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Updated: Apr 12, 2021

Do you have a teenage girl or boy living in your home and find yourself wondering where that little girl or little boy went? Does it feel like they changed overnight and you don’t know who they are anymore? It could be just growing pains - so maybe relax a little and breathe. The recent pandemic has created major changes in our teens and the question all parents are wondering is “is my child normal and is my child ok?” Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question because I don’t know your specific child. But what I can tell you is….start keeping a journal of your child’s behaviors that are concerning. Reach out to your child’s school counselor and pediatrician to see if your child is experiencing what other children are experiencing during the pandemic. If your child is reacting to the pandemic in ways that concern the school counselor and the pediatrician, they will refer you to a mental health therapist in your local area. They know best. They know what warning signs to look for.

I have been counseling vulnerable children and teenagers for over 25 years and in my experience most of them make unhealthy decisions because they have not learned appropriate coping skills. Recently, more and more children and teens are diagnosed with anxiety. They are growing up in a very fast paced world and getting them to try and “stay in the moment,” protects them from worrying too much about the future. One definition of anxiety is worrying too much about the future when it hasn’t happened yet. Teens need to be empowered to control those things that are in their control and come to the realization that some things are beyond their control.

I have been visiting children and teenagers in their homes during the pandemic and many of them report feelings of uncertainty. Our kids worry more than we do and to stop the perseverance of worrying, we need to help them “stay in the moment” and do the best they can do. In my experience, many of them just need to get out of bed, sit at a desk, reduce distractions, put down their cell phones, and stay present in the virtual classroom. If they are unable to master these tasks after a lot of persuasion, a therapist might need to get involved.

On a certain level, I don’t think our teenagers are that different from us. As women and men, we struggle with relationships, making healthy choices, prioritizing responsibilities, advocating for ourselves, and being more mindful about our reactions. All of these things are more difficult when we have the pandemic always on our minds. We don’t have life figured out, so why do we get so frustrated when our teens don’t have the right answers? Why do we get frustrated when they keep repeating the same unhealthy behaviors over and over? Let’s put ourselves in their shoes with some good old fashioned perspective taking. You could not pay me any amount of money to take me back to those hormonal and emotional teenage years.

Back in the day when we were bored, we would put on our roller skates or take our skateboard to meet up with friends at the playground. Nowadays, our teens are self-isolating in their bedrooms and turn to social media as a way to reduce boredom or stress. As adults we know that social media only creates more anxiety. Teenagers don’t understand this concept and convincing them of it is always a losing battle.

As women and men, we know that we are better able to show up and deal with life struggles when we feel our best and look our best. What does this look like? Making exercise a priority, eating healthy foods, connecting with friends, and practicing self care.

Mindfulness can help them with emotional regulation, anger management, self esteem and anxiety. Teenagers need to learn warning signs that they are starting to feel anxious. It’s like the yellow warning light in your car going off telling you that “something isn’t right.” The next important step is to help them figure out what is triggering these moments of anxiety. Figuring out those certain people or situations that triggers them to react in a negative way, helps them to be prepared. Teaching teens relaxation and breathing techniques can give them portable tools that they can use whenever they find themselves feeling anxious.

We need to help our children and teenagersnot let anxiety ruin the present moment. Worrying too much about the past can create depression and worrying too much about the future can create anxiety.

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