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Help Teens Take Charge of their Lives During the Pandemic

By Dr. Joe Novak



“Life isn’t about what happens, it’s about what you do with it.” I heard this comment on the radio recently. A father was responding to the news that his daughter, who was preparing to get on a flight to start her freshman year at college, received a text that her university was changing course and going completely virtual for the semester. Not only would classes all be online, but student housing on campus would no longer be available. This news changed his daughter’s decision to go to college this fall.

COVID-19, social distancing, economic uncertainty, job cuts, virtual school, limited access to certain food and needed resources are some of the paramount challenges facing all of us - challenges I hear about in my daily work with teens, young adults, and their parents at Solutions Northshore.

Our teens' plans and choices are changing minute by minute as they receive the most recent news. Sometimes their initial responses are reactive and emotionally intense. Change is hard. Dealing with rapid change and uncertainty is even harder. Yes, things are happening at warp speed with limited preparation time. They have the opportunity, however, to address what is happening and use their experiences, judgment, and instincts to adapt. Instead of fighting things they cannot change or giving up, they need to focus on how to move forward.

You can help your teens and young adults take control and ownership of their lives by suggesting they do the following:

  • Learn the art of pivoting. Have them assess what just happened in their lives, gather information, and ask questions for clearer understanding. Suggest they evaluate risk and adjust their plans and decisions.

  • Use “mental shift” as a tool. Encourage them to step back and reconsider their options and adjust their mindsets. Suggest they not allow themselves to be consumed by costly negative thinking.

  • Encourage them to confront how they are feeling and use tools, such as deep belly breathing, to first regulate their bodies and then use the power of thought and planning strategies to adapt and move forward.

  • Ensure they don't drown in their emotions and life circumstances by having them step back, survey what happened, and re-calibrate their feelings.

  • If they are furious, suggest they go for a rage walk. During the walk, encourage them to push themselves to channel their emotions into the physical moment and reflect about where they are at mentally and emotionally.

  • Help them seek perspective and a new focus. Try to stop them from spiraling into a reactive, negative-thought monologues.

  • Help them recognize that they may feel vulnerable and have them dig into what they are experiencing and reset themselves.

  • Remind them that change is also opportunity. It is all about perspective.

  • Encourage them to seek support, conversation, and help from those they trust and respect.

  • Suggest they celebrate what they have control over and accept what they do not.

  • Remind them to work on self-care and ways to de-stress in these uncertain times.

  • Help them measure risks and not get caught up in "group think" or become distracted by what others choose to do or not do. Human behavior is always the x-factor that we cannot predict or control.




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