry and his short fuse has caused him to punch himself in the head a few times. He wants to get the hell out of this house. When he talks about it, it’s visceral, and I can feel his angst.
It’s been really tough watching my kids deal with this and their emotions. Just like all other parents, I can’t even deal with my own feelings around this mess, much less help my kids deal with theirs, although I’m trying with a force greater than pushing them out of my womb.
This pandemic has taken a toll on our teens. This is a time in their life when they naturally break away from their parents and home. This is when their social lives are the highlight and they are finding their way and trying on their independence. Being a teenager is hard enough without having to navigate this dumpster fire.
And when he heard a senior in high school who lived in the next town took his life last fall because he was incredibly lonely, it shook us all in the most debilitating way.
In June, the Center for Disease Control surveyed young adults ages 18-24 and found 26% of them had suicidal thoughts within the last month. It also reported mental health-related trips to the emergency room had gone up 30% in 2020 versus 2019.
The Washington Post reports that Teen Line, which is a helpline for teenagers, has been flooded with calls since the pandemic. Our teenagers are struggling with relationships and there has been a big increase in teens who are thinking (and experimenting) with self-harm, having suicidal thoughts, or stuck in a home where there is abuse without any of their usual support systems like school or friends, the Post says.
Since parents and teens alike have never had to deal with anything like this before, it’s hard to know how to help and what to look for — especially if you have a child who has never been very forthcoming with their feelings.
Healthy Children reports some things to look out for in your teens are changes in eating and sleeping habits, not wanting to video chat or keep in touch with friends, and a lesser interest in school work and personal hygiene.
If you notice your teenager struggling with these things, it’s important to talk with them. Ask them about how they’ve been feeling and if they are experiencing higher rates of depression and having thoughts about harming themselves.
It’s important to get your family doctor involved as soon as possible if you are worried. They can screen for depression and suicidal thoughts, says Healthy Children.
Some teenagers are handling this pandemic beautifully and thriving in every way. I have to say, my daughter was one of them until things took a turn last fall. However, after having lots of talks with her, keeping a close eye on her, and signing her up for online counseling, she is back to her old self again. She did fight me on the fact that she was lonely because I think she was feeling incredibly isolated and she didn’t even know it. There was no way I could have handled this on my own — I needed help.
Edutopia reports, “Increasingly, teachers in our audience are reporting that a handful of their students—shy kids, hyperactive kids, highly creative kids—are suddenly doing better with remote learning than they were doing in the physical classroom.”
The article explains that for some kids, going at their own pace, having some control about when they get work done, and the ease in social pressures are the reasons some of our teenagers seem to be doing better with virtual learning than in-school learning.
While that certainly is a silver lining, we can’t forget about our teens’ mental health. For a lot of them, it’s been brutal, even if they started out okay.
Talk to your kids, pay close attention to their everyday habits, and if you notice any drastic changes, contact their doctor and get them the help they need. Because showing them how to cope will not only help them right now, but give them skills they can use for a lifetime.