by Louise Tantam, Fegans’ Counsellor

The lockdown has been especially tough on teenagers – deprived of their friends, unsure about their exams, worried about job prospects in a post-pandemic economy.

For many, who thrive on predictability and routine, and who need constant reassurance as they grow in emotional maturity and approach adulthood, it doesn’t look great; sometimes it looks overwhelming.

The government and the SAGE experts have spoken. Boundaries have been set and teenagers and parents alike have to accept that for the time being, for 23 hours of the day, their world has shrunk to the size of their living space and the people within it.

Home as a Safe Space

In the normal course of development, children grow up in a world where adults have answers and know how to keep the world safe. Recent events have shaken this security and the news close to home has been unsettling.

Home is the teenager’s safe base and as a parent you can demonstrate that you are still the adult taking care of them. Talking together about the news and thinking through decisions politicians and health experts are making can help them to process thoughts and talk through anxieties.

Daily routines that provide children with important boundaries and structure have been dismantled but parents can help to set a new routine that can provide structure to the week. It does not need to the same as it was when they were in school, getting up a little later is known to suit teenagers 

It’s so unfair                                                                        

The covid pandemic has taken away important developmental experiences for teenagers. At a time when the child should begin to separate from family and form their own identity, the STAY AT HOME message has temporarily frozen their first steps to independence. 

Remind teenagers that although it feels like forever, this stage will pass, encourage them to look forward and plan activities to do with friends when lockdown has been lifted. 

All of my Friends are Allowed

It is a difficult time to set time limits on phone and internet use as they are proving to be a lifeline to the outside world. The internet and mobile phones allow them to keep channels open to their education and continue to maintain important relationships with their social groups.

Gaming when used in moderation can bring some benefits. Cognitive skills are developed through visual processing, problem solving, analysing information and making decisions. In a time when there is so little opportunity for social contacts it offers a way to connect with others and develop social skills.

Keep conversations open about safe use of devices. Be curious and find out from them how they are keeping themselves safe on social media. Find out in an age appropriate way, what they know and feel about dangers of unknown contacts or sending or receiving inappropriate photographs or messages. 

All members of the family can be encouraged to put phones and devices away at certain times of the day.

Rites of Passage 

Many teenage children are missing out on important rites of passage that help them move between ending one stage of life and moving onto another.

Think with your teenager about important rites of passage they are missing, help them to acknowledge disappointment but think with them about an alternative way they can mark the occasion. Could a meal with important friends take the place of a school prom? or a camping trip replace a school residential trip? How would they like to mark or celebrate leaving school?

You don’t Understand 

Lockdown is bringing teenagers a whole new set of feelings that may include frustration, anxiety, isolation, loneliness and anger. Feelings are most likely to come out in behaviour. Look for the emotions that are behind behaviour.

As a parent, empathy, understanding and patience is going to make all the difference. Validate their feelings and let them know that even if their behaviour is not acceptable, their feelings are.  Helping children to become aware of their feelings helps them to develop inner strength.

Avoid conversations at the height of distress. During these times, brains are incapable of thinking in a rational way.

Try to be a listening ear and a sounding board.  Have faith in your child. You have already given them the tools to make good choices and achieve their potential. 

Talk to your teenager like you would to an adult because that is what you are preparing them to be. 

I Hate You

Don’t take things too personally. Set your own boundaries of what you will or will not accept from your child but remember that children will bring their most hateful and difficult feelings to the people they love most and feel secure with.  

Be aware of negative coping strategies in teens for example, use of drugs and alcohol, self harm or eating problems. Let your child know that there are adults around especially trained to support young people if they feel unable to talk to you.

Useful contacts, as well as Fegans, are

Exercise promotes chemical change in the brain that reduces anxiety, improves mood and makes you relaxed. Encourage dancing in the kitchen or going for a run.

Encourage time outside which increases serotonin (a mood stabiliser) and brings feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Sun helps our body create vitamin D which keeps bones, teeth and muscles healthy. 

Mindfulness exercises and breathing can also help young people centre themselves and feel a sense of calm. 

Journalling is becoming a popular way for teenagers to process feelings.

Don’t Forget to Make Time for Fun Time

Put some fun things in the diary to do during lockdown such as movie night, virtual parties, exercising together, baking together, special meal time, dressing up theme night, games or quiz nights, craft sessions etc.

Laughter is the best medicine. Find something that makes all of the family laugh together.

Look after Yourself

Remember that when you are supporting others it is even more important to look after yourself. As the saying goes, put on your own oxygen mask first. 

This stage too will pass.