As tensions swell in Canada and around the world, there is no doubt that many of our youth are struggling amidst this global health crisis. What do we say to our youth about this issue and how can we be supportive? I think this depends really on what your family’s experience of it is, as it ranges drastically from family to family.
Some families are hunkered down at home, washing hands, maintaining distance and generally following the advice of health professionals. Other families are working in essential services, and trying to balance a stressful work environment, with the added pressures of having young ones at home. Others still may know someone who has become ill with COVID 19 or who is at risk of dying from this virus, or may be facing economic uncertainties and challenges that have never been experienced previously.
For the past few weeks, as I work in health care, and come home to my family, I have been reflecting myself on staying in this middle place between staying informed, and staying calm and rational. Parents can take a role in helping their teens find this balance for themselves as things continue to shift over the coming weeks.
For the teen who is anxious: Allow them to talk, hear their experience, open up time for connection online with friends, help filter out how much screen time is helpful, and how much is harmful. Sometimes we just need to turn the screens off and get some fresh air (while practicing the physical distancing guidelines). I think parents should be true to their own anxieties, but still project confidence that things will eventually get better, because in time, they will.
For the teen who is “invincible”: This group is tough. Teens naturally tend to feel invincible, and therefore may be less concerned about contracting the virus. It should be made clear that while you may not become sick with COVID-19 yourself, you can be a carrier of the virus with few or no symptoms and that your parent, grandparent, neighbor etc could get sick because of your careless actions. Remind them that it’s important to follow the distancing rules as our communities join together in being social responsible. As long as talking doesn’t lead to arguing or fighting, your kids are listening more than you think. They just need time to process what they’ve heard.
For the teen who is indifferent/just doesn’t get it: Let’s face it, teens tend to be a rather self-absorbed bunch. This is not due to personal flaws, but rather the stage of development they are in where much of their headspace is consumed by developing their own sense of selves and comparing that self with other peers around them. It can sometimes be difficult and often extremely frustrating to help some young people see the bigger picture. “Why should I need to stay inside if young people don’t get sick from Coronavirus?” I think that for this group, there is an opportunity to expose them to limited amounts of factual news data so they can learn what’s happening in the world around them. While as parents, it is our job to protect our children from stressors that exist in the world, it is also our jobs to create caring, compassionate humans that consider the wellbeing of others. (And please, do not get your news from social media sites like Facebook, this usually serves to spread misinformation and rumors rather than facts).
For the teen who is involved: Some teens are amazing at finding ways to help their communities and are rising to this occasion in their own ways by putting hearts in the windows, sending love to friends and family, or in supporting others in so many different ways. Teens can be great sources of enthusiasm and optimism, they are our future leaders after all. As parents, it’s important to make sure that they are getting a chance to take time for their own self-care and to recognize when they themselves are tired, scared or emotional.
Josh Van der Meer is a mental health and addictions counsellor in Prince George, BC, who specializes in working with young people aged 12-24. Josh works for Northern Health, Foundry, and Repiphany Counselling.