The Challenges Teens Are Facing During COVID-19

In this three part series, we will discuss the challenges that have come with COVID-19 and some strategies to help you best support your child during this time. 

Jairo Ramirez* is a diabetic who lives with the fear of the complications that can arise from COVID-19. He is also a father of two teenage girls whom he keeps at home in order to curb his risk of getting infected. “I just feel like a horrible parent, because it is my fault that Cindy* is failing, and I don’t know what to do!” His voice is shaky as I call to notify him that his daughter, has failed my virtual junior English class. I can hear his sincerity and feel the burden of guilt that he and so many parents are carrying about their kids during these unprecedented times. 

While everyone has been impacted by Covid-19, students have taken an especially hard hit with the loss of routine, peer interaction, educational opportunity, and social milestones. Schools don’t just serve as academic hubs for children and adolescents. They also serve as a social network where students are able to meet their mental and physical needs. My eyes were opened to this reality shortly after schools officially closed in March of 2020. Almost overnight schools began serving as food banks and hallways became littered with food instead of students. I volunteered and witnessed first hand many of my students coming off of the school buses with their parents and siblings to take bags of food that would serve as their breakfast and lunch for the next seven days. 

In addition to their physical needs, I had received personal reports from my high school students saying just how downcast and hopeless they have felt. This resulted in many of them dropping off from attending virtual classes and completing their work. I was surprised to see the number absences from the most high achieving and engaged students, like Ashley*. Ashley is a bright, ambitious girl who rarely misses school and often completes her work ahead of time, but she fell off from my classes two weeks after the shut down. After reaching out to her several times, she sent me the following email explaining her absence: 

“Hey Mrs. Johnson, I haven’t been doing any work because I don’t have any motivation anymore. My grandpa died not too long ago due to the COVID, and I’ve been super sad. I miss my friends, I miss all my classes, and all my favorite teachers that motivated me to keep me going everyday.  As much as I complained [about school], I still miss it. I really want to go to the next grade this year; I’ve  been trying to do more work, but this being at home all day everyday is so draining…  I can’t even go to the store just to get away for a second.  I’ve been stressed and gaining even more weight,  lonely, and unhappy. Quarantine [seems to have] been good for everybody else but me.”

Ashley expresses so many of the frustrations that I often hear from students and parents alike. I hear from parents who don’t even know where to begin to help their child. Parenting is already hard enough in this world without the additional stress of the pandemic, but there are simple and effective ways to support your child and guide them in the right direction. 

First, begin by understanding that COVID-19 has impacted different people to varying degrees. Even though your child might not be experiencing any direct consequences of COVID-19, like Ashley, they are likely still internalizing and bearing the burdens of their friends. In order to support them through this, parents should check in, and ask them about their friends. Allow them unload what they are carrying. Do not interrupt or offer advice unless they ask, as this can cause your child to feel shut down. Telling your child that their issue is irrelevant or questioning their grief when you consider how well off they seem to be will only lead to your child shutting down. 

Second, encourage your child to tell you about how they are feeling with the new challenges of virtual education, social isolation, and political turmoil that is going on. And then simply listen. Even though it may be tempting, don’t interrupt and share your own burdens, or use their response as an opportunity to teach a life lesson. When I shared with my students that I was working on this blog, one student, Kate,* shared: “I just want to talk and for my parents to listen and not try to fix everything. Especially my dad; the moment I begin discussing an issue, he is already coming up with a solution when I just want someone to listen.” Another student, Charlotte,* mentioned, “I wish my parents would ask how am I really doing?” This surprised me because often when I ask how they’re doing, they shrug me off with a “fine” as they turn back to their cell phones. I figured parents experience the same response, so I asked Charlotte, “What questions can parents ask in addition to, ‘how are you?’ since that seems to only get a one word response?” Another student, Iliana,*  chimed in, “Ask about our interests, like I love it when my parents ask me about my drawings!” Iliana is an avid drawer and reader, but she is very much to herself, so it surprised me to hear that she actually craved the engagement.

Friends, this is true for so many teens and kids; even when they don’t verbalize it, children of all ages are seeking attention, empathy and encouragement.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Holding Your Child Accountable During COVID-19

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