Why Some High School Students Are Feeling Less Anxious in Spite of the Pandemic

Why Some High School Students Are Feeling Less Anxious in Spite of the Pandemic

 

We all react differently to stressful situations.

COVID-19 has challenged the best of us, but for some high school students, as the days pass and timetables are relaxed, the switch to learning from home may provide a temporary respite from some of the stressors of everyday life. 

 

The Teen Years Aren’t Easy

The teen years are fraught with self-consciousness, and countless books and movies have been written about the universal themes that define them.

But in the age of COVID-19 and with the absence of an actual physical school to attend, many of those classic scenes from pop culture that we associate with the high school years aren’t actually taking place–from SATs and proms to end-of-year parties and graduation ceremonies.

Some of the anxiety-inducing pressures of the teen years–dating, sex, trying drugs and alcohol, being hyper-aware of physical appearance, being invited to social events, etc.–have faded a bit to the background because, let’s face it, most of our children can’t be places other than home, and the focus now is on maintaining or regaining our good health. 

So what does that mean to the kid who was anxious about these types of pressures previously–either in an obvious way, or even secretively?

Experts say there’s a good chance that they might be feeling a sense of relief . . . however temporary that relief may be.

 

The Playing Field Has Been Leveled

Psychologist Dr. Margaret Rutherford, author of Perfectly Hidden Depression: How to Break Free from the Perfectionism that Masks Your Depression and host of The SelfWork Podcast, says that one of the biggest fears of teens is missing out on things.

When schools closed their doors, and families were asked to stay home, the playing field was essentially leveled.

“Everyone is in the same boat,” says Rutherford. In fact, right about now in the process, our kids may have figured this out.

And that’s not a bad thing.

They’ve got this unusual opportunity, she says, “to mature a bit more” away from the spotlight and their peers, and to consider, on their own time and on their own terms, who and what’s important to them.   

As a parent you may have already noticed shifts in your child’s behavior about schoolwork and their social life.

For some, without the framework of school and the affirmation they get from a social environment, it’s stressful.

For others, their initial concerns about grades, due dates, and the pressure of being cooped up and missing friends and events may seem less stressful. Either way, it’s a good time to acknowledge their feelings and to talk to them regularly about how they’re doing. 

Keep in mind, worries about the pressures of adolescence may have been replaced by other, COVID-19-inspired worries, including: safeguarding the health of themselves and loved ones; wondering if college is still in their future, and how to visit colleges if campuses are closed; getting (or losing!) a summer job or internship opportunity; maintaining their friendships; and much more.

These concerns should also be acknowledged and discussed.

Remember that as a parent, you play an important role in helping your child through this difficult time.

 

Talk, Talk, and Talk Some More

“Children will take their cues from you,” says Rutherford, “and how you’re handling the changes in your home schedule and work schedule.

Be sure to use language and examples that they understand and that don’t convey panic.

Talk about staying at home as a protective choice, not that your family needs to hide or flee.”

Let them know it’s okay to be scared, overwhelmed, angry–these are all natural feelings considering the circumstances.

What’s important is that they don’t act on their feelings in a harmful way. 

When school does reopen, we’ll all hopefully regain a sense of normalcy–or, more likely, a new sense of it.

Until then, as trying as it may be for you to have everyone under one roof, be aware that you may see some unexpected shifts in your child’s priorities and stress levels as they become more introspective.

In a sense, they’ve stepped off the treadmill for a bit, and will hopefully be able to step back on soon–a little wiser, with a stronger sense of self, of family, and of the myriad interests they want to pursue. 

If you or someone you love needs help, visit the Disaster Distress Helpline.

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Melissa T. Shultz

Melissa T. Shultz

Melissa T. Shultz is a writer, and the acquisitions editor for Jim Donovan Literary, an agency that represents book authors. She's written about health and parenting for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Reader's Digest, AARP’s The Girlfriend, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Next Avenue, NBC’s Today.com and many other publications. Her memoir/self-help book From Mom to Me Again: How I Survived My First Empty-Nest Year and Reinvented the Rest of My Life was published by Sourcebooks in 2016.
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