Meet Mareli Fischer, Clinical Psychologist at The Claremont Practice.
Guidance for Parents of Teenagers During the COVID-19 Lockdown
The current situation in South Africa, and the rest of the world, is unfamiliar and unprecedented for us all. Our president and other leaders have given us important guidelines on how to keep ourselves and our families healthy and safe from the COVID-19 virus. One of the most important ways that we can protect ourselves and others in our community, is to practise social distancing to hinder contracting and spreading of the virus. This is such an important measure in our defence against the current pandemic, that we have been ordered to stay home for at least 21 days.
Staying at home, away from school, friends, hobbies and other familiar activities and places, can pose significant challenges to mental and emotional well-being. This is especially true for our teenagers. How can parents and caregivers assist and support their adolescent children during this time?
Maintain a healthy routine:
It is very important to help children maintain some sort of daily routine, with specific times for meals, a reasonable bedtime to get enough sleep, and allocated times for specific activities. The day does not have to be jam-packed, or implemented in an excessively strict or harsh way, but having a somewhat predictable daily schedule will help children feel safe and secure, while also ensuring that their basic health needs (such as eating, exercising and sleeping) are maintained. It might be useful to involve your teenage chidren in the setting up of this basic daily routine, to get their buy-in and to also inlcude activities of their choice on their daily list.
Parents are generally very concerned about how to place a healthy limit on their teenager's screen time; however, it is important to realise that social distancing should not mean emotional distancing. Adolescents need to maintain their social connections and peer relationships during this time. Try to be mindful that technology will keep them connected to close friends, mentors and teachers, and will help them not to feel isolated, which can quickly lead to depression and hopelessness. Try to negotiate a reasonable amount of time before bed, that your child needs to switch off and engage in more meditative and relaxing activities to aid in sleep.
Family time and fun activities:
Try to incorporate positive family time in the household's daily routine. This can include watching a funny movie together, playing a boardgame, engaging in creative hobbies or even a silly dance party to your favourite music (take turns being the DJ). This can be a unique opportunity to bond with your children and learn more about their interests and their wonderful sense of humor.
Colllaboration, kindness and chores:
Family members should all be encouraged to participate in chores, help around the house and do the necessary maintenance and cleaning of shared and personal spaces. A family culture of cooperation, kindness, understanding and support should be cultivated between parents and siblings. Just like the whole world is quiet around us, with eerily empty streets and the implementation of careful sanitizing rules, we must all collaborate and play our important role in overcoming this significant global challenge - both inside and outside of our own homes.
Emotional check-ins and serious facts:
It will be important to balance lighthearted family fun with allocated time for more serious conversations. Teenagers are plugged in and they have access to a world of information; sometimes what they read online might be scary or overwhelming for them, especially with regards to current COVID-19 facts and stats. Create a safe space where all members of the family can share their feelings, how they are doing emotionally on that day, what they are concerned about and maybe what they have read or heard. It is important for you as parents to arm yourselves with the correct information, to present yourselves as knowledgeable sources of the necessary facts and precautions. This will help your children to feel less anxious.
Allow for alone time:
Even though we do not want adolescents to isolate themselves completely, it is important to acknowledge their need for alone time, when they can introspect and mindfully process their emotional and other experiences. If you have access to a garden, encourage them to spend time alone outside or with their pets. Encourage them to practise meditation and relaxation exercises, with the help of an app or just by listening to calming music.
Some kind of physical exercise is vital for the release of endorphins and to maintain a healthy body and mind. Encourage your children by joining them in online exercise classes. Many gyms, studios and trainers are currently offering live online classes. Smartphone apps can also be useful. Another favourite among teenagers are online, live dance classes on Instagram, as well as dance challenges on TikTok.
Most schools will provide children with online learning tasks, through Google classroom or another platform, but not all schools have well-established online systems in place. There will be some expected teething problems, frustrations, fears and delays. While it will be important to incorporate time for your children to perform academic work and learning tasks during the lockdown, try to manage your own anxiety in this regard. Remote learning is likely to become the norm for a portion of this academic year. The success of online learning relies on preparation and good implementation: set up a comfortable workspace, free from distractions and disruptions. Where possible, encourage your teenager to take responsibility for their own learning and school tasks.
Teenagers who struggle with their mental health are especially vulnerable during this uncertain time. Symptoms of low mood, panic and the urge to self-harm might be heightened. The importance of having access to an emotionally safe space is crucial. Mental health practitioners such as psychiatrists and psychologists are classified as essential service providers and are therefore allowed to continue working during the lockdown. Many professionals are offering online counselling through platforms such as Zoom. It is also important for parents to reach out, when they need guidance or support in this time.
Mareli has been working at The Claremont Pracice since 2013. She provides support to children, adolescents, adult individuals and families through psychotherapy. During the national lockdown, Mareli will continue to work full-time using online platforms. If you are interested in scheduling a session or reuire more information, please contact Mareli directly at firstname.lastname@example.org