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Helping teens in uncertainty

By Nathan Rice

My first thought when the coronavirus caused the closure of schools, the depletion of store shelves, and an order to stay away from each other was for the children with whom I work. I sent a letter to their parents, offering my advice on how to help children deal with fear. I did the same for the Suffolk News-Herald, and my first column regarding the virus focused on helping children deal with fear.

I was not alone in my writing. I saw several companies and people share ways to help kids deal with all that is happening. All of the columns I read, including my own, focused on helping elementary school-aged children deal with fear. There was very little, if anything, about helping teenagers deal with their emotions regarding our current situation.

We must first realize that teenagers need us during this time. They are older than those in elementary school, but they still need you. Most teens are not going to come to you and say they are sad, scared or confused. They won’t tell you that they are watching you to see if you think everything will be OK. They won’t admit that they need a little extra comfort and security. They may never discuss these things with you or admit their feelings. This means it is up to us to make sure we are there for them while they journey through this unchartered territory.

The first thing to do mimics what we do for younger children. Keep a close eye on them during this time for signs that reveal their emotions. This can be difficult with teens, since their emotions are already all over the place. However, we must do our best to watch how they act and to consider the reason behind their behaviors.

Do your best to be extra patient and understanding during this time. Cabin fever, their feelings about the events surrounding the virus, and their normal adolescent hormones make for an interesting cocktail of emotions that they may have trouble navigating.

Next, look for ways for teens to spend time away from a monitor. We often say, “They’re fine as long as they have their video games or their phone.” Teens are great at hiding themselves behind a screen, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy for them. Now would be a great time to tackle some of the projects around the house together. Working together gives a break from the screen and gives you a chance to engage in real-life conversations.

Likewise, find some fun things to do. Have a family game night where they get to pick the games. Have a cookout and allow them to plan the menu using what you have in the house or what you can find at the store. Take a hike at one of the local parks or through the neighborhood.

Helping teens during this time will be more difficult than helping younger children, but it is just as important. They won’t admit it, but they need you too.

Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at nrice@abnb.org.