From School To Their Social Lives, Our Teens Are Struggling

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My daughter sat down last night to try and get some work done. When she showed me what she had on her plate, I was overwhelmed looking at all of her assignments. She had been overwhelmed, too.

My son is reaching the end of his senior year and has a huge paper due on the heels of his senior project where he had to tackle a project or service work, document his experience, make something with what he learned, then give a speech.

My kids are really struggling, and they aren’t the only ones.

My sister’s kids are just barely getting by. She told me their online high school schedules are causing them to shut down and just not get any work done. Her daughter went from being a high honor student to not being able to finish a paper on time. She also just put her on antidepressants this week because she’s so worried about her mental health.

I’m watching my kids, and my nieces, feel less-than if they aren’t able to keep up with it all. It’s obviously causing them stress, and as for my niece, my sister said she has just shut down. In fact, she told me last week she wasn’t sure if she was going to pass her freshman year of high school because she is so behind.

Not only are so many of them feelings the harshness of trying to keep in top of their work during a global pandemic where their world has been flipped, they are expected to not miss a beat; to not have an off day; to not let all their feelings about what’s going on creep into their life and affect it.

University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital conducted a poll in January reporting that almost half of our teenagers have had a dip in their moods and wellbeing, according to their parents. In fact, of the nearly 1000 people were surveyed, three out of four parents report it has also impacted how their teens socialize.

Gary L. Freed, M.D., M.P.H. says a big reason for this is because teens are reaching a time in their life when they are naturally wanting to be more autonomous and independent. The pandemic has taken that away from them.

“Pandemic-related lifestyle changes have wreaked havoc on teens’ lives, with many experiencing disruptions to their normal routines. Our poll suggests that pandemic-era changes may have had a significant mental health impact for some teenagers,” he says.

The Center for Disease Control also reported a thirty percent rise in teens going to the emergency room for mental health visits from last year, which is a really scary number to hear.

Brittany LeMonda, PhD, is a senior neuropsychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York who told Healthline she’s not surprised to hear how much teens are struggling. “Teenage years are filled with physical, emotional, and cognitive changes. There are also hormonal shifts, more independence and which responsibility, and peer challenges. It is therefore not surprising that teens have been more susceptible to declines in psychological health over the last year,” she says.

As a parent to three teens, I want solutions. I want to know how I can help them get through this time and beyond.

For the record, Healthline reports one in three teens struggle and “will meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder by age 18.” This is during a non-pandemic time.

We know COVID-19 has forced us all to have so many regulars removed from our lives which makes it harder for us to keep our kids engaged while also keeping them safe.

According to Healthline, experts say it’s a good time to relax some rules like how much screen time they get and allow them to see some friends. Out of those who were polled, seventy percent of parents said this helped their child.

Something else that is highly recommended is having your child talk to a mental health expert, and encourage your teen to get involved in web-based extracurricular programs.

And don’t forget to continue to check in on your teen — even if they seem fine. This is a different time for all of us, and with our teens going through so much on a good day, it’s imperative we keep our eye on them and encourage them to practice good habits like a well-balanced diet and plenty of sleep, and get involved in doing family activities together. Watch for changes in behavior or sleep patterns.

One thing I’ve seen make a big difference with my children is that we cook together a lot more. It gives us something to look forward to and is a truer connection than all of us sitting around on our phones.

I’m hoping that by keeping an eye on them and continuing the family activities, I will be able to help them get through the rest of the pandemic.

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