With so much change in the past few months because of COVID-19, teens have had to miss out on many of their regularly scheduled activities. These include live graduation ceremonies, graduation parties, award ceremonies, sports practices and competitions, school trips and time with their friends. It’s no surprise that some teens are feeling sad, anxious, depressed and uneasy about all of things they have had to miss out on.
Jasmine Reese, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, director of the Adolescent and Young Adult Specialty Clinic at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, says it’s important for parents and families to not only recognize the sense of loss that their teens are facing but also talk to them about healthy ways to stay active and engaged in positive ways they can stay busy.
Having less of a routine and more unoccupied time can sometimes lead to experimenting with behaviors and things that perhaps otherwise they would be too busy to even think about. Additionally, less productive time might mean more time on social media or virtual chat groups where teens are feeling pressured into trying things that may be harmful to them.
Parents and caregivers should be aware of some of the risky behaviors that teens may be more likely to engage in:
More social media time, more video chat time, and more time on other virtual platforms may introduce more time to have inappropriate conversations or send inappropriate photos and messages. Talk to your teens about social media safety and you should still encourage screen time limits or breaks throughout the day.
We should all be following physical distancing guidelines; however, some teens are gathering in groups or with a few close friends or significant others. With teens spending lots of time indoors together, medical experts are concerned that we may see a rise in teen pregnancies. Parents should continue to stay engaged in what their teens are doing and with whom they are spending time. Talk to your teens about safe relationships and safe sex practices.
In times of stress, it is common for teens to seek ways to help them deal with stress and uncertainty by experimenting with smoking, vaping, drinking alcohol, or using other substances like marijuana or non-prescription drugs. These can all be extremely harmful to a teen’s developing brain, lungs, health in general, and are not ways to treat depression and anxiety. Be sure to talk to your teens about these harmful effects. Make sure that any adult beverages or products are properly stored and secured to prevent teen use.
Many teens may be suffering from depression or anxiety and are afraid to talk to parents about their mood. Some teens fear rejection or getting in trouble if they share their emotions. Sometimes teens suffer in silence and self-harm or use cutting as a way to deal with their emotions and feelings. Parents should check in with their teens often. Especially check in with your teens if you notice they are spending several hours at a time alone in their room and always want the door closed. Let your teens know that you are a safe person to talk to and that you can help them navigate their emotions safely.
For any of these concerns, you should always consider talking to your pediatrician or adolescent health provider who can help you keep your teens safe and healthy.
On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital experts. Visit HopkinsAllChildrens.org/Stories each Monday for the latest report. You also can explore more advice from Jasmine Reese, M.D.