As many of you reading this may already know, raising teens and launching young adults are two tasks which are already difficult.  Some of the difficulties include:

  1. setting limits without being over-controlling; 

  2. encouraging without being judgmental; 

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  3. supporting without over-caretaking; 

  4. creating space without losing connection.  

None of these challenging questions became any easier to answer when COVID-19 became central and foremost in everyone’s minds.  Here are some guidelines for parents and caregivers to help you navigate some of the special difficulties imposed by the COVID pandemic, taking into account the developmental stages of adolescence and young adult.

1. EMPATHY - “FOMO” IS A REAL THING!

Fear Of Missing Out and being excluded is a serious concern for young people.  The main developmental tasks of this age group require widening relationships outside of the family and practicing independence.  Therefore, it is particularly hard for them to restrict their social contacts and in-person meetings.  It is made even harder when the responsible young people among them see the “Highlight Reels” of their peers not following social-distancing rules and abandoning their safety in lieu of having a good time with their friends.  What is more, the part of the brain which mediates judgement and impulse control is still under construction, making it hard for the young adults and teens to moderate their emotions and behaviors.  Empathy towards your teen/young adult is particularly important and can go a long way towards helping them experience you as someone who is understanding of their situation.  Help them to come up with creative ways to be with their friends without compromising their health and safety.   

2. COPING WITH “SHUTDOWN FATIGUE”

“Shutdown Fatigue” is also a real thing.  It is a kind of “crispy” feeling bordering on “burnt-out.”  It includes tiredness, frustration, low tolerance, impatience, and a serious drive to do something different.  Try to take this into consideration during family times and look for opportunities to do fun things together and apart. Try to appreciate that individuals vary in the amount of alone time they need.  Introverts and extraverts differ from one another in the amount of human interaction they need.  Extraverts usually experience feeling “re-energized” when they are around others and can feel depleted when they are left alone without social contact.  Introverts, on the other hand, are likely to feel their energy being drained in social situations and they tend to leave social get-togethers feeling tired and depleted. Conversely, introverts find their time alone to be restorative and re-energizing.  It is important to consider the varying needs of family members by understanding the impact of the shutdown on different personality types.  Interestingly, extraverts are doing slightly better than introverts during the shut-down (Travers, 2020) since they have been found to be more optimistic and have a broader network of social contacts than the introverts.

3. ROLE MODELING SELF-CARE

There is nothing quite like your teen calling you a hypocrite to squelch even the best teaching moment!  Role modelling the behaviors you want to see in your teens and young adults is perhaps one of the most effective teaching tools for parents.  Parents need to “walk the walk,” not just “talk the talk.”  This means that parents and caregivers need to be mindful of their behaviors and be examples of good self-care.  How are you looking after yourself?  Are you modeling social distancing?  Can you empathize with your teen who hasn’t seen their friends because you yourself have missed out on unsafe interactions and social engagements?  

 4. TEACH LIMITS – DON’T JUST IMPOSE THEM

Setting limits is most effective when it is a collaborative exercise between you and your teen/young adult.  First, it increases the likelihood of “buy-in” when the teen/young person has been part of the thought process involved in setting a limit.  Secondly, teens can learn how to make boundaries for themselves when they are given the opportunity to practice them in-vivo.    Save those “heavy-handed” moments for when your teens need you to be an excuse for them to save face with their friends!

I can only imagine that our grown teens and adults will have lots of stories to tell the next generation about 2020.  Some of their stories will remember the losses and sacrifices which were made during this period.  Other stories will be light and humorous – not to mention a vault of funny memes that will be available to look back on.  Whatever their experiences, I hope that our teens and young adults can look back upon this period and remember how much we cared about them and how they grew in resilience, strength and character. 

If you would like to learn more about how teens and young people are dealing with COVID-19, please visit our website to read the full-length article.

Psychologists Jeffrey S. Kahn, PhD, MAC, CGP, DABPS, and Alison W. Johnson, PsyD, had a vision.

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