What is happening for our Teens post Pandemic?

I like to write these updates for you periodically, based on my reflections from countless discussions with parents and teens in my practice, and also observing life with teens in our own home.

Right now, we are in October, and there is a sense of ‘things going back to normal’. We keep being warned that ‘Covid is still out there’ but in terms of trying to get back to some semblance of routine and everyday life, there is a definite move in that direction.

When we talk about ‘normal’ and things going back to how they were though, we forget to acknowledge the journey we have all been on, especially with regards to our children. Multiple school disruptions, no exams for two years, mask wearing and self isolation will not just fade from their memories (or ours) just because they are not required or happening anymore. Children have had so many disappointments, having to accept they can’t do the things they want to do, and have also been surrounded by lots of talk about illness, death and ‘protecting’ themselves against this invisible threat.

The thing is, when things feel ‘more normal’, this is often when we realise that things feel different for us. When we are coping with a challenge or threat, our body and mind becomes entirely focused on coping with that present issue, doing what is needed to get through it, activating the ‘survival’ part of our brain. When, however normal service resumes, we might find that things we did effortlessly before, without thinking become much more of an effort, or we might be reluctant to restart doing them altogether. This may be related to activities we used to enjoy, being around groups of people or even travelling to places we used to visit without a thought.

For our young people this is no different, except that they get much less flexibility than us adults do in making choices in relation to their feelings and emotions. So even if school is incredibly anxiety provoking for them, in ways it never used to be, they are expected to cope with that, and its continued demands, despite those overwhelming feelings.

Another area which has become much more prevalent over recent months is our young people’s worries about their physical health, and the health of others. This worry and concern has become pervasive in our society over the past 18 months and none of us, least of all our children, can switch off from this. For some it is more acute than for others, but worries about getting sick and being sick is more apparent than ever before. Factor in the real life situation of our immune systems finally having to fight off winter coughs and colds and many parents are having to navigate and reassure their children that all is well, and this is a normal part of everyday life during these more challenging months.

These reflections and observations are not supposed to throw you into a pit of despair, rather raise awareness that we can’t just flip back to how we were ‘before’. I have had conversations with teenagers who have actually said that they have forgotten what they used to enjoy, or have fallen out of the habit of socialising and making arrangements with friends. Your support and encouragement may be needed to get them back into anything which boosts those positive brain chemicals (endorphins, dopamine and serotonin) which help us all feel good about life. When young people are doing things they enjoy, they are more likely to be more motivated to do the things they are expected to do, especially school work, that balance is crucial to allow them to feel that is not all about academic expectations.

Going one step further, your teenagers may need some additional help to address those anxious feelings, especially if you (and they) find it is inhibiting their everyday life. Struggles with going to school because of worries about being unwell, frustrations around their future because of all the disruptions they have faced and just general feelings of overwhelm and unhappiness are all examples of the support needs of teens I am seeing right now. Acknowledging that this is an ongoing effect of this pandemic and helping your young person appreciate that it is normal to feel this way when so much has happened can be massively empowering for them too. In a lot of cases their brains are not allowing them to ‘just get on with it’, they are tripping them up at every turn, and this is where additional support may be needed to help them really understand what is going on.

But, know this, your acknowledgment of the challenges they may still be facing, your continued support and dialogue with them about why this may be happening and your encouragement as their parents and carers will make the biggest and most significant difference for them right now.

You can buy your copy of ‘Reopening the Slammed Door – A Guide to Surviving the Teenage Years’ here. Please do get in touch if you need my support, I am here to talk through any worries and help you however I can.

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