Protecting your family from COVID-19 is important, but the pandemic has also created a mental health epidemic. It’s hitting our teens hard, and it’s hitting the girls the hardest.
In fact, new research from The Rox Institute for Research and Training released a report on how pandemic loneliness is affecting 5th through 12th grade girls and found:
- Girls are experiencing newfound fear about their futures since the onset of COVID-19. Fifty-two percent of girls are thinking differently about their futures since the start of the pandemic, with nearly 60 percent reporting fear or uncertainty regarding what the future will bring.
- Loneliness and isolation are negatively impacting teen girls at alarmingly high rates. Most girls (80 percent) are more lonely and isolated since the onset of COVID-19, and a full one-third are much more lonely/isolated.
- The majority of girls found the upheaval associated with COVID-19 detrimental to their ability to organize, concentrate and complete their schoolwork. Most (59 percent) reported difficulty with academic executive functioning skills, such as organization and concentration, and more than half struggled to keep up with their schoolwork.
- COVID-19 markedly amplified the stress levels of teen girls. Nearly half of high school girls report experiencing higher stress levels than before the pandemic, with 42 percent reporting that their life is harder than it was before.
But why is this?
Teens are hardwired to seek out social interaction to help create their identities, so they can build relationship skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives, from their jobs to their friendships to their romantic partnerships.
But when major needs are not met, it shows as stress. Prolonged, overwhelming stress can mean increased anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
So, what can you do to help your daughter through pandemic loneliness?
4 Strategies for Lessening Loneliness for Your Teenage Daughter
1. Take care of yourself
Healthy parent-child relationships have a back-and-forth dynamic called “co-regulation.” Co-regulation is the reciprocal exchange of emotional, neurological, and physical safety. It is constantly in flux, and it requires everyone involved to be able to self-regulate first, in order to co-regulate.
This means that when you’re calm, your teen feels and absorbs that energy. If they see you doing the things you need to do to manage your life and emotions, they’re going to be reassured and follow your example.
But remember that co-regulation is a two-way street so when your child is alarmed, you might also feel this energy. Your emotions affect one another. But because you are the adult and your teen is developing, it’s important to identify how you feel, why, and how to handle your emotions in a healthy way.
This doesn’t mean you hide the fact that it’s hard. Talk about your challenges and walk through your thought process for managing your stress. When you do, they learn how to do it, too. So, feel good about those moments where you take time to rest, do some deep breathing or meditation session, exercise, etc.
2. Establish routines that get your family through spring and summer
The school year is almost over. If classes have restarted, she’ll be home soon enough. And if school is still online or hybrid, there are still several months that your daughter is home. Set up routines that give these next months a sense of normalcy.
Routines serve a purpose: they cut down on decision fatigue. This fatigue comes about when everything is a decision and we get burned out on decisions.
Why decision fatigue is a part of pandemic stress
Remember to clean the handles on your grocery cart and spread out 6 feet. Don’t forget your mask in the car. Is it okay to go to the bank, a restaurant, the movies?
Constantly evaluating the safety of tasks big and small and thinking about so many things we didn’t give a moment’s thought before is exhausting. The multitude of little changes eat away at our patience and burn through our energy faster than before.
Even everyday decisions can wear us out:
- What time do we wake up or go to bed?
- What do we eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and when do we eat?
- What time do we work out, and what do we do?
But if we set up routines, we limit our decisions to what is truly important. Here’s a sample routine you could try:
- In bed at 10 p.m. and wake up by 7 a.m. (Remember: Teens often need more sleep than adults.)
- Take the dog for a walk at 7:30 a.m.
- Meals happen at regular times. Have options ready for breakfast or lunch so dinner can be an adventure.
These pre-set decisions help drive other choices as well: You know what time to turn off screen, what to buy at the grocery store, etc.
Don’t forget to include your teen in the planning process. She might have some insights you haven’t considered, and including her teaches organization, prioritization, and planning. Plus, you’ll be showing her respect by including her.
3. Create new memories and traditions with each other
Your daughter may be missing out on time with peers, but one thing the pandemic has given families is more time together. Some people even talk about how they don’t want to go back to the same pace and separation that existed before. Use this time to do things you normally wouldn’t be able to. For example:
- Figure out new and fun ways to celebrate the milestones she’s missing or create new ones.
- Take on projects with each other like cooking, crafting, reading a book and discussing it, or even training for a race.
- Encourage her to take on independent projects that will increase her confidence or simply help her relax.
- Allow social time with friends
Online classes don’t allow for the kind of socialization that happens in school between classes, at lunch, and at events. For some kids, safe extra screen time with friends on social media or in text chats makes all the difference. For others, they’re too Zoom-fatigued to even contemplate it. It’s important to help them find ways to connect.
Is there any way your daughter can safely have time with friends? Perhaps she can spend time outside with a small group or another way that everyone feels comfortable with. Balancing mental health and physical health is a challenge right now, and both need to be considered when deciding what’s right for your family.
When you weigh your safety decisions, don’t forget to factor mental well-being into the mix. Use these opportunities to include your daughter in the problem-solving process, and be open to creative solutions. It may be an incredibly difficult time for her (and all of us), but focusing on ways to take care of basic needs, build relationships, and put people first will prepare her beyond the pandemic for decades ahead.