Helping your teen adjust to living with COVID-19

Image of a dad and his daughter sitting together outside. They are both smiling.

As rules change across Australia and borders reopen, we are adjusting to living with coronavirus in the community.

Some teens may feel anxious about catching the virus, or may be finding face-to-face learning challenging, or might be struggling to carve out time for themselves.

As a parent, you may need some extra support as you and your family adjust to life after lockdowns. You might feel worried, excited, overwhelmed or relieved, or a combination of competing emotions.

Help your teen deal with COVID-19 anxiety

Since the start of the pandemic, many young people have reported feeling anxious about catching COVID-19 and spreading it to loved ones or to vulnerable people in the community.

Even if your teen is fully vaccinated, they may feel hesitant about rejoining group activities or hanging out with friends.

Here are some steps you can take to help your teen deal with anxiety around the transmission of COVID-19:

  • Listen to them: Give your teen the space to tell you how they are feeling.

  • Give them the facts: A great way to tackle uncertainty is with information. Guide your teen towards trusted sources such as the Department of Health. Discourage them from trusting what they read on social media, which can often contain misinformation.

  • Help them to focus on what they can control: Uncertainty about the future can make anyone feel anxious. Help your teen to focus on the things they can control. They can’t control the pandemic. But they can control what activities they do coming out of lockdown, depending on what they feel comfortable with. For example, they can choose whether to go to indoor gatherings, or to stick with hanging out with friends outside.

  • Encourage your teen to check in with themselves: It’s easy to get caught up with school, friends, family and other responsibilities. Encourage your teen to check in with themselves using this quiz.

  • Seek professional help: If you’re worried about your teen’s mental wellbeing, one of the best things you can do as a parent is support them to seek professional help. You could visit a GP together, speak to a mental health professional, or call a hotline such as Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800).

Help your teen to set boundaries

With restrictions lifted, your teen may be feeling pressure to socialise. They might need help from you in setting boundaries while making sure they’re still doing the things they enjoy.

We know that many young people have mixed feelings about leaving lockdown. On the one hand, they may be looking forward to seeing their friends, but they may also have enjoyed being less busy during lockdown.

Here are some ways you can encourage your teen to set boundaries:

  • Help them to work out what they enjoy doing: Ask your teen what they value – whether it’s seeing friends, working on a hobby, or hanging out with family. Are there things they discovered or focused on during lockdown that they would like to continue making time for after lockdown?

  • Encourage them to go at their own pace: Remind them that just because their friends are going out a lot, it doesn’t mean that they have to.

  • Help them schedule time for themselves: Reassure your teen that it’s important for them to still make time for the hobbies and activities they enjoy. Encourage them to block out a few hours each week to spend on doing things they love. Talk with them about the importance of practising self-care or of exploring ways of managing anxiety and stress.

Help your teen adjust to face-to-face learning

Teens who have been learning from home due to lockdown restrictions may need extra support as they adjust to being back to face-to-face learning.

Some students may have enjoyed being able to learn at their own pace, as well as taking breaks when they needed to, avoiding being on public transport and receiving more one-on-one support. Students who have experienced social isolation or bullying in face-to-face environments may also be feeling apprehensive about returning to campus.

In the classroom, students benefit from having more structure, routine and opportunities to spend time with friends. But they may have to get used to not having the same kind of flexibility and independence they had when working from home.

Here’s how you can support your teen to return to the classroom:

  • Ask your teen how they feel: What are they enjoying doing? Is there anything that makes them feel anxious? Reassure them that it’s okay to have mixed feelings.

  • Give them more flexibility and choice: Ask your teen how you can best support them as they are adjust to being back to face-to-face schooling again. Help them to choose a fun activity to do after school, and give them more say in their after-school and weekend schedules.

  • Check in with them regularly: Your teen’s needs might change after a few weeks or months. Keep the communication lines open and offer to check in with them regularly. Let them know they can also come to you at any time to chat.

Get your own support

Many parents are also feeling anxious at the moment. You might be worried about catching or passing on COVID-19. Or you may be feeling overwhelmed about how much you are juggling, or stressed about sending your teen to school knowing that COVID-19 is in the community.

It’s important to prioritise self-care and not to ignore your own needs in order to look after your family. When you’re feeling refreshed, you’ll be better placed to look after other people. Try to eat nutritious meals, make time for exercise, get enough sleep and alone time, and do things that you enjoy. Find out what kind of self-care suits you with this quiz.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or like you need some extra support, you can chat to a trusted friend, family member or co-worker, your GP or a mental health professional.

Living with COVID-19 in the community can be stressful for teenagers and their families. You can help your teen by supporting them to focus on what they can control, by setting boundaries around how they spend their time, and by practising self-care. Remember that extra support is always available if you or your teen are struggling.

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