Helping Teens Navigate COVID-19
For adolescents and young adults, this time of pandemic is particularly hard. But how could that be? Doesn’t it just mean more blissful time to sleep in, play video games, and have less responsibility?
The answer is No.
The reason has to do with the psychological developmental phase of these ages. Healthy development for teens and young adults is naturally created to be about separation and individuation; that is, becoming more independent and secure in identity as separate from one’s parents. Separation and individuation organically involve more freedom for self-expression, experimentation, and the EXPANSION of life experiences and responsibility. Think of all the many Biblical examples of Jesus as a young boy and man, separating and individuating from his earthly parents to grow to live his true identity as God’s only Son.
In contrast, a casualty of COVID-19 is a CONTRACTION of freedoms and options, and contraction of the ability to experience healthy growth and social opportunities in the community and the world. In addition to this COVID-19 impact of possible arrested development, the adolescent or young adult does not yet have the coping skills or maturity to manage this Inorganic contraction of circumstances. Therefore, it takes more patience, resilience, faith, and endurance for the teen to cope in this pandemic world.
So, what can we do? We can first heart-fully acknowledge this unnatural time as a significant hardship for youth. We can creatively work to provide them with more meaningful opportunities for freedom, self-expression, experimentation, responsibility, and identity development. For example, to choose and fully prepare a family meal, research and plan the next family camping trip, re-decorate their room, research their own topics of interest and present them to the family, create artwork for the living room, be in charge of bringing up discussion topics at times at the dinner table, create a small business or nonprofit, etc.! Offer encouragement and validate their contributions and value in the family and the world. Tell them: “I believe in you!”
With family and community, love and support, we can foster healthy development despite the claws of COVID-19.
—Patrice Quadrel, LMFT, CACIII