Even before the pandemic, being a teenager was tough. Between working out their identity, forming relationships with others, and juggling school, work, and hobbies, teens have a lot on their plates as it is. Add a global pandemic on top of all of that, and it isn’t hard to see why teens have been struggling more than ever. Between increased feelings of isolation, anxiety, and Covid-driven changes in our interactions with others, 38% of Gen Z have said that their mental health has gotten worse since the pandemic started. If you’re a teenager, or if you have a teen who is struggling, here are some ways that therapy can help.
Teenage years are often marked by a strange paradox: they can feel overwhelmingly emotionally intense but are often trivialized by adults. If your teenager is struggling, it can be helpful to start by remembering what your own teenage years may have felt like. You may look back on those days with fondness now, but try to tap into those feelings of teenage anxiety. Do you remember how it felt to have your heart broken by your first real crush, or that rush of anxiety when you were worried about making it into the college of your dreams? Think about how you may have felt in new, unexpected situations – what it was like to compare your changing body to those of your peers, or the special combination of stress and elation that came with your first real date, kiss, or relationship. Now imagine dealing with all of that, but accompanied by the feelings of social isolation and uncertainty ushered in by the Covid-19 pandemic, lockdown, and remote schooling – it’s not hard to see why teens are struggling so much!
Teens aren’t just dealing with new experiences and emotions – they’re also often dealing with self-judgment, shame, and comparisons with others while processing these feelings. These feelings are normal, but they can make it extra difficult for teens to open up to friends and family. On top of that, social media has made it impossible not to make comparisons of self to others, with seemingly little boundaries.
This is where therapy can really help your teenager. A trusting therapeutic relationship can help your teenager feel like their feelings and experiences matter, and that they have a space to talk about them in complete trust and safety. Having this safe space can be a huge relief on its own. In a situation like the Covid-19 pandemic, which profoundly increased feelings of isolation in all of us (teens included!), this trusting relationship can also help your teenager feel like they aren’t quite so alone.
After giving teenagers space to talk about and process their emotions, therapy can also help teens develop coping skills for when they are feeling overwhelmed or stressed. These coping skills can help teens navigate the many pitfalls of middle school, high school, and early college life – and cope with the uncertainties of a global pandemic. This is one of the greatest benefits of therapy for your teenager: it can help build emotional resilience, as well as a sense of self-reliance, that will last them for the rest of their lives. The coping skills your young adult learns during their youth can be used throughout their life to deal with difficult situations, helping them to feel like they can handle whatever life throws at them.
That self-reliance your teen is building by developing coping skills can also be huge in helping boost your teenager’s self-image and self-esteem. Developing a sense of self-reliance helps in turn to develop a sense of self-efficacy: that feeling of confidence that you can do whatever you need to do to reach your goals. Teenage years can be tough, so developing self-confidence is so important for mental health among teens, especially if your teen is part of a marginalized group like the LGBTQ+ community. In a time when many young adults have felt stuck, unsure of the future, and even delayed in their ability to reach goals due to the pandemic, those feelings of self-efficacy are more valuable than ever.
If your teenager is struggling during this difficult time, know that you are not alone. Many teenagers are finding it hard to cope with all the changes that the pandemic has brought about. Fortunately, you can take steps to help your teen manage their mental health by showing them that their feelings matter to you and being an ally to them in their mental health journey. Therapy can help you and your teen reach your goals by giving them the security, skills, and self-reliance they need to shine.
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Laurel Therapy Collective
offers online therapy to California residents for anxiety, transitions, and trauma.