From the global pandemic to the divisive 2020 election, kids and teens are absorbing a lot of the same stress 2020 has brought adults. And what's worse, at a time when playdates or sleepovers are discouraged for public health reasons, kids might be needing that social outlet the most. Most organized youth sports are on hold right now, and many school districts in Michigan have moved fully remote due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.
“During adolescence, this is a time when kids are really primed to want to explore their environment, to seek out new experiences," said Dr. Hannah Schacter, an assistant professor of psychology at Wayne State University. “And being stuck at home with your parents isn’t really the best way to fulfill those developmental needs.”
It's one of the reasons why seeing your kids glued to their devices right now shouldn't be unexpected, or even frowned upon, Schacter said.
At the onset of the pandemic, kids -- especially teens -- missed out on some key social milestones, such as prom, sporting events, and graduation.
“And now suddenly you have moments of hope, of maybe it’s getting better, and maybe we’re heading back (…) and then suddenly that’s shifting," Dr. Schacter said.
Until Dec. 8, high school students statewide are learning remotely due to the health order aimed at the slowing the spread of the virus, which is a move Dr. Schacter said could pose a greater problem for students who rely on in-school academic or social support.
“It requires a greater sort of pro-activeness to seek out those services which is not always entirely possible in a virtual environment," she noted.
In a new study, the CDC found that since last April around the country mental health related emergency room visits are up for minors needing help with anxiety, stress, panic, and acute PTSD.
The data was collected from hospitals in 47 states and found that mental health visits for kids ages 5-11 went up 24 percent compared to last year and 31 percent for kids ages 12-17.
Dr. Schacter said kids are absorbing the stress just like adults, and in some cases feeling the fear a global pandemic brings.
So, what can parents do?
First, watch for any patterns of different behavior over several days or weeks.
“Are kids suddenly not sleeping well regularly? Are they complaining of sort of physical ailments where there’s not a clear medical origin of it?" she noted. During this time, these traits shouldn't automatically be pushed aside as common teenage angst, she explained.
Second, when talking about pandemic related stress, it's important to validate your child's feelings.
And third, remember to take care of yourself both mentally and physically. because your kids are watching and learning.
“Kids are highly attuned to their parents’ experiences and their parents’ emotions," Dr. Schacter said. "Even if parents feel maybe like their kids aren't listening, they are probably picking up on more than you may think.”