Supporting your teen's emotional health during the Covid-19 outbreak

Written by Dr. John Coleman

Many teenagers may be struggling with being in lockdown. They will have lost all the usual routine and this experience is tough for them. All of the things that they may have been looking forward to have been taken away from them.

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Feeling cheated

Young people might feel as though they have been cheated of some of their experiences. They may be missing the last term at school or uni, exams, holidays or social summer events planned with friends. They may be missing their friends and when you are young, these experiences loom very large in your world.

Feeling stressed or angry

Because of this, many will feel stressed out or may be displaying anger. Even if they recognise that it is no one’s fault, angry feelings can be overwhelming for teens. It can feel extremely unfair for this to have happened to them and their friends. It may be easier for adults to see the bigger picture.  Adults can recognise that this will be over at some time in the future. For young people, however, this will seem like the whole of their life that has been taken away from them.

Feeling anxious

There is also the question of worry and anxiety. Will my parents stay safe?  What about my grandparents? Am I safe from the virus?  Of course, adults will have these feelings too. Adults will worry about elderly parents, or have fears for their own health.  However, the emotions of young people may be harder for them to cope with.

Teenagers and emotion

Why is it harder for teenagers to manage their emotions?  One reason is that at this age the structures in the brain that process and manage emotions are still changing and developing. These structures are not yet completely mature. Also, hormones play a part in helping us manage our feelings. The hormone balance for teenagers is more variable than it is for adults.

It is also important to recognise that young people will have experienced a real loss at this time.  This is part of their life that they will never get back.  It is very tough, especially at a time when they are changing and maturing. Adults will struggle with many challenges at this time.  It is just important to recognise that the challenges for teenagers may not be quite the same as those for adults.  

Tips for parents

Talking is important, but …

  • Teenagers do not want to be lectured or to be interrogated
  • Teenagers like to talk at times that feel good for them
  • Teenagers like to know that they are being listened to
  • Teenagers do need to hold some things back until they feel safe to open up

Tips for teenagers

Talking is important, but …

  • Parents want to listen, but they may sometimes find it hard to really listen
  • Let them know you want to talk, but when it feels right for you
  • Encourage them to talk about other things and not just to focus on you
  • Let them know what you need from them.  It is ok for you to let them know that
  • If you feel uncomfortable talking to your parents, try to find some you trust. Sharing your fears and worries at this time is SO IMPORTANT

Explore feelings with our feelings quiz

As a start, teenagers can use the quiz below or download a version to print off. This should be a way of starting to talk about some of the feelings they may have at this time. It should also lead to a discussion of anything that could be improved to make things a bit more manageable in the family.

 

 

This page was updated on April 2020

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