As the nation is advised to social distance and self-isolate, there is a growing concern that teenagers and young adults are not taking the public health warnings as seriously as the adults in their lives. However, social distancing is important for people of all ages to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
“While teens and young adults tend to have a strong sense of invincibility, the hesitancy to isolate is also part of the developmental growth stage they’re in – it’s normal,” said Adeola Adelayo, MD, a physician with Banner Behavioral Health Hospital. “Their social connections are innate and important. They seek it out because that’s where they’re meant to be as healthy teenagers.”
And while their intelligence isn’t in doubt, teens and young adults must override what they’re wired to do at this stage of their lives in order to help reduce transmission of the coronavirus.
Online in isolation presents challenges
As an advantage of their age, young adults and teens are part of a generation that is social media savvy and having access to this during isolation can be a huge relief. Friendships are important so people should be reaching out on the phone, social media or online to have their emotional needs met virtually.
“As difficult as it is for them to isolate, they’ll probably handle it a bit better than most older adults because of their adeptness with technology,” Dr. Adelayo said.
But, for teens and young adults who normally don’t feel a part of the in-crowd, online interactions can make them feel especially lonely.
“They’re seeing groups of peers online, interactions on social media and they’ll see things that everyone is talking about and they’re not a part of it,” Dr. Adelayo said. “If you’re not a part of the group, it can really be challenging. This isn’t always a happy time to go online for some kids.”
Set structure and ground rules
Having structure in your day helps make things less anxiety provoking, Dr. Adelayo said. “Time to exercise, sleep, eat, do school work or work – everyone craves some sort of structure,” she said. “Make sure there’s structured time and that things aren’t a free-for-all. There is normalcy with structure.”
Finding time for teens to hang out virtually with friends is important and parents are encouraged to help their teens prioritize that. “From arts and crafts over Facetime to hosting virtual dance parties, get creative so that they won’t feel the pain of not being able to go and hang out with friends,” Dr. Adelayo said.
Keeping in touch with teachers is also helpful to keeping teens connected academically and socially. She also recommends giving assignments for things to help with, or chores around the house, so your teen feels empowered and like they are contributing during this unprecedented time.
Tune into your teens
Like with any challenging situation, Dr. Adelayo advises that parents tune in to and be mindful of how their kids are feeling. Changes in sleep, appetite, interest and anxiety are all things parents should keep an eye on. Online bullying is also something to watch for as online activity is sure to increase.
“If you see your child struggling more than average, reach out to them,” Dr. Adelayo said. “Reach out to a professional.”
Parents should have conversations with their teens and young adult children to help them gain perspective and fully understand the reasons we’re all home. “Be very frank about why we’re doing it and that this is not the end of the world,” Adelayo said. “It feels like the end of the Earth for a child, where an adult has perspective of the future to come.”
Providing emphasis on the benefits for public health and safety are important and even looking for ways to help others as a family can do a world of good for everyone’s mood.
“The silver lining in all of this is the family time to reconnect from the fast pace of life,” Adelayo said. “Right now, it doesn’t feel hurried and rushed.”
For more advice on how to address this difficult time with your teen or to consult an expert, schedule an appointment with a Banner Health behavioral health provider. For the latest information on COVID-19, visit BannerHealth.com or the CDC.