Helping teens cope
With the coronavirus still among us, one group that needs attention are our teenagers. They may not be as visibly anxious as younger children might be, but teens may still be stressed by the virus. This week I’m providing some mature advice for helping teens cope with COVID-19.
First, be aware that if teens are not talking with you about coronavirus, they have easy access to everything that is going on through their smartphones and social media. Unfortunately, not everything they may hear from friends on social media is accurate, so it is important to make sure adolescents understand the facts from the fiction regarding this virus. How can you do this?
1. Learn the facts yourself, especially regarding the virus and the preventive measures we are taking and why we are taking them. The CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) website is a good one to refer to, as are the websites for the Vermont and New York health departments and our local hospitals.
2. Ask your teens what they know about the virus, and what if anything worries them.
3. Answer their questions honestly. If you don’t know the answer, suggest working together to find the answer online or by calling your or your teen’s health care professional.
4. Don’t simply say, “We’ll be fine,” because that may not be the case. Instead, validate that you are also worried, how hard it is right now to go through this, and then point out what is being done globally, nationally and even locally at places like the University of Vermont to investigate new medications or vaccines to eliminate this virus.
5. Focus on preventive strategies. Although we may be tired of hearing about hand washing and physical distancing, we must not stop doing them until the pandemic has run its course.
Parents, don’t react if your teens ignore your overtures for conversation. Stay calm, and just wait for the next opportunity, perhaps while watching or hearing something on the news to again initiate a conversation. This allows you to share your own worries and concerns, and in turn, for your teen to share theirs. In this way, your adolescents will realize you are right there to support them as you hope they will be there to support you, too.
Hopefully, tips like these will enable your teens to grow and develop in their understanding of not just what the coronavirus is all about, but in their recognizing that it is a team effort that will allow us to get through it together.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and NBC5.