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Ask The Pediatricians: Your Teen’s Mental Health

20 Jul Ask The Pediatricians: Your Teen’s Mental Health

On July 15th, 2020, we sat down with a small group of our pediatricians- Laurie Hochberg, MD, of Pediatric Partners, Margaret Stefani, DO, of Pediatric Associates of Barrington, Josh Levin, MD, of Elm Street Pediatrics, and our colleague Shauna Freedman, Psy.D. from Primary Care Psychology Associates, to address an important topic: Your teen’s mental health. 

This panel was moderated by Ruben Rucoba, MD, the Director of Medical Services at PediaTrust. We addressed topics like: COVID-19-related stress, helping your teens manage anxiety, signs and symptoms of depression, and coping with social media pressure. These were the main takeaways from our session, which can be viewed in full by clicking here:

Teens have been expressing a lot of sadness over all the events they are missing during COVID. How do we build resilience in our teenagers as they cope with this pandemic?

  • Listen and learn from your teen. Acknowledge and validate their feelings. Communication is the most important aspect. 
  • Give them purpose and try to keep them occupied with activities that can also boost their self-concept like volunteering. For instance, one of our partner organizations, Cradles to Crayons, is looking for volunteers to help stock their giving factory
  • Sit down and make goals together. Focus on one goal at a time, even if it’s small, and celebrate their accomplishments.
  • In the long run, this situation will help them cope with adversity in the future. 

 

Is it normal if my teen is not connecting with their school friends? How do we ease their anxiety about reconnecting with their friends?

  • Reassure them that feeling anxious is normal (especially during this time), and that they are not alone.
  • Remind them that socializing is safe if COVID-19 guidelines are followed properly.
  • Encourage them to ease back into socialization, even if it’s just inviting a friend over to chat in the driveway from six feet apart, or starting with other outdoor activities like going for a walk or bike ride with a friend.
  • The best way to help get them over the hesitation of socializing again is by letting them (safely) do so.

 

How do we minimize anxiety as our teens get ready to return to school?

  • The best thing you can do in any situation regarding your teen’s mental health is to have open conversations. Share your own concerns, while also validating and listening to theirs.
  • You don’t need to have all the answers.They just want to know that you’re listening and that you’re there for them.
  • Preview what school will be like. Sit down together and discuss what steps your teen’s school is taking to help keep them safe and what steps your teen should be taking as well. 

 

Is it safe for my kid to return to college? 

  • Even if classes are online, there are still a lot of benefits for your kid to be away at college. It also teaches your kids to be independent, self-sufficient, and responsible. 
  • Even with COVID regulations, the social experience is a key part of growth and staying at home this semester means they will not experience that socialization and could create more social challenges in the future.
  • Remain in-the-loop about what your son or daughter’s college is doing to help protect their students, and continue to educate and encourage your kids to abide by safe social distancing practices.

 

This pandemic has brought up anxiety issues for myself. How can I make sure my own anxiety is not negatively impacting my teen?

  • It is okay to speak to your teen about your own concerns, but if you are worried that it may be elevating theirs, look to other outlets for your own anxiety, like turning to friends, other family members, support groups (with other parents), or psychologists.  

 

Finding a therapist can be a daunting task. What suggestions do you have for choosing someone for your child to speak with?

  • Start with your pediatrician. They know your teen well and can provide recommendations.
  • You can also speak with your own friends and see if they have any recommendations.
  • Remember that a therapist can be excellent, but not all of them will be a great fit for your child. It can take time to find a good match, but it’s out there.

Remember: Several of our offices have therapists on site for in-person appointments, and any PediaTrust patient can schedule a virtual visit with our therapists. Please contact your local PediaTrust office via phone or MyChart to learn more about scheduling an appointment.

How do you differentiate between normal teen moodiness and depression?

There are several key signs of depression to look out for:

  • Change in mood most of the day, every day.
  • Your teen is acting sad, easily frustrated, or unusually irritable.
  • Decrease in interest in activities they had previously enjoyed (like a sport or hobby).
  • Change (usually a decrease) in appetite 
  • Poor sleep quality (usually characterized by waking up several times throughout the night or early morning)
  • May have trouble focusing and making decisions
  • May appear agitated, including pacing back and forth or looking slow and sluggish
  • Expresses feelings of worthlessness or guilt, including constantly blaming themselves.
  • Avoids social interactions
  • Sadness without a cause. Keep an open dialogue and ask what is upsetting them. If they cannot provide an answer, this may be a sign of depression.

*Please note that depression can also cause physical symptoms that may mimic those of acute illness, such as:

  • A lump in their throat
  • Tension headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Shortness of breath

*If you suspect your child may be experiencing anxiety or depression, it is important to contact your pediatrician.

What can I do to help my teen cope with their anxiety or depression?

  • Awareness is the first step. Recognize that these feelings are common and normal, and help them do the same.
  • Again, communication is key. Normalize these open conversations as much as possible.
  • Encourage them to keep up with a regular routine as much as possible.
  • Plan activities in the morning to help get them out of bed.
  • Model a positive outlook on life, and encourage a “cup half full” mentality.
  • Check on your child often. Keep a look out for signs of self-harm or suicidal ideation, and address them as soon as possible.
  1. Acknowledge and validate their feelings.
  2. Listen, be available, and be supportive.
  3. Seek help.

 

How can I help my teen with his/her sleep issues?

  • Try to get them on a regular sleep schedule. Daylight can have a positive effect on your teen’s mood, so encourage them to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier.
  • Have them go to bed 15 minutes earlier and get them up 15 minutes earlier each day until they get to a regular bedtime.
  • Turn off all screens 1-2 hours before it’s time to sleep. Leave phones in another room overnight.
  • Items like weighted blankets and fans may help some people sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine after lunch.
  • Encourage at least 60 min of vigorous exercise every day
  • Some apps, such as the “Calm” app, can help encourage sleep.
  • Schedule an appointment with your pediatrician to discuss alternate solutions. This can also be a great opportunity for a virtual visit.

 

My teen is rebelling and not following COVID-19 safety guidelines. What can I do?

  • Set usual limits, boundaries, and consequences and consistently follow through.
  • Reinforce the importance of the restrictions. 
  • Find healthy outlets for your teen’s anger, like exercise, art, or other hobbies.
  • Focus on what your teen is doing well, and recognize their accomplishments.
  • Be firm and calm rather than yelling.

 

What can I do to help make sure my teen is starting the school year on a healthy note?

  • Bring them in for their regular well visit, and ensure they are up-to-date on all vaccines.
  • Schedule their annual flu shot
  • Encourage them to stay home if they are feeling sick.
  • Make sure they are equipped with cloth masks, hand sanitizer, and that they adhere to social distancing guidelines.

To schedule an appointment with one of our therapists or your pediatrician, including well visits/vaccinations and virtual visits, contact your local PediaTrust office via phone or by sending a secure message on MyChart.

Have questions about sending your child back-to-school? We’re here for you! Join us for a live Q&A with a panel of our pediatricians on Wednesday, August 5th at 6:00 p.m. Click here to register!

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