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The Continued Negative Impact of COVID-19 on our Teens

As the mandates are lessening, children are still anxious and depressed.

Key points

  • The last two years have had a strong negative impact on adolescents' mental health.
  • Parents may feel that their children are the only ones who are having a hard time, but they should know that they are definitely not alone.
  • Listen, validate, check in, and seek help if you are not sure how to navigate your child’s struggles.

Moriah Ballingit wrote, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning of an accelerating mental health crisis among adolescents, with more than 4 in 10 teens reporting that they feel 'persistently sad or hopeless,' and 1 in 5 saying they have contemplated suicide, according to the results of a survey published Thursday” (The Washington Post, April 1, 2022).

These are staggering statistics and truly speak to the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that led to the world shutting down and closing for so long. This has been a two-year process of managing a virus that has created immediate, short-term, and long-term effects that we could have never anticipated. As the mandates are lessening and our “world” is “opening up,” our children are more confused, anxious, and depressed than ever.

Where Children Are Continuing to Struggle

Moms of children in elementary, middle, and high school in my parent community have shared that their children are continuing to struggle in several areas. As parents, we may feel that our children may be the only ones who are having a hard time, so I hope that this helps you to see that we are all part of a big club, one that we didn’t necessarily sign up for. The mom community has shared the following:

  • My child is anxious about taking tests in school.
  • My child isn’t motivated to go to school or finish schoolwork.
  • My child doesn’t have the coping skills to get through everyday stressors.
  • My child has weak social skills.
  • My child doesn’t want to sit in their seat for so long each day in school.
  • My child is sharing with me that there is a lot of acting out in the classroom and it’s stressful.
  • My child doesn’t want to take his/her/their mask off because they are embarrassed to show his/her/their face. They’ve gained weight or are shameful of their acne.
  • My child is withdrawing from everyday life and interactions.
  • My child is isolating him/her/their self.

As parents, many of us are worried sick about our kids, no matter how old they are. We gave our children so many different messages over the last two years in an effort to keep our families safe. Each family’s comfort level varied, and they changed over time as well. Our children have had very little consistency in the basics of life as well as very little control. Very quickly, many of the familiar things we did in life were gone and eventually quite limited—for example, getting a manicure or haircut, and, eventually, extracurricular activities and vacations.

School didn’t look or feel the same. Virtual learning was ineffective for many kids with parents noticing inattention, low motivation, and difficulty with sustaining attention for lessons, homework, and writing papers. Many of our children would not log on because they could not stand to see their image on a screen. They wouldn’t participate because their image and voice became the center of attention.

When they returned to school, they couldn’t see and hear their teachers and their peers. Social interactions were limited and many activities, clubs, and events were canceled.

What Can I Do?

  • Increase social interaction: Coordinate playdates for your elementary school–aged children at least one time per week. If during the week doesn’t work for you, schedule playdates for the weekend. Encourage your middle school– and high school–aged children to invite friends over, and go out for coffee or dinner.
  • Check in with your child: I find, with my own adolescent children, the car is the place to check in. My son or daughter aren’t looking at me, and it creates a little bit more space between us. My kids end up sharing much more with me than if we were sitting at the dinner table or if I stopped by their room. Texts are also another way to check in with your child, and they are more likely to share more of their in-depth thoughts.
  • Validate: Our children need to hear that their struggles and insecurities are OK. Don’t tell them that it will be OK or that this will get better. Whatever they are verbalizing to you, let them know that you understand. Ask questions and listen to their responses. Let them vent. Let them cry and be present with them.
  • Check in with teachers: If your grade portal doesn’t offer you that much information, reach out to your child’s teachers and speak via phone or schedule a meeting with your child’s teacher (elementary level) or team of teachers (middle and high school). Ask how your child is performing academically, socially, and emotionally. Listen to where your child is struggling and create supports at school and at home. Coordinate continued contact in another month.
  • Seek professional help: If you are noticing that your child is becoming emotionally, academically, or behaviorally more withdrawn, seek professional help. Therapy is also a place where you, as the parent, can also gain strategies to help your child at home and validate your struggles in parenting as well.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been overwhelming for our children. Listen, validate, check in, and seek help if you are not sure how to navigate your child’s struggles.


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