Transform Through Therapy

Transform Through Therapy co-founder Michele Bates and her son, Mikey, 14, discuss how teens may be experiencing the effects of COVID-19 very differently.

Editor’s note: Transform Through Therapy specializes in online group therapy, with a special focus on grief and caregiving. In this series, they will be talking about COVID-19 and the impact it is having on mental health.

One of the most common questions we’ve received -- as the days at home are racking up to nearly a month’s time -- is, “What do I do with my teenagers?”

Generation Z has some unique characteristics that are different from the Generation X peeps who are raising them. We have identified five major categories to help you talk to your teens about how they’re feeling and make the most of this time period.

They’re the 'Insta' generation

Sure, no kid is very good at being patient, but particularly this generation is used to instant gratification. These are kids who have grown up on instant mac & cheese, texting, Amazon Prime for one-day deliveries. And Google! Siri! Alexa! I mean, come on, they don’t even have to “Ask Jeeves” by typing in a question.

So when they have questions like, “When can we go back to school?” “When can I see my friends again?” “When is all this going to be over?” and we can’t provide solid answers for that, it can be really unsettling and frightening.

It’s important that you acknowledge these unknowns and unanswered questions and check in with your teens about it on a regular basis, even if there isn’t any new information. Knowing that there isn’t an answer is at least something.

They’re unsure of the future

As parents, we have the luxury of life experience. We’ve lived through some stuff — the Cold War, 9/11 — but their world is full of new and different unknowns: climate change, school shootings, the economy.

This new unknown can exhibit feelings of panic, anxiety and frustration and irritability that are targeted at completely unrelated things, like chores, younger siblings, etc. Give your teen some space to be frustrated and let them know you’re available and open to talking.

They’re digital communicators, but that’s not enough

Your teen seemingly has lots of ways to stay connected with people. Computers, phones, tablets and multiple platforms — Discord, Marco Polo, texting, etc. — but that doesn’t mean they aren’t lonely.

“Talking online is like talking to a wall. You’re just getting a response,” said Mikey, 14. (Check out the full companion video to this article with Mikey and his mom, Transform Through Therapy’s co-founder, Michele Bates.)

These methods of communication are completely sufficient if you’re going to see your friends the next day at school. But with a month of being at home behind us, and at least another month ahead of this, these disconnected methods of communication are not cutting the mustard.

While you probably have rules (your teen might call them limitations or restrictions) in place for utilizing video, etc., it may be time to think about and discuss temporarily changing it up during this period of time. Getting some face time in with their friends is important to helping them feel like they aren’t isolated and alone.

Talk to your teen about some creative ways where you can feel comfortable and safe, and they can engage with their friends in a meaningful way. It could be playing video games, talking, playing music or drawing together over video.

There could also be a concern of losing friendships. Like trying to maintain a long-distance relationship, it can be hard to keep in touch with everyone you care about. There are friends they only see at school and have no way to contact. Be sensitive to these types of feelings, even if your teen isn’t talking to you about them specifically.

They look for ways to simplify

Teenagers are growing up in a time where “there’s an app for that.” And every new app is attempting to make things easier, simpler and more convenient. So that’s how they think.

There are lots of new challenges families are facing with home school, a lack of outside activities, and managing the stresses of work and other responsibilities. Include your teens in being part of finding a solution.

Mikey points out that fellow students have suggested more efficient ways of handling assignments to teachers. And their teachers are listening. Your teenagers could have great ideas you haven’t even thought of. Hear them out and allow them to contribute to making things run smoothly in your home.

They’re self-reliant

According to a study at Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Generation Z is smart and self-taught.

If you are micromanaging your teen’s time because they’re spending all their time at home, you’re going to have a feisty teenager.

Technology has allowed kids to be much more advanced than ever before. Doing household chores often involves more technology than elbow grease. They managed themselves on their own for most of their day before COVID-19, so be respectful of what they’re capable of and help them feel useful and productive.

Have open communication and allow them to be part of the solution in managing their time to get assignments completed and turned in, household responsibilities taken care of, and other activities that need to get done. They will probably surprise you at what they’re capable of.

COVID-19 is a psychological phenomenon around grief. We are losing the way we’re used to seeing the world. And that includes your teens. We encourage you to take your teen’s feelings to heart as we move through this global crisis. And watch out for our next post and video.

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