A brave yet scary new world – the pandemic & how it’s affecting teenage mental health

The twenty-first century dawned upon us all with much promise and expectation.  It was supposed to have been the dawn of an era of amazing technology and incredible human advancement.  And in many ways, it has been.  It was all going nicely, actually, until the COVID-19 came along in 2019 and struck fear into all of us, young and old, rich and poor, brown, yellow, black and white, sparing none.  And then suddenly, here we are, fear-stricken adults terrified about losing our livelihoods, our savings, our families, yes, and also about losing our lives.  If we, autonomous adults as we’d like to think ourselves, can feel that afraid, imagine what our young must be thinking and how they must be feeling.  We must never take the feelings and fears of our children for granted.

Our first babies born in the twenty-first century in the year 2001 turn nineteen this year.  They might well be practically adults, but they’re still teenagers by right, and they’re almost certainly as confused about the current world crisis and as afraid of how this pandemic might impact their future as we are, if not much more so.  Add to them all the little ones born after them in the twenty-first century.  Those are even younger and even more vulnerable.

It’s of crucial importance, then, for us as the adults and protectors of our young, to step up and give these very precious young people all the moral support we can to help them make it through these very uncertain times.  Here’s what we can do.

Make yourself approachable

Some of us as parents are too embroiled in our daily grind that when we get home from work, all we want to do is kick off our shoes, sink into the couch, put our feet up on the coffee table and zone out for an hour or two.  Granted.  We need our rest after having toiled all day making money for the family.  But these first hours at home are probably the best times for our children to come to us with their feelings, their problems, or even just to sit with us and feel safe and loved in our presence.  So the next time you get home from work, right before dinner time, go and find your children first and let them know you’re home and there for them if they need you.  It will without a doubt mean just as much to you as it will to them.  Our children have feelings just as we do.  And even more than we are, they’re vulnerable, and without knowing how to handle these feelings which could be very dark and very threatening, their very lives could be on the line. Do not miss the signs.

Listen with your heart

Once your children have sensed that you’re approachable and that you won’t bite their heads off if they come to you even when you seem bogged down after a hard day’s work, it’s time for you to exercise your powers of thought and detection, of sensitivity and empathy.  Being there for them isn’t nearly enough.  Not by a long shot.  You’ve got to listen to your children and hear what they have to say.  This doesn’t mean simply listening to what happened in their day or what stories they have to share with you.  Listen to what they have to say to you from their hearts, and listen with your heart, and when you do, even if their true feelings are shrouded in innuendoes, you’ll be able to pick up on what they’re actually telling you from the very bottom of their hearts.  You are the parent after all.  Listen, because it could be a craving for your love and affection, it could be a call for a certain action, or it could even be a cry for help.  Do not take teenage depression for granted.

Reassure and encourage

The COVID-19 has rendered the entire world victims at its mercy – the relentless, faceless enemy.  Even as you yourself are uncertain and afraid, do not let this show on your face when you’re with your children.  As parents and protectors, it is our very job to assure and reassure our children that they are loved and that you’ll do everything you can to make sure that nothing happens to them, and that they are safe for as long as they listen to and obey you and follow the rules.  Be living examples to your children and follow all the rules and procedures to keep yourself and your family safe.  Do not make light of the situation or deride the government’s directives, whatever they might be.

Build resilience

Change comes to everyone.  A wise man once said that nothing in this world is for certain, except change.  Just as you are adapting to change, educate your children about and familiarise them with the ever-changing present.  As much as you want to protect them from their fears, burying the truth under a string of platitudes or burying your heads in the ground like an ostrich will help no one.  Acknowledge and accept reality as it is, and teach your children that this is the new normal.  Now it’s normal for us to not shake hands, to not high-five, to not hug.  Now it’s normal for us to wear masks whenever we leave the house, to consistently sanitise our hands, to stand at least a certain distance from the next person.   And remember to tell them that if they do this, and follow the rules, they will eventually conquer the odds – even against this deadly virus.  Do not allow them to give up their strength of spirit.

And while you’re at it, all this advice about what to say to your children, say them to yourselves as well.  In our hearts, we’re all of us a little (or a lot) like the children we have, like the children we were, like the children who live inside our hearts.  But take heart, have courage, and all will be well.

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