It is all too easy to assume that because teenagers and adolescents do not desire to discuss current issues means they are doing okay. Many of them will have lost focus heading towards their exams, others are finding it hard to not be meeting up with friends, going shopping, carrying out normal sports or simply hanging out together.
ACP Child Psychotherapist Rachel Melville Thomas answers questions on how to support your teenagers; especially if they don’t want to talk or are expressing their anxieties through anger.
How can you talk to your teenagers about COVID-19 and their anxieties in isolation, when they don’t want to listen or talk?
Being an adolescent is an unsettling time anyway, and now they have to deal with the loss of a great deal of “scaffolding” that helped them to know what to do and how to be. It is difficult to say how frightening and confusing this is, so often teenagers will act or show what they feel rather than tell you verbally.
They may also behave as though nothing is bothering them at all, either because it’s too hard to explain or as a way to protect themselves from thinking about their underlying worries.
Some ways to get talking
Pick an activity time - like washing up, brushing the dog or clearing a cupboard, where no one has to make eye contact.
Sit down and watch something together – even ask to have Animal Crossing explained!
Have a light bedtime chat – whilst sorting clothes for the wash perhaps, or maybe even having a sit down. Hopefully a warm, night-time talk evokes memories of safer, earlier days when they were being settled in by you.
How to talk
Start with yourself and how you feel, “It’s all so weird these days”, “I’m having trouble focussing on my work online”
If they respond negatively – just agree and empathise. “Yes, you’re right, it’s easier for me because I can keep up the work”
Do third person questions – “How are the others in your year doing?”
Use your imagination: “I’m guessing it’s terrible not knowing if the work you do will count for towards anything”, “I wonder if it’s hard for Liam with his dad away”
Watch the news with them, and get talking about what they think.
How do you help and support teenagers who are feeling angry about isolation and missing friends?
Adolescents are quite rightly striving for independence and being in charge of their own lives. It will become more and more annoying that they are being told to curtail their lives and the freedom they find in friends and school life.
There is a real risk that in the next few weeks some may simply ignore advice and go to meet up with friends or hang out in public spaces.
Check now how they are feeling about being stuck indoors, stay in touch with their state of mind, before it gets really difficult for them.
Allow them to let off steam, perhaps repeatedly, they may need to let you know how intolerable it all is so they can feel a little better.
Listen to them and agree with them (again).
Don’t be afraid of the immediate angry reaction. Often teenagers wear an irritated or annoyed mood like a suit of armour – it puts off parents asking how they are and spotting the painful or scared feelings behind it.
Sometimes they won’t be overtly angry but will behave in ways that make you furious! It’s a way of pushing those nasty feelings into other people. Stay calm and see it as “stress overspill”. Talk to another adult, or just have a think about it before retaliating.
And more practically….
Offers of food and drink go a long way to reassure your teenager that you are still supporting them, whatever!
See if they have any ideas or plans about how to survive the next few weeks/months. Take a look at Andria Zafirakou’s ideas on creativity https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/coronavirus-education-homeschooling-teaching-creativity/
Or Ideas for activities for future planning here: https://staceymdesign.com/blogs/blog/15-activities-for-your-teen-or-young-adult-during-lockdown
Gently suggest that they will enjoy the relaxing more if they have done some work. Warn them that endless gaming, Netflix, movies and surfing the net will end in feeling pointless and maybe a bit down.
See also supporting exam age children here.