Puberty and a pandemic: Why teens are having a tough time

This story is part of Amy Bell’s Parental Guidance column, which airs on CBC Radio One’s The Early Edition.


Being homebound for weeks at a time isn’t exactly fun for anyone — but for teenagers who’ve suddenly had their friends and social life stripped away by the pandemic, it’s been particularly rough.

Imagine beginning to enjoy your hard-earned freedom when suddenly it isn’t just worried parents trying to reel you in — it’s the entire country?

The teen years may be brief, but they are an incredibly important and unique time in a person’s life; sweet freedom, new friendships, all-encompassing romances and taking steps toward adulthood are intoxicating — and to have that process shut down suddenly for a global pandemic is jarring! Raise your hand if celebrating Mother’s Day also included having a spat with your adolescent offspring? If not, it’s probably because they haven’t woken up yet. 
 

Teens need help from parents, even if parents don’t have answers

As we heard from Premier John Horgan earlier this week, there will soon be opportunities for a bit more interaction, and people will have to make informed and cautious choices about how they choose to see family and friends. While some parents have already been more relaxed and willing to give their teens more permission to socialize, teenagers aren’t always capable of fully understanding the consequences of their actions, and that can lead to them making choices that will ultimately make this phase of isolation far longer.

Andrea Yeo is a high school teacher, mother and therapist — and she stresses that parents need to have honest discussions with their teens about what’s going on, even if parents ultimately don’t have the answers to all their teen’s questions. And parents need to find ways to help teens feel connected to their peer groups, without causing unnecessary risk to themselves or their families.

“Parents really need to guide the kids in what they can and can’t do,” says Yeo. “People want to twist the rules to suit themselves and it makes sense … maybe a parent can drive with their teen in the car and go over and see their best friend?”

What will the future hold? 

Raising a teen can already mean that tensions are high at the best of times. It’s like a delicate dance when it comes to figuring out how to give them their space and still maintain bonds. For many families, even though they may be physically closer at home, the activities they enjoyed with their teens pre-pandemic are long gone — and possibly not returning for even longer.

Alex Short is raising two teens in Nelson, and she’s worried for what the future holds when it comes to that connection.  

“All that’s been taken away,” says Short. “Trying to get that connection back should be my focus and will also be very, very difficult.”

The teenage years are a time to try on what it feels like to be an adult without most of the stress and worry. But it’s rife with turmoil, heartbreak and social stress on the best of days. We need to support our teens by impressing upon them how serious the situation is, while fully expecting and understanding their pushback. But we need to stick with them while we figure out how to flatten the curve and keep everyone — not just the friends they follow on TikTok — safe.

They may have grown up reading their fair share of dystopian fiction, but teens were not expecting this turn of events and they desperately need our guidance through this chapter of their lives.

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