When a teen’s world changes quickly and suddenly because of events out of their control like COVID-19, it is common to experience changes in their thoughts, feelings and behaviors.  In a recent New York Times article, author Lisa Damour reminds parents that we can help by making sure our teens don’t overestimate the dangers or underestimate their ability to protect themselves in unsettled times as these.

Anxiety is natural, even healthy, when we’re faced with new crisis. But today’s adolescents were all born after 9/11 and have yet to experience a global event like the current pandemic that has changed how we all live. While feelings of anxiety, fear or worry are typical in stressful situations, it’s a good idea to provide guidance with regular check-ins on how your teen is coping in our new “stay-at-home” environment. Here are five thoughts on how to manage their anxiousness.

  1. Normalize anxiety. Share with your teen that healthy anxiety has a purpose: to alert them to potential threats and to move them toward safety. Make sure they understand their feeling of heightened nerves is a normal response. Then channel their discomfort into useful action, like learning about and following the recommended CDC health guidelines.
  2. Offer perspective. “Often we see anxiety become unhealthy when it occurs in the absence of a threat or when the response is way out of proportion to the threat,” says Shelterwood therapist Jessica Wood. “Remind them that the overall risk of COVID-19 is very low for most Americans and that social distancing, wearing a mask and washing their hands will reduce their risk even further.” Changing their perspective will help change their feeling of helplessness.
  3. Shift the spotlight. Studies show that teenagers who provide the highest level of social support during a disaster are the most confident to face any new challenges they may face. Personal sacrifices like delaying a family vacation or distancing themselves from friends are examples you can share of how they are helping flatten the disease curve. Or involve them in a family effort to serve others, like donating perishables to neighbors in greater need or being part of a charitable giving opportunity.
  4. Encourage distraction. In today’s 24 hour news cycle, it’s hard not to obsess about COVID-19. Plus teens are now all thrust into the sterile world of virtual education, with nearly all school and communal events cancelled. But don’t let their phone be the only window into this new world. Help them by providing clear information about the state of the virus to help them separate fact from rumors circling the internet. Better yet, distract them from the phone all-together. Dust off a family-favorite board or card game, binge-watch a movie or series, or undertake that 1,000-piece puzzle together. Find out what makes them smile and make it a new family tradition.
  5. Manage your own anxiety. “Anxious parents are more likely to have anxious teenagers,” says Chad Smith, Shelterwood executive director of admissions. “We’ve found teenagers are very aware when their parents are saying one thing and feeling another.” The tip here is to take steps to calm your own nerves before supporting a fretful teen. Reviewing and practicing the four recommendations above are a good place to start!

If your teen’s anxious feelings do not improve and you’ve exhausted local behavioral health resources, consider reaching out to one of our admissions counselors to learn more about Shelterwood. We provide 40 years of bringing hope and restoration to families by helping teens overcome anxiety, depression and other behavioral and mental health conditions.