Supporting Your Teenager During Lockdown

Father and teenage son talking on couch

Lockdown is affecting all members of society in different ways. For young people supposed to sit the Leaving Cert, they’ve not only been cut off from their friends, but are also unsure about what the future holds. It can be hard for parents to connect at a difficult time like this; they may fear their child is struggling mentally, but not know how to broach the issue.  Kiki Martire is Head of Training and Coaching at Crisis Text Line Ireland and also works with SpunOut.ie.   SpunOut.ie, an Irish information website that aims to empower young people. They’ve got lots of resources available for students struggling with the effects of COVID-19.

Pressure to be Perfect 

Lockdown aside, Kiki notes how much pressure young people are under in the lead-up to exams. “It’s a really stressful time. Students often feel like if they don’t do well on this one thing, it’s going to have terrible knock-on effects in the future.” Missing out on term time is undoubtedly an extra stress for those already worried about when the revised Leaving Cert will take place. Kiki recommends a two-pronged approach for parents. “First,” she says, “it’s about putting things in perspective – letting them know this does not have to decide their whole life path. Parents should make sure their children are getting enough sleep, eating nutritious foods and being active once a day (within 5km), whether that’s yoga, walking the dog, going for a jog, or some activity that's enjoyable and accessible for them.  It’s having a time or place they’re going to study, but also building breaks and relaxation into that routine.”

Mother helping daughter study

A Shift in Mindset 

“Secondly,” she continues, “as much as we can emphasise self-care, there really needs to be a larger cultural change, where we’re not just telling young people to ‘cope better’ but examining the pressurised culture we’re creating for them. For many reasons, our teenagers are under immense stress, and there’s such intense expectations for them to be perfect and have everything figured out. But being young has always been about experimenting with different things and making mistakes. Are we still as a culture allowing young people to do that?”

Navigating Social Media 

Understandably, with young people now stuck at home, lots of parents’ fears are centred around over-use of social media. “By and large,” says Kiki, “parents of young people right now didn’t grow up with social media. For them, it’s a scary and foreign thing, whereas for young people, it’s the language they grew up with.” When it comes to managing young people’s online usage though, it’s important not to be overly alarmist. “There’s lots of positives around social media,” Kiki notes. “It’s a way for young people to express themselves and connect, especially now when they’re physically separated from their friends.” There are obviously negatives too, but Kiki advises going with the flow as much as possible. “I don’t blame parents for being wary, but the fact of the matter is: social media isn’t going anywhere. It’s much better to talk about the ways young people can cope and have a healthier relationship with it, rather than just saying ‘get offline’, because that’s not realistic.” 

Teenage boy on his phone

Look Out for Tell-Tale Signs

How will parents know if their child or teenager is struggling mentally during lockdown? There are plenty of signs, says Kiki. “Look out for big behavioural changes, like not sleeping well or complaining of night terrors. Changes in eating habits is another one, or if they stop doing the things they love, and withdraw into themselves.” Lots of parents might notice these changes, but don’t know how to broach the issue. They don’t want to feel like they’re intruding or nagging, and fear pushing the child further away. For Kiki though, it’s important to speak up. “It’s ok to ask someone straight out how they’re feeling. The worst thing you’d want your child to say is, ‘You never asked me how I was’. There’s a difference between nagging and having an interest in the mental well-being of your child. It’s important that they feel supported, and that they know there won’t be judgement or blaming.” 

SpunOut as a Resource

SpunOut.ie is a great resource for teenagers and young adults, but also parents. There’s content specifically to help families deal with coronavirus pressure, but lots of other interesting articles too. “Our site is great because it allows you to tap into young people and what’s on their minds,” Kiki explains. “We publish opinion pieces of their lived experiences. Another way it’s useful for parents is signposting. If they want to find counselling for their young person but don’t know where to begin, they can use our website to find relevant information.”