How the COVID-19 Pandemic Has Affected Teens’ Mental Health

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost everyone in some way. But for teens across the country, there are several factors associated with the pandemic that have not only changed their lives now but could have a lasting impact going forward.

While the CDC has encouraged children and teens to go back to school if it is safe, whatever you decided for your teenager, it’s important to understand how this pandemic may have already affected them, and what your choice about their future schooling could do to their mental, physical, and emotional health.

The Social Impact of COVID-19 on Long-Term Mental Health

It’s no secret that teenagers aren’t meant to live in isolation, and that’s especially true when they’re used to spending time with friends, classmates, and teammates all day.

Some studies have already shown that the long-term mental health impact from the COVID-19 pandemic in adults could be staggering. We may not even have the resources as a country to treat everyone who experiences depression or anxiety from this pandemic. Some data has already been brought forward when it comes to teenagers, and it is alarming. Teens have had to miss out on things that are often considered milestones, including:

  • Sporting events
  • Graduation
  • Prom
  • Open houses
  • Regular academic testing for colleges

In a recent survey that sheds some light on how teenagers are dealing with this pandemic, it was discovered that more than half are feeling anxious, while 60 percent are lonely. Loneliness can contribute to a variety of both mental and physical issues at any age. It can cause a rapid decline in mental health that could cause teenagers to become less motivated and depressed.

The Stress that Comes from Uncertainty

Teenagers typically face a lot of stress even under normal circumstances. There are pressures to fit in, do well in school, join groups or clubs, excel in sports, and have an active social life. Now, as the world faces so much uncertainty, those stresses are amplified. Even for teens who do go back to school in person, things will be different, and that can be confusing for everyone.

A survey administered by the National 4-H Council found that in the wake of COVID-19, 55 percent of teens say they’ve experienced anxiety, 45 percent excessive stress, and 43 percent depression. And of those that have gone back to some form of school, 71 percent of those surveyed say doing school work makes them feel anxious or depressed.

Something even more alarming is the fact that most of these teens who were surveyed had said that they felt pressured to hide these feelings, which is a serious issue unto itself. Of the group surveyed, 67 percent feel pressure to keep feelings to themselves while 45 percent expressed that they try to ignore their feelings or spend more time alone when dealing with mental health issues. This is a clear indicator that we can do a better job making sure our teens feel they can honestly and openly express their feelings.

The American Psychological Association also reports that 42 percent of teens know they aren’t doing enough to manage their stress, while 13 percent aren’t doing anything to keep it under control. If you’re a parent or guardian, don’t be afraid to step in and do your part to help the teen in your life with their stress levels.

It’s important to remember that what we are dealing with, we are dealing with collectively and it’s okay to be stressed and anxious regarding the future. As Jennifer Sirangelo of the National 4-H Council states, “Young people are facing a whole new world and set of challenges today and it’s our job to listen and respond.” Therefore, keeping lines of communication open with your children and finding constructive ways to discuss COVID-19 should be a top priority.

While studies show that many teens are openly calling on Americans to talk more openly about mental health issues, 46 percent of teens still have to rely on social media to learn about coping mechanisms. In addition to abundant misinformation being spread on social media channels, too much prolonged screen time can also be detrimental in isolation so consider limiting their digital intake as well.

Other Ways Parents Can Help Their Children Cope with Social Distancing

Although difficult, trying to get back to some sense of normalcy can also help to reduce the stress levels your teen is dealing with. Whether your teenager is at home or at school, encouraging a healthy lifestyle can help them to manage stress on their own. One of the best ways to reduce stress is to have them stick to a routine. That includes things like:

  • Going to bed at the same time each night
  • Waking up at the same time each morning
  • Having the same morning and nightly rituals
  • Getting dressed and getting active every morning

In addition to a routine, if your teenager plays a sport, it might be worth getting them used to extra safety precautions that go beyond standard protective gear and stretching. Everything from social distancing to wearing masks or playing in empty stadiums and gyms could be the norm for a while.

Your children’s loneliness may also be exacerbated when special milestones are reached such as birthdays or graduations. If the possibility does not exist to celebrate as a group, it’s a good idea to find new and creative ways to make sure you children feel appreciated and see the importance of reaching these milestones. One example of this is the growing popularity of “drive-by birthdays” or neighborhood parades.

Some suggest that since so much has been taken away from children throughout this pandemic, it may be time to give them more choices in life at home such as what to eat for family dinners, movie nights, and game nights. This may be a great way to start teaching them important lessons in responsibility as well.

Unfortunately, while so many decisions about moving forward from this pandemic in a safe way are still up in the air, it’s up to parents and guardians of teenagers to make sure they are taking care of their health, both mentally and physically. They are the next generation that could make a huge difference in our world, but only if they make it through the effects of this pandemic on stable ground.

If you are looking at your child’s school and not happy with how the year is going, many StrideK12 powered schools are still enrolling!


This article was originally published in 2020 and revised and republished. 

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