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Promoting Teen Wellness in the COVID era

Living through a global pandemic is hard for everyone. It is especially hard for teenagers. Neurologically, adolescent brains are wired to decrease dependence on their parents and increase attachment to their peers. Exploring the world outside our family unit is critical for building identity in the world as independent, self-actualized adults. This innate drive is the plot of every coming-of-age story. So, it is not surprising that teens feel complex emotions about currently spending so much time at home and with their parents.

Of course, teens want to help end the COVID-19 pandemic. An eagerness to contribute to society is part of striking out on their own to find their place within it. Yet, what we are asking them to do turns out to be among the hardest things for an adolescent brain that is undergoing a previously scheduled, massive neurological development. In addition, teens may be feeling anxiety about themselves or others being sick, or in response to civil rights and other current events. The added stress can exacerbate underlying conditions relating to family dynamics, health, and financial security.

This year illustrates how much we rely on the structures of school, work, and community to calibrate our daily lives. Although a lifeline in this time, virtual connections have proven themselves to be subpar as a mainstay for educational and socializing purposes. With exterior forces minimized, we must now think more intentionally about the choices we can make each day to promote health and wellness. To help teens during this time:

  • Revisit technology boundaries. Students may need more time on-screen to accommodate school and social activities. Nonetheless, feel confident setting limits and encouraging students to cultivate off-screen interests.
  • Encourage exercise and being outside. Physical movement and connecting with nature release powerful endorphins that reduce stress and lift our mood.
  • Support meaningful social connections. Focus on a pod or small outdoor interactions to create opportunities for in-person socializing. Help your teen identify games or activities that can add variety and depth to virtual get-togethers. 
  • Talk about values and healthy habits. Have family discussions about what it means to be resilient or to have a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Invite your teens to talk about what worries them.
  • Seek help when needed. It is time to find more specialized support when your teen’s emotions begin to interfere with daily functions. This could include frequent mood swings, headaches, changes in sleeping or eating patterns, forgetfulness, loss of motivation, and other behaviors.

Residential and outdoor behavioral health programs, along with local services, have continued to operate smoothly throughout the pandemic. In some ways, there is no better time to seek help: many external activities have been curtailed, schools and colleges have more flexibility than usual, and reduced socializing offers more privacy. At The Bertram Group, we are always available to help you find the resources to support your teen. It is our deepest hope that teens will emerge from this era healthier and stronger than ever.

Jeremy McGeorge specializes in serving families whose children need nontraditional​ services as part of their educational plan. He can be reached at  jeremy@thebertramgroup.com

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