Counselor offers tips to parents on helping teens weather pandemic

From long stretches of distance learning to not being able to see friends and family for almost a year, these have been trying times for teenagers.

For some young people, the drastic change to their everyday lives has led to a decline in their mental health.

“It’s very, very hard for them to not have that social interaction piece,” said Tanya Vincent, a licensed professional counselor in Clinton, Maryland.

Vincent, whose practice focuses on bettering the mental well-being of teenagers, said she believes now more than ever that parents need to be checking in with their kids frequently.

“You have to not just assume they’re OK,” Vincent said.

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She said parents should make sure their child is in a good head space and still connecting with friends and family. She recommends video chats and, in some cases, outdoor socially distanced meetups, with face masks, with a friend.

“Think about what it is that you’re comfortable with as a parent to allow them to do,” she said.

Vincent also encouraged teens to focus on what they can do right now, and what they can’t do. The reason for that is stressing over things that can’t be done could bring on a feeling of helplessness. Researching colleges and working on hobbies are some things teens can do right now.

As for the things they’re unable to do, she said write them down on pieces of paper and put those in a jar. Then, once pandemic restrictions loosen, open up the jar and start doing those things.

Vincent said she is also a fan of teens making goals right now for what they want to do once it’s safer, such as get a driver’s license or a job.

“Sometimes what happens to teenagers is that they’re in that moment, they can’t see outside of what’s in front of them,” Vincent said.

Another recommendation: lots of family time during the pandemic, including everything from family movie nights to game nights. “Things that kind of bring you out of the mindset of worrying about what’s happening,” Vincent said.

She also offered advice for parents on getting their kids to open up to them. “You should almost be willing to hear anything without raising your eyebrows right away,” Vincent said.

She said kids many times are expecting a negative response, so if you don’t lead with a negative response, they’re more likely to disclose to a parent.

Lastly, Vincent believes teens should be reassured that this won’t last forever. “Realize that all of what you’re experiencing is only for a season, only for a time, and you will get through this,” she said.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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