The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on families. For teens, the past year will likely be remembered for how much they missed their friends and school, sports, band, or other activities. Some were disappointed when long-awaited milestones—such as prom and graduation events—were canceled or went virtual. Others were touched by the illness or loss of a loved one.
These challenges have taken a serious toll on teen mental health. In a national poll conducted in early 2021, parents reported that 31% of teen girls and 18% of teen boys experienced new or worsening depression during the pandemic.
Now, even as life starts moving closer to normal, many teens are still struggling emotionally. Here’s how to offer the support they need—and when to reach out for additional help.
Look for natural moments to strike up a conversation about how the pandemic has affected your family. Invite your teen to open up about the experience, and listen for sadness or anxiety. Such feelings may be signs that your teen could use extra support and attention right now.
Be aware that some teens pull away from their families when distressed. If that sounds familiar, try connecting with your teen over a shared activity you both enjoy. That might mean practicing yoga, riding bikes, or going fishing, for instance. You’ll have a chance to check in about how things are going while having fun together.
If your child is still feeling cut off from some friends, suggest creative ways to bridge that divide. For example, your teen could organize a virtual movie or game night with buddies using an online platform like Zoom or Google Meet.
It’s normal for your teen to go through emotional ups and downs, especially in trying times. True depression is more than ordinary moodiness, however. It’s a health condition that can wreak havoc on your child’s daily life.
Watch for these signs of depression:
Long-lasting sadness, hopelessness, irritability, or anxiety
Disinterest in things your child once enjoyed
Changes in eating or sleeping habits
Drop in grades
Restlessness or trouble sitting still
Unusually slow movements
If you notice these warning signs, ask your child’s healthcare provider to screen your teen for depression. Seek help immediately for any talk of suicide by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255).
The pandemic has been a unique strain on families. Know that there are resources available to help your teen cope with any lingering distress.