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Published on May 07, 2020

Tips for parents supporting teens through losses of anticipated events during COVID-19

Tips for parents supporting teens through losses of anticipated events during COVID-19

by Allison Allmon Dixson, MD, Behavioral Health and Jeff Reiland, MS, CSAC, Behavioral Health

This is a time of year when many older teenagers are preparing for adulthood. With graduation parties and ceremonies postponed, proms canceled, work hours reduced and limits placed on their activities, COVID-19 has changed their world.

As parents, you may feel the same. Here are some tips to help your teen through the changes caused by COVID-19:

Acknowledge the negative feelings. This is disappointing, frustrating, annoying, scary, and confusing. Help your teen identify feelings about this situation. Share your own. How many feelings do you share on this?

  • The COVID-19 crisis has created loss and grief is expected. Help your teen list what is lost and different for them because of the health crisis.
  • Make room for difficult feelings. They are normal reactions to a difficult time.
  • Who else in the family or in our community is feeling similar?
  • There is an ebb-and-flow to dealing with these losses. Your teen may cycle through this process several times daily. Help them acknowledge and accept that emotions will come and go and that they will feel better again.

Seeing this problem from a different point of view is an emerging skill for teens. They have not mastered it yet. Be gentle helping them put their experience into perspective. The situation could be worse and is for many around the world.

  • Ask your teen to use an importance scale from 1-10 (10 being most important) to help them become more aware of the significance of their experience. "On a scale of one to ten, how significant is it that you can't or won't have the _________ experience. Using this same scale how would you compare this to the significance of all your family members or loved ones staying healthy? Being able to go back to work? Being able to feed the family and pay bills? Having a safe community to live in?"

Practice gratitude. As a parent, you can model each day what you are grateful for. You can also ask your teen what they are grateful for in that moment.

Focus on the greater good. It may help to watch and listen to stories of others who made sacrifices to help others during this time. These are easy to find in news stories and in your neighborhood. A gentle reminder that we are in this together and practicing social distancing prevents loss of life might help.

Action steps: what can you control? It is easy to fall into the trap of focusing on things we cannot control. Help your teen focus on what they can control: how they respond to the situation, how they eat, sleep, use their time each day, how they treat others, how they choose to view the situation and how they can prepare for their future.

  • What skills will you need as an adult that you could work on now? Are there home or yard projects that could use some attention? Does your teen have the necessary life skills such as cooking and doing laundry or making a budget that they can continue to build? Is it practical or feasible to take online courses for college credit?

Service to others: what kind, caring, supportive deeds you can your teen do? Consider getting involved with service work/volunteering: guide your teen to helping a neighbor, family friend or relative. Investigate if there are needs in the community for volunteers who can help others through shopping or delivering food or other supplies or helping with yard work, online platforms or delivering groceries.

Allow teens to use their digital platforms to connect socially. It's OK to encourage your emerging adults to connect with their friends socially and still maintain parent expectations and basic rules around screen time. As a family, you may choose to postpone that high school graduation party, but also consider a digital graduation celebration.

Get outside. Social distancing does not mean sitting in a bedroom. With warming weather, encourage your teen and the family to get outside. Going for a walk, hike or bike ride, planting a garden are just a few ways to experience the outdoors.

Change your language about your day. Replace "This day is boring and the same as yesterday" with "What is going to be good about today?"

Set goals. Consider learning a new skill. Some young adults are using this opportunity to try a new hobby, read a new book or learn about a new topic. The internet could be a great starting point to developing knowledge and understanding about careers, social, historical or political issues or learning more about life.

Connect with siblings/other family members. Friend groups are not the only people that need connection. Families around the world are rediscovering games, activities, and common interests with each other. If being with family is not possible, teens can use their technology skills to reach out to relatives. Imagine teaching aging relatives to Skype.

Have meaningful conversations. There is no time like the present for family members to learn more about each other's hopes, dreams, goals, and values. Consider starting a routine of family members drawing one question that helps identify what is important to them. One person draws the question and each family member can answer it. The internet is filled with ideas for good questions that help teens (and other family members) talk about what really matters to them. There is no end of questions. Here is a short list to get you started:

  • If you could pick anywhere in the world to live, where would it be? Why? Who would you want to live with or near you?
  • What scares you the most about the future of the world?
  • If you could design a dream job, what would it be?
  • If you could design a dream house, how would it look?
  • If you could travel back in time, what time would you go to and why?
  • If you could interview anyone in the world, who would it be? What would you ask them?
  • Do you believe money can buy happiness?
  • If you could have one super-power, what would it be?
  • What do you think are three of the most important qualities to have in order to live a great life?
  • How would you define love without using the word "love"?

Use technology supports. There are many apps that have been created and geared toward stress or anxiety management/coping. Consider exploring one that might be right for you.

Parenting your teen as they near adulthood requires a delicate balance. On the one hand you need to validate the frustration they feel over the changes in their lives that no one can control. On the other, you want to help them move forward. Be present. Listen to them. Gently challenge them to grow. COVID-19 cannot define our lives. Resilience is the ability to overcome and bounce back from setbacks.

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