Real Time Resilience for Adolescents

In this blog Dr Rob Pluke considers the impact of on-line leaning on teenagers while providing techniques to improve their mental health and bolster your certainty as a parent.

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Young people tell me that life under lockdown is ‘weird’. What I think they mean is, they’ve been at home, on holiday, and yet things just don’t feel the same. There’s the appearance of normality. You’re in your lounge watching TV. And yet you can’t escape the nagging apprehension that danger is gathering at your gate. The world out there has a new edge to it. Even a trip to the shops is different. People seem more suspicious, harried, and unfriendly.

What does this mean for our teenagers? They may feel the following:

  • Disorientated – Since school is a large part of their world, they may feel disoriented and life/work/goals may even seem pointless.
  • Down – The loss of things they’ve been looking forward to, could bring on low mood and feelings of emptiness (they may find their mood swings up and down).
  • Bored – Few teenagers would choose to stay at home with their parents, without seeing friends, for 35 days straight.
  • Tired – They may feel less energetic than usual. On-line work is draining. I suspect that all of us (not just students) will find we can’t do as much online as when things are normal. In addition, just dealing with the emotions of the current situation will often lead us to feel exhausted, despite being less active.
  • Irritated – Teenagers may display grumpiness when they’re actually down or worried (also see Bored).
  • Worried –Anxiety can come in waves as the abnormal keeps rupturing the normal.

“Few teenagers would choose to stay at home with their parents, without seeing friends, for 35 days straight.”

Of course, your child is their own person, and they may not be able to relate to many or any of the above. But I’ve not yet spoken to a young person who isn’t feeling at least a little bit unsettled, worried, and sad. You can use the tools below to help your teen, some of which are examples of real time resilience that can be used in the moment with ‘real time’ results.

Label emotions – We all carry our own internal mix of horrible. What matters is that we make space to share our emotional experiences with each other. This helps to normalise our distress. A named emotion is much less noxious than an unnamed emotion. Unnamed emotions tend to affect everyone in the family anyway. I’m no immunologist, but I reckon fear can be as contagious as a virus.

Accept feelings – Acknowledge how your child feels, whatever that may be. There is no right way to feel. Feelings are like the weather. Some days simply aren’t great. The question is, what are we going to do on those days?

Realistic positivity – As point two implies, whilst we can’t really control our feelings, we have (even under lockdown) some control of our thoughts and actions. Encourage your son or daughter to develop realistic positive ways of thinking that allows them to vent when they need to, even as they get on with the task at hand. Realistic positivity says, “I think my hockey season could be over, but at least I have time to work on my fitness”. Realistic positivity accepts the bad that we can’t control and helps us to focus on the good that we can control.

Savouring – Study after study confirms the profound benefits of appreciating what we have and expressing gratitude, especially when times are tough. Linked to this is the delicate art of savouring. Everyone in the family can practice savouring that cup of coffee, sunset, or moment of real family connection.

Observe thinking – Stepping back to look at our thoughts objectively is a great skill to have. Thoughts can take us down the ‘rabbit hole’, especially at night when we’re more inclined to worry. If your teenager can observe their thoughts (think of it like watching traffic on the side of a freeway) then perhaps they can re-route ‘anxious thoughts’ towards more realistic positive and grateful thinking patterns. Apps like Headspace are fantastic tools for learning these skills.

‘Think of it like watching traffic on the side of a freeway…’

Connect – Your son or daughter needs their friends. At this most social stage of their life a lack of opportunity to socialise is challenging. Allow the space, privacy, time, and technology to maintain relationships outside of the family. They need to feel they are in this with their friends.

Exercise – Exercise, in some studies, has been shown to be as effective as medication, therapy and even a combination of the two, when it comes to dealing with stress. Whatever the veracity of these results we know that exercise is essential. If you’re looking for somewhere to start check out Freeletics or Thenx .

Of course, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander so see if you can develop your skills in some of these areas. Even the exercise.

Dr Rob Pluke is a psychologist and author. His latest book, ‘A son to be proud of‘ is available on Amazon.

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