With so much noise and opinion-based misinformation circulating around COVID-19, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a single “How To...” guide on supporting your teen or tween through this ordeal?
Honestly, I found myself asking this very question not long ago. This summer, I spent days scouring articles, research, and websites, yet, regardless of my work, I found myself no closer to finding credible sources with consistent, reliable information. I ended up having more questions than answers and a feeling of immense sadness. What I really wanted was a single source of information, a guide, if you will, that answered my questions about parenting tweens and teens during these difficult times.
Instead of waiting around for somebody else to answer my inquiries, I decided to take matters into my own hands and write the guide myself and then share it. Of course, this raises the questions, who am I and why should anyone listen to what I have to say?
To give you a little background about myself, I have a Ph.D. in psychology, am the founder and CEO of a digital mental health company focused on kids and families, write about child and teen mental health issues, and, like you, care deeply about my child.
When this pandemic started, it seemed like every day new, sometimes conflicting information came out, leaving a lot of us feeling uneasy because we did not know what to do next. Although we still have a lot to learn, at this point we have a firmer grasp on the basics of how to get through these challenging times. This guide is intended to help you and your family during COVID as well as serving as a foundation for getting through other types of difficult situations in the future.
Using my own knowledge of psychology, science-based research, and the most up to date information about COVID (as of mid-October, 2020), the guide covers the following topics. There are many other matters to be addressed, but I feel these subjects provide a good foundation upon which we parents can build:
- Thoughts on COVID and mental health
- COVID-19 statistics (facts, not fiction)
- Mental health should be a priority during COVID-19 and beyond
- COVID’s impact on teen mental health
- Supporting your child's mental health
- The education system is being put to the test
- Creating a conducive learning environment for both in-person and remote learning
- Be patient and give your kids credit where credit is due
- Socializing online
- Social media has benefits, but let's be honest about the downsides
- It's difficult to remember at times, but social media does have some benefits
- Socializing while social distancing
- Parents, remember to put your mask on before assisting others
- Mental health and therapy resources for tweens, teens, and parents
- The importance and power of gratitude
- Final thoughts - keep moving forward
# COVID is Hard for Everyone, Especially our Tweens/Teens
We are six months into the pandemic and many of us have accepted that this is our new normal, at least for the foreseeable future. Wearing masks, social distancing, and working remotely have become standard. Although these are significant changes to our way of life, as parents, we have experience with fluid and often challenging situations. We know how to make tough decisions and adjust course whenever things don’t go as planned.
Even if we can’t handle a situation completely on our own, we know how to access the necessary resources. Unfortunately, when COVID-19 hit, there were no definitive answers or solutions, only predictions, warnings, and often wildly conflicting advice. As frightening as this can be, we’re parents and are equipped to deal with this sort of ambiguity, at least to some degree. We know how to analyze and parse information, develop plans, and then turn those plans into action.
But what about our kids? A primary reason parents are so well equipped is because we have experience on our side, something our children simply don’t have. Even a highly intelligent, well-put-together child doesn’t have the benefit of experience, nor a fully developed brain, to deal with an event of this magnitude.
When this year started, things like prom, sports events, concerts, hanging out with friends, and college were real and right over the horizon. Now, the only social interaction some of our children experience is through a screen. Many significant life events will be missed due to stay-at-home orders and the education system is being put to the test like never before in our history.
As you may know, tween and teen mental health issues have been rising sharply for many years. Because of my background and my current company, I know these trends intimately. Yet, I found myself unprepared for what I read this summer in a study provided by the CDC. According to this research, an astounding “25% of adolescents said they seriously considered suicide in the last 30 days because of COVID”.
My initial responses were surprise and deep sadness. I immediately started thinking of ways I could help not only myself but all parents create safe, supportive environments for our children. Situations like this may arise again, but maybe, with the use of this guide, we can help our kids not only cope but prosper.
# Some COVID-19 Facts
It’s been several months since this pandemic started, and we have more knowledge to differentiate some facts from fiction. I am not an infectious disease expert and I don’t want to give the impression that we have all the answers (we don’t and won’t for a while), but as we learn more, we will be better prepared for whatever the future brings.
From being told seemingly reasonable things like children may be immune from, or less susceptible to, infection to far-fetched theories that 5G towers caused the outbreak, the information being doled out through the media seemed to change daily. To get the facts about COVID, I turned to the CDC.
According to an October 2, 2020, CDC report (opens new window):
- From March - September 19, 175,782 cases were reported in children ages 12 - 17;
- Adolescents are not immune - they can be infected, get sick, and spread COVID-19 (opens new window);
- Adolescents who have COVID-19, but present no symptoms (opens new window), can still spread the virus (also known as asymptomatic spread);
- The most common symptoms of COVID-19 in children are fever and cough;
- There is no cure or vaccine currently, though as of mid-November there are now multiple vaccines trials with promising results.
To give you a quick refresher on how COVID-19 spreads and how you can prevent it, here’s a list of information, released by the CDC on October 5, 2020:
# Mental Health Should be a Priority During Covid-19 (and beyond)
You may have noticed, in the section above, that I underlined “mental health is equally as important” as monitoring your health in these times. In addition to the millions of people in the US whose physical health suffered from contracting COVID, it seems as though hundreds of millions more have, and are, also suffering emotionally and psychologically.
No matter our age, this pandemic does real damage to us mentally, emotionally, and psychologically. All of this is exacerbated by the deep divisions in our country, a contentious presidential election, economic hardship for millions of people, massive job losses, and a civil rights movement.
Frankly, I couldn’t imagine being a teenager during these times. Right now social interactions just aren’t what they used to be (humans are highly social animals who depend on these interactions to thrive), both in-person and learning remote are, well, shall we say, “less than ideal” (not at the fault of our teachers), and the importance of technology in daily life is shifting (we need it, but is it becoming too much?). Mental disorders and suicidal thoughts have been on the rise, and our children simply cannot handle it alone.
Just take a look at some of these rates of mental disorders in adolescents during “normal” times (i.e., pre-pandemic):
- 50% (opens new window) of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14;
- In 2016, 16.5% (opens new window) of 6-17 years old in the U.S experienced a mental health disorder;
- From 2016-2018 (opens new window), over three million (12%) adolescents ages 12 to 17, or more than one in ten, had anxiety and/or depression in the U.S.;
- About 1 in 5 adolescents report having harmed themselves to soothe emotional pain at least once, according to a review of three dozen surveys (opens new window) in nearly a dozen countries, including the United States, Canada, and Britain;
- While the overall prevalence of self-harm is roughly eighteen percent, 25 - 35% of adolescent girls engage in self-harm (opens new window), such as cutting and burning;
- Suicide is the second leading cause of deaths among adolescents ages 12 to 17 (opens new window);
- On average, each year in the US, more than 3,000 young people in grades 9 - 12 attempt suicide (opens new window).
As unsettling as these numbers are, things have only gotten worse since the COVID (more on this later).
As much as we all try to support our children as best as we can, right now we may need to shift into hyperdrive. One way to do this is to be more purposefully empathetic to our children and the situation. We can put ourselves in their shoes and attempt to comprehend what it feels like being their age in this climate.
The teen years are challenging without all what 2020 has brought. With everything that has occurred, “experts (opens new window) worry [that] studies will show a spike in suicide, because young people are increasingly cut off from peers and caring adults....their futures are uncertain and...they are spending more time at home, where they are most likely to have access to lethal weapons”.
We may not be able to fully grasp their situation, but if we can understand our kids, even slightly more, it may help us create safe, supportive environments that encourage communication, trust, and ultimately better mental health.
# Covid’s Effects on Teenage Mental Health
It’s perfectly normal for teens to feel sad during this time. Most of us have gone through some sort of mental shift during the pandemic, so we should have empathy for our teens who are also experiencing this as well as a myriad of other things.
With so many milestones and events canceled, our children are bound to cry, feel down, anxious, and bored. These types of behaviors and responses aren’t just normal for tweens and teens right now, they’re normal and common for many adults as well.
Given that, how do we identify when things go from normal expressions of emotions to problematic and potential signs of mental health struggles? Although everyone presents differently, here are a few signs that may indicate that your child is struggling:
- Changes in behavior, such as stepping back from normal personal relationships;
- A lack of interest in activities previously enjoyed;
- Having a hard time falling/staying asleep;
- Changes in weight or eating patterns (i.e. never being hungry or eating all the time);
- Problems with memory, thinking, or concentration;
- Changes in appearance, such as lack of basic personal hygiene;
- An increase in risky, reckless, and/or impulsive behaviors (i.e. drugs, alcohol, self-harm (opens new window));
- Talking about or thoughts of death/suicide.
# Supporting your Teen’s Mental Health
Even if your child isn’t showing these signs, it’s important to check in with them frequently to see how they are doing. Checking in is easy and simple, yet can produce powerful benefits. At the very least, it lets the child know their parents care about them, want to help, and wish to create a space where they feel safe.
The child may not immediately come out and tell you how they are feeling (or they may respond negatively), but it’s likely the benefits are still occurring (just without them telling you). Plus, consistent support and engagement may help them feel more comfortable letting their parents know when they’re having difficulties and what they’re feeling.
Over time this may lead to more open dialogues (opens new window) with kids. One way to achieve this is to lead by example and be transparent with your own feelings. I’m not suggesting you tell them “everything” you feel and do, as it may cause them more stress and concern.
However, by showing that everyone experiences difficulties, has both negative and positive emotions, and makes effort to deal with their own mental health matters, they may be more willing to communicate their own feelings.
Here are a few things you can do to support your tween or teen’s mental health and promote open dialogues:
- Check-in with your family (be honest with your feelings as well);
- Keep a sense of structure with a schedule;
- Be more lenient, in particular things that may help your child feel more trusted;
- Consider resetting some expectations for your kids (and for yourself) during COVID;
- Have compassion for not only your child but yourself;
- Introduce self-care/mental health days (taking a day for self-care can be beneficial);
- Listen, listen, listen.
Let’s talk about that last one, “listen, listen, listen” for one more moment. There are times we all need to vent and get things off our chest. Sometimes we may not need a solution to our problem, rather, just someone to hear what we have to say. This can also apply to our teens.
Allowing our kids to speak openly, without always offering a solution or disagreeing, goes a long way. We all make mistakes, feel different things, and experience life through our own lenses. Creating space for our children to say what they need may relieve burdens they have been internalizing and make them feel more comfortable coming to us with other issues in the future.
Here’s an example of how a conversation like this might go:
As our children try to adapt to the new world, we can actively support their mental health, encourage their learning, and help them maintain their social lives.
# The Education System is Being Put to the Test
I want to start this section with a disclaimer. I am incredibly grateful to all the teachers and instructors trying their best to educate our children in these trying times. They are doing their best with whatever resources they have available and blame should not be placed on them. To every teacher and educator out there, thank you for creating plans, risking your health, making countless sacrifices, and finding ways to help our children learn. You are heroes and we thank you. Honestly, I think teachers should be some of the highest paid people in the country. Seriously!
Months ago, when schools shut down, educators had to quickly shift their curriculum online in order for children to finish the school year. The shift was drastic and did not turn out as well as we hoped, so to quell our nerves, we were told that there would be plans in place to make sure the fall semester was better. Instead, this fall has been filled with closures, delays in learning, and unfortunately, thousands of new infections.
It’s probably unfair to expect schools to make remote learning as impactful as in-person classes, especially given how few schools were really using remote learning before 2020. However, it does seem reasonable to expect schools to make remote learning educational and at least somewhat engaging. Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen and heard, we’re a long way from that.
The fact is, teaching online is not the same as teaching in-person. And yet, educators have been expected to jump in and perform well without proper training. In an October 5, 2020, survey of 1,000 teenagers (opens new window) whose ages ranged from sixteen to nineteen, “59% say Covid‐19 has negatively impacted the quality of their school work [while] 49% say it has negatively impacted the quality of educational instruction they’re receiving”.
Likewise, resources like school counselors, computer labs, and even access to food have been eliminated for students learning remotely. Images of packed school hallways, not allowing social distancing, have circulated online since August, causing our children to stress about the possibility of infection. Students have felt anxious for months and going into this school year, it has only escalated. Take a look at this one example...Click here if the video does not play properly (opens new window)
The education system is struggling to keep up with the shifting demands of the public, and it’s taking a toll on all of us, including our children. Most parents don’t have teaching certifications, yet, many are being forced to take on the role of teacher.
The thing is, we don’t have to be teachers, or try to teach our teens, to help them. There are many other things we can do that are equally helpful, such as creating a conducive learning environment, helping encourage productivity, and allowing our children to speak openly about their schooling experiences.
# How to Create a Conducive Learning Environment During COVID and Beyond
In-person and virtual learning both come with pros and cons, but our focus shouldn’t be on which is better or worse. Instead, there’s great benefit in focusing on ways to ensure our children get the best experience possible.
A few reminders from Unicef
- Have open conversations about what worries your child, and reassure them that their feelings are normal. Let them speak honestly about their experience, even if it isn’t positive, they are trusting you. Allow them to have a safe space to vent.
- Let your child know their school is doing everything they can to keep them safe.
- Have more flexibility with screen time or routines. Give kids something to look forward to like getting takeout for lunch (they get to choose the place) during the week and having lunch together, or picking a game to play.
- Remind your child how to follow the precautions: Wearing a mask, coughing or sneezing into their elbow, and washing their hands thoroughly.
- Speak positively about school: Our kids are paying attention to the news/our conversations about school. As much as possible, try to model a positive outlook for the school year.
- Prepare a contingency plan if their school closes: Our kids are feeling unsure about a lot of things, making a plan to remove this insecurity can help if a transition in learning occurs.
- Designate a school-work space: Set up a learning workspace that reminds your teen of why they are there while eliminating as many distractions as possible. This article has good info on creating a good workspace using whatever space you have. Make sure this space does not have other purposes, like their bed, because that can lead to limited focus, a decrease in productivity, or inhibit sleep. ** I recommend this for in-person classes as well**
- Creating Cues for Productive Behavior: Help your teenager create intentions around when they will do their schoolwork. Be clear that the schedule can be altered in the future as well. Adding structure to your teen’s day, such as when breaks will happen, allows for a sense of normality.
- Perform Social Modeling: Just as your teen checks their assignments, creates a to-do list for the day, and stays off social media during work periods, do the same. Knowing that other people, especially their parents, are doing the same thing as they are is not only motivational but also a powerful influence.
# Be Patient and Give Your Kids Credit Where Credit is Due
Expecting our children to be perfect and holding them to the same standards that we had pre-COVID doesn’t seem reasonable, or the best path to success. As an example, perhaps their grades right now aren’t as good as they were previously, though you can see they are trying. Instead of focusing on the grade, praise them for their effort (opens new window). Show positivity for their work ethic while not placing unnecessary pressure or stress on things outside of their control.
Focusing on effort and learning rather than grades has the added benefit of helping kids develop a growth mindset, which not only can reduce stress but also help build resilience to defend against depression and anxiety.
Tell them you're proud of their discipline and the hard work they have been putting in, despite everything going on around them. Being positive, helping them build the right mindset to deal with challenging situations, and allowing them to vent could provide the support they need.
Another easy way to be there for your child is to add fun rewards whenever they finish or accomplish something. Maybe they studied really hard for a test or were on top of their schedule and had a productive week. Make their accomplishments matter!
Whether you love or despise social media, it’s an integral part of our kids’ lives, so why not turn it into a positive? Join them for a TikTok or Instagram challenge, and create content with them. It’s easy, not too time consuming, and is something you get to do together.
If social media isn’t your thing, take your child to pick up food, or order delivery, from their favorite restaurant for a “lunch break”. In our house, our daughter picks where we get takeout lunch from once per week and we all eat together. While eating, we discuss our projects or tasks together, similar to a normal business lunch, and talk about what’s going well and what we’re struggling with. Our children often mirror us, so if we relate to them and show them that we are also working hard in a similar environment, it may motivate them to keep being productive.
Building their confidence, praising their efforts, and rewarding what matters can remove some of the stress they are facing. Teaching them how this situation can apply to experiences they will have in the future, and leading by example allows them to see that they are not alone. Patience is not always easy, but learning to rely on each other for support can deepen the bond between you.
# Socializing Online
Humans are social animals who require strong relationships in order to thrive. Unfortunately, most of us have been at home and away from people other than our immediate family members for many months. Although we are spending exceedingly large amounts of quality time together, our children need to socialize with non-family members for developmental reasons.
Without in-person learning, many relationships our children would typically develop, such as with their peers, teacher, coaches, or advisors, have been impacted and may be stunted
As the CDC states (opens new window),“in addition to a structure for learning, schools provide a stable and secure environment for developing social skills and peer relationships… [which is] particularly important for the development of language, communication, social, emotional, and interpersonal skills.”
Research shows that having an active social life may help you live longer (opens new window), have both better physical and mental health, and lower your risk for dementia. While social distancing orders prohibit groups of friends from hanging out, technology and social media bridges the gap, allowing our children to stay connected while apart. Technology can help our children maintain some social bonds and feel less isolated, but there’s a catch.
A survey of 3,000 parents (opens new window) from September 2020 indicated that “63% of [their] teens are using social media more than they did pre-pandemic [with] only 25% [seeing] less use, and 12% say it's about the same”. Given that teens were already using social media 4-8 hours a day (opens new window), and parents are seeing a 63% increase of use, that means some of our teens are online over 8-12 hours a day, and that doesn’t include the time they spend in online learning.
Our tweens and teens need social media to stay social, but how do we make sure that all this time online isn’t negatively affecting their mental health?
# Social Media has Cons, but There are Also Benefits
Before we dive into this section, let me say two things:
As difficult as it may be to believe, there really are benefits to social media (more on that later); and
This section is not intended to worry you. Most individuals use social media, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok, to socialize online. What many of our teenagers haven’t learned yet is how to properly navigate the internet without letting it affect their daily life or their mental health.
First, the negatives.... here's a sample of some things social media has been shown to hinder:
- Physical activity
- Face-to-face interaction
- Healthy brain development
Some of these negative aspects can be reduced by writing a schedule, creating an environment that allows open conversation, and using screen time apps that show you how much time you are online. The bigger problems arise from:
- Having an unhealthy need for approval or attention
- Becoming sexualized at a young age
- Not using enough privacy protection
- Oversharing personal information
- Sexual predators having access to their accounts
- Hate speech
- Being bullied/bullying others
This pandemic did not cause these issues with social media, but, due to the frequency in which our children are online, they may present more often now. I will keep repeating this but creating an atmosphere that allows your child to talk openly about what’s going on in their life, even if it’s as simple as sharing Zendaya’s Emmy win, shows that you care about their interests while allowing them to lead the conversation.
I will also mention that I highly discourage spying on your child to learn what is going on in their life. I understand wanting to know whether your child is safe and protected, but if your child suspects you are invading their privacy, or that you are being dishonest, it can cause real damage to your relationship. Instead, try being direct with your questions while reminding them that you care about them.
If you’re worried about your child being online too much, Tom Kersting (opens new window), a licensed Psychotherapist states: “…the most common warning signs of an unhealthy relationship with social media include: sleep deprivation, anxiety and/or depression, lack of interest in anything not screen-related, constant fighting and arguing about screen time and believing you can’t live without your devices.”
If you are seeing these signs, it may be time to sit down and have a conversation. Check-in with your child and learn what is going on in their mind.
# Benefits of Social Media and Technology During COVID
Let’s take a look at those benefits of technology and social media I mentioned earlier. Here are 3 of the most important benefits of social media and technology for tweens and teens (opens new window):
Creative Expression: “There are a lot of creative outlets for teenagers who are [creators], writers and artists.” Social media provides a place where people can express themselves and share their uniqueness. Social media can help teens feel confident in sharing their individuality.
Community and Connection: …these teenagers now have an opportunity to engage meaningfully with others. A gay teenager growing up in a rural, socially conservative community no longer needs to feel isolated and alone. Teenagers with a passion for rare birds or medieval reenactment can find hundreds of like-minded peers online. And teenagers who are social misfits offline can now have a posse of online friends to meet up with virtually after school to play video games.
Professional Branding: “You have the opportunity to create the story about yourself that you want to tell,” explains Lehner.
IdTech (opens new window) also adds a fourth benefit to this list: 4. Improved Problem Solving and Perseverance: With technology comes freedom of expression, and with such freedom comes the chance for kids to independently set out and achieve something, largely on their own. In doing so, they face roadblocks and challenges that must be cleared if they’re to reach their goals, so they learn how to deal with such hurdles.
With the pandemic in mind, social media, texting, and technology may be the most effective (and safe) way for our children to connect and see their friends, peers, and classmates. They can share information, access news, express their feelings, and find others who share their views. If our children are stuck on a homework problem, they can go to Youtube or Khan Academy and find a video that will walk them through the steps. If they are in need of support, there are online resources to connect your child with a trained professional (but more on this later).
With more technology comes more information to empower our children. As long as we help our kids understand both the positives and negatives, they may be able to navigate social media in a more healthy and effective manner. Our kids shouldn’t fear the internet, and neither should we. Having a conversation about the impact of photoshop on body image and which celebrities are against it is one way to have a meaningful conversation about social media while checking in on your child’s views of their own body.
Technology and social media are here to stay, so let’s help our kids navigate it safely.
# Socializing While Social Distancing
It’s important to recognize that as helpful as technology is at keeping us connected while we are physically apart, it only helps us socialize to a certain extent. Video chatting, texting, and phone calls can do only so much, which leaves the question of how do we help our children socialize during COVID?
One approach is to plan socially distanced meetups with their friends. Find an outdoor activity that your child and their friends can participate in together. Plan a socially distanced, small outdoor event that allows them to dress up and experience a normal high school event. Whatever it may be, allowing them to spend a little in-person time with friends, while following healthcare guidelines, gives them an opportunity to nurture important relationships.
Get creative, follow guidelines, and discover a new way to put a smile on your child’s face. If you’re looking for ways to help your teen deal with the impacts of social isolation, the University of Michigan has released a list of 8 ways you can help teens cope with COVID-19 (opens new window).
# Put on Your Mask Before Assisting Others
I’ve had parents tell me directly that they are too focused on making sure their kids are ok to take care of their own mental health needs. Despite having their own challenges, they say, “once I know my kids are doing well, then I’ll deal with my own mental health”. Please believe me when I say, if we really want to help and support our children we first have to help and support ourselves (opens new window).
When flying, we are told to put on our own mask first before assisting. It’s a simple yet critically important concept - you cannot help others for very long if you don’t take care of yourself first. This also applies to supporting our children. We cannot expect our children to rely on us if we don’t prioritize our mental health as well.
Just as mental health disorders have been on the rise in tweens and teens, they have also been on an upward trajectory for adults. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (opens new window), “more than one in three adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder during the pandemic”. Taking time to care for ourselves and monitor our own mental health enables us to more effectively help our kids and is a great way to lead by example.
You may recall that, earlier in this article, I mentioned the benefits of resetting or easing some of our expectations for our children. It’s important to extend that same courtesy to ourselves. Expecting to work 8 hours every day, make sure the children are on top of their schoolwork, manage our feelings, and, on top of that, deal with a global pandemic can become too much for anyone. Instead, we should remember what we can and can’t control.
You cannot control what is happening in politics, but you can control how much you read the news. You can’t control social distancing orders, but you can decide to go on a walk and get some fresh air. If something in your life seems to be causing you unnecessary stress, and there is a way to reduce that feeling, then try to do it! Taking mental health days, implementing self-care time into our schedules, and checking-in with our significant other or friends can help us find some balance.
For both our children and ourselves, we have to find outlets for how we are feeling. Some of us are able to afford weekly private therapy sessions, but that’s not feasible for everybody. Thanks to technology, there are resources (free and paid) available to everyone, which I provide in the upcoming section.
# Mental Health and Therapy Resources for Tweens, Teens, and You
For as long as we’ve existed, we’ve needed the support of others. In 2020, this may be more true than ever. Fortunately, there are more resources available now than ever before for individuals to seek help, regardless of income status. If therapy is an option for your family, but you don’t want to go to an office, teletherapy may be a great option.You can speak to a licensed professional from the comfort of your own home, eliminating the need for 6ft of space and a mask.
If you decide to give teletherapy a try, I recommend setting up a private space so privacy and confidentiality can remain intact. Some teletherapy apps to consider are Betterhelp (opens new window) and Talkspace (opens new window). These apps allow you to text, send voice messages, call, or video chat with a licensed professional on a more flexible schedule. Some of these services cost approximately $65/week, in comparison to a traditional session that can cost more than $150 for one, 50-minute session.
Since our teenagers often converse through texting, services like these can help them communicate their feelings in a way they find more comfortable. Since our emotions don’t always hit when we want them to, being able to send a text to your therapist at odd hours and get a response can be life-saving.
Being on a tight budget doesn’t mean there are no options for you. That’s where services such as 7cups (opens new window) come into play. Although 7cups offers paid services with professional therapists at a monthly rate, they also offer online therapy and free support from trained listeners via an anonymous and confidential chat. All you, or your teen, need to do is go to the website and follow along as a bot connects you with someone. If the listener you’re matched with isn’t the right fit, you can request a new person at any point. This is a great free resource to have for your teenager that they can use anytime, anywhere.
If your child is really struggling, the Crisis Text Line (opens new window) provides free, 24/7 support by trained counselors to help tweens and teens (as well as adults). In the U.S. and Canada, it’s as simple as texting “HOME” to 741741 to connect to 24/7 support. This is an excellent service for tweens and teens.
Of course, knowing that your child needs to talk with someone is an important first step. And as discussed earlier, it’s often very difficult to know when your child may be struggling with mental health issues. That’s why I’ve been developing Nika (opens new window). Nika confidentially analyzes your child’s digital activity, such as text messages and social media posts to find signals of mental health struggles. Nika does this using machine learning and advanced algorithms built using more than 30 scientifically-based mental health variables. From there, experts (aka, humans) examine this data and let you (the parent) know how your child is doing and when they may need your support. Plus, Nika offers guidance on how to provide that support, so parents aren’t left wondering what to do.
# Since I’m Grateful You’ve Read This Far, Let’s Talk About Gratitude for a Moment
There’s plenty of scientific evidence (opens new window) indicating gratitude increases happiness and positive emotions (opens new window), counteracts the effects of trauma and negative childhood experiences, improves personal relationships, increases empathy, improves self-esteem, enhances sleep, and builds resilience to depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (opens new window).
During these hard times, regularly practicing gratitude can help foster more happiness in our day to day lives. Dr. Robert Emmons (opens new window), one of the world’s leading experts on gratitude says there are two parts of gratitude:
Recognize goodness - this is being able to recognize the gifts and benefits we all receive, no matter how small, not about striving for perfection or ignoring the challenges we all face.
Acknowledge that this goodness comes from outside of us - grateful people balance the understanding that we have strengths and talents with the understanding that we’re all humbly dependent on each other.
The world may feel overwhelmingly negative right now, but the reality is, there’s still so much goodness in our lives to be grateful for. Spending just a few minutes identifying things you are grateful for can remind your family that good exists in the world and help build resilience to protect from depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges.
Having gratitude for small things (opens new window), like having beautiful weather to go on a family hike, is one way to be thankful for something we would often take for granted. Talking about positive news, uplifting contributions being made in society, and finding little ways to give back to others who may be struggling in these times can lift your mood.
Teaching children gratitude can sometimes feel like an uphill battle, but if you stay with it the payoff is great. Our children need us right now more than ever, let’s help them build a strong, healthy foundation that will support them not only through COVID but also for many years to come.
# Final Thoughts
This pandemic has been hard on everyone. Regardless of age, race, gender, or social class, we all have felt the impact. As parents, it’s important we help our children navigate this new reality. Checking in, communicating with each other, and finding ways to keep our children’s spirits up, even when things like school and social interactions have shifted, can make things a bit easier.
Remembering to take mental health days and spend a little more “me time”, can make significant differences in your own mental health and ability to help your children. Regularly practicing gratitude and actively looking for positivity in the world can help us find a little more happiness in our lives.
We may not have all the answers, but we will get through this, together. Let’s continue to share information, keep positive, let go of what we can’t control, and find things to be grateful for. Personally, I’m grateful for the opportunity to write this blog post and that you’ve taken time out of your day to read it. Thank you and I hope this guide helps you and your family.
# Tell your friends
We all need support and help at different times. If you have friends, family members, or co-workers that may benefit from Vertroos Health, please tell them about us. We want to help as many kids and families as possible. You can forward this email to them or direct them to [Nika](http://getnika.com]. Thanks!
# Do you or your child need support right now?
If you or your child are in a crisis situation please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, as well as prevention and crisis resources for you and your loved ones.
- Phone: 1-800-273-8255
- Online: Click here to speak with someone now (opens new window)
If you're not in crisis but would like to connect with an online counselor (through our partnership with Betterhelp), please use one of these links: