Hoodie-wearing teen focused on her phone


How I’m Protecting My Teen’s Mental Health During COVID-19

Apr 9, 2020

The world feels surreal. I don’t have to tell you that. For once the entire planet is focused on the same thing: trying to stay safe during this global pandemic.

As a parent of a young teen, I’ll admit I’ve been floundering as we adjust to this new reality. In what feels now like an eternity ago, I was helping my daughter pack for a spring break trip with her 12-year-old cousin. They were to fly alone to visit my parents in Florida.

This was when schools were still open, and life still felt somewhat normal. My daughter had been looking forward to this trip for months to experience a bit of independence and escape winter’s last gasp. But I did feel a sense of doom as I followed the developments of COVID-19 popping up around the world. I was torn between the need to keep my kid safe, and not wanting to call off a much-anticipated trip. Thankfully we cancelled it, and my parents returned safely home.

That was two very weird weeks ago. Now life seems to have seismically shifted as we find ourselves, like everyone else, physical distancing at home with no end in sight.

Social isolation is hard. CBC Parents producer, Kevin Naulls, explains why everyone should be making time for video chats. Read that POV here.

After my daughter’s trip was called off, sleepovers soon ceased, hangouts were halted and even short walks with friends stopped. Suddenly my very happy and social teen felt like she was under house arrest. She would spend countless hours listlessly lying around the house just staring at her phone. When I tried to motivate her to make the best of it and to do something productive, she would snap at me that she was on March break.

But spring break came and went and we were technically back in what should have been a school week, and I still couldn’t seem to get her into any kind of routine. I started to worry about how this social deprivation might be impacting her because she’s at the age when friends are everything. My focus shifted to not just my child’s physical well-being, but her mental health too.

Here’s what I’m doing to try and help her as we move through this unchartered territory:

I’m not trying to be her teacher

On the first Monday after March break, my social media feeds were filled with posts of parents homeschooling kids. I told my daughter that we should come up with a plan to keep her academics up, which she immediately shot down.

Then I realized that she is, in fact, learning all kinds of things right now. She’s getting an education in health and hygiene, history and politics, economics and social justice. So for now, we’re forgoing the fractions and focusing on things we often don’t have the bandwidth for like cooking and sewing and reading and watching old movies.

In fact, the other day I discovered she didn’t know how to use a can opener. So I showed her. Class dismissed.

Minimizing media

When the pandemic caused schools and businesses to close, my husband and I felt compelled to constantly have the TV or radio on. We were transfixed with the news that was rapidly changing here and around the world.

Having a teen in the house means that we have a young person who understands what she’s seeing and hearing, but doesn’t have the emotional tools to process it. If we think it is hard for adults, it must be doubly so for children. We’ve decided to limit the amount of media we consume so that our daughter wouldn’t have to be bombarded by it.

Giving her space

I’m cutting my kid some slack. If she spends too much time on her phone, or if her room is messy, I’m trying to dial back barking at her. After all, she is grieving her former life. She is feeling the loss of seeing her friends, going to school, celebrating Grade 8 grad, visiting family and feeling safe outside of our home. It isn’t business as usual so I’m trying to be more gentle as we navigate these frightening times together.

Checking in on how she’s feeling

It’s easy to get wrapped up in all the handwashing, disinfecting and being cooped up to remember to ask kids how they’re feeling. Children are resilient, but are also susceptible to stress, so I do a regular check-in to see how she is coping. Sometimes I start by asking how her friends are doing which inevitably leads to her feelings. I think it’s good for all of us to take some time to do that, since we are collectively going through an experience we never had before.

Focusing on the positive

And for all the bad things that are happening, there are also some positives too. We are focusing on the brave frontline workers, thinking of ways we can contribute to our community and appreciating the fact that we are healthy and have each other. My daughter is starting to come around to accepting this temporary reality. We’re even finding ways to experience some joy. And I’m appreciating getting to spend this unexpected timeout with my teen. This isn’t forever, we’ll get through it and we’ll make the best of it.

Until everyone can be together again.

Article Author Laura Mullin
Laura Mullin

Read more from Laura here.

Laura Mullin is a published playwright and writer and the Co-Artistic Director of the award-winning company, Expect Theatre. She is also the Co-Host and Producer of PlayME, a podcast that transforms plays into audio dramas now on CBC. She has worked in theatre, film, and television and lives in Toronto with her writer/producer husband and pre-teen daughter. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @expectlaura.

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