The global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has hit our teens hard. Major life events are postponed or canceled. Social interactions are cut off. Experts are describing this as “social reorientation.”

University of Utah Health pediatrician Dr. Cindy Gellner explains how physical distancing is affecting kids, especially teenagers, and how you can support them through their feelings of anger, anxiety, and depression caused by social reorientation.

Listen to Dr. Gellner’s whole story on U of U’s The Scope:

As if teenagers didn’t have enough to deal with puberty, social pressures with dating, academics in junior high and high school – here comes COVID, and it knocks their world out of the water. How is this affecting our teens, and what as a parent can you do to help?

My sister was commenting to me the other day about how hard the stay-at-home order has been on her two teenagers. In fact, it’s so universal what teens are experiencing that experts have given it a name. They call it social reorientation. Basically, all the things that kids should be doing have disappeared.

Everything that is normal for our teens is now gone. While teens are trying to establish new routines and keep up with social demands, they are finding themselves angry, anxious, and depressed. Especially our older teens, who were on the verge of finishing high school, everything they have worked so hard on for so many years to get into the college of their choice, gone. Prom, gone. Walking across the stage to get their diploma, gone. All of it, just gone.

Well, I guess some things are not gone entirely, but they’re put on hold. And for how long? Who knows?

Eventually, these teens will be able to go on to college. I know some graduations have been scheduled for in-person ceremonies at later dates. But these kids are isolated. They’re missing out on experiences they should be having.

So how can you as a parent, or an aunt, or an uncle, or as society in general help these kids? One word keeps coming to mind — patience. We need to be patient with them to help them process their very valid emotions. We need to let them know that their emotions are valid, that everything they are feeling is okay.

They are literally going through the stages of grief: grief for the loss of normalcy that they should have. They were probably in shock and denial with schools being closed and being told they had to stay home. Then, pain that they didn’t or don’t get to do things they wanted to. Then, their pain and frustration will turn to anger, which is where most teens are right now. This is then followed by depression and loneliness brought on by social isolation.

Hopefully, soon there will be light, letting us start to rebuild the world for our teens, letting them build their own world with the building blocks from what just crumbled around them and the wisdom that they have learned during the previous stages, and, eventually, our teens and all of us will be able to find the one thing we so desperately need right now ó hope, hope that one day our teens will be able to look back and see how they were able to handle this social reorientation, this pandemic that will define this decade.

There are some teens who are truly struggling more than others. If your teen, or a teen you know, is having an exceptionally hard time with social isolation, please ask your pediatrician for a referral to a mental health specialist. Even in this time of social distancing, our mental health teams are there and able to help.

Content provided by University of Utah Health.

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