Mental health issues for teenagers in lockdown

Child psychologist Dr Amanda Gummer led the third of our workingmums.co.uk’s webinars on mental health, looking at teenagers.

Mental health is a huge issue during this lockdown, for children and for parents. A lot of focus has been on young children, but the issues around teen well being are complex and challenging. We did a webinar yesterday with Dr Amanda Gummer, child psychologist and founder of GoodPlayGuide.com about how we can understand what teenagers might be going through in lockdown and how we can help to protect their mental health. 

Below she answers some of the main questions:

workingmums.co.uk: How can you motivate teenagers in lockdown and how you can help them deal with boredom, especially when they are used to socialising and/or playing team sports? 

Dr Amanda Gummer: “It is important to agree reasonable limits and set expectations. If things aren’t working, try and have a collaborative discussion. Limiting wifi use or changing the wifi password until certain jobs are done can work in some cases, but the more collaborative, the better your chances of success.”

wms: How do you talk to them about what is happening? They are getting all sorts from news on their phones. Is it important to sit down and watch the news together and try to add some perspective?

AG: Ask them their opinion – if there’s an area that they are interested in (health, science, politics, geography etc), ask them to do some research on it and explain it to you. Keep open channels of communication and try and answer any questions they have – even if that’s by finding out the answer together.

wms: What about homeschooling – schools sometimes send over unrealistic timetables which are unhelpful and make parents feel like failures. How can you encourage them to keep up with their studies when they resist all encouragement to do them and you feel every day is like groundhog day? What about those coming up for GCSEs and A Levels next year who may be feeling anxious they are getting behind?

AG: Let the schools manage that – make sure they have time and space to do their schoolwork, but in the same way as the teachers will manage things at school, you don’t need to micromanage their work – you’re depriving them of valuable learning around accountability and natural consequences.

We also put some questions from readers to Dr Gummer below:

Question: My son just tells me to go away if I try to talk to him about what is going on. How do I encourage him to talk about his worries when he just shuts me down all the time?

AG: Try and do a joint activity together – conversation flows more naturally when you’re doing something else – make sure it doesn’t feel like an interrogation and talk to him about things he’s interested in.

Question: I’ve asked the school for help as my daughter is becoming withdrawn, but they keep suggesting things like keeping in touch with friends and family. But what if they hate Zoom and the like [it makes her feel more self conscious] and refuse to do it?

AG: Old fashioned phone calls can work well if teenagers don’t want to be on screen. Virtual games such as Minecraft can provide social contact with friends without them needing to be on screen themselves.

Question: My son already suffered from depression before lockdown and sleeps most of the day and won’t do anything. What support is there for parents of teenagers who had pre-existing anxiety which has been made worse by lockdown?

AG: Seek professional help – whoever was supporting him before the lockdown should be able to suggest strategies to support him through the lockdown and keep reassuring him that this will pass and make sure he knows you’re there for him.

Question: My mum died of Covid-19. How can you help teenagers deal with grief when they won’t talk to you about it?

AG: I’m so sorry to hear that.  Don’t force it, but let them know that you’re sad and that it’s ok if they are too. If it’s not too painful talk about the fond memories you have and give them the space and opportunity to talk about her too.

Question: I really struggle to get my children to be positive about the future with climate change and now this. How can I help them feel more positive when I don’t really feel it myself?

AG: Ask them to talk about the time in history that they’d most like to have lived in and do some research about what life was really like and compare it with today – it might not seem so appealing when they realise that they wouldn’t have the internet, or maybe even electricity or heating. Get them to do some research about things that have changed for the better over the last 100 years. Humanprogress.org has lots of statistics around global poverty and life expectancy etc.

*Dr Gummer is hosting Play at Home Fest, a free two-day virtual festival on 23rd and 24th May, with competitions, activities, attempts to break world records and a big emphasis on fun. The event will raise money for the COVID-19 appeal. More information at www.playathomefest.com.



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