When talking to parents of children, teenagers, and young adults who are in school, many parents raised that COVID-19 has had concerning long-term effects on their students and they’ve been noticing things:
- Changes in their student’s sleep routine
- Increased defiance or irritability
- Lack of concentration
- Less energy
- Refusal to go to school
- Physical symptoms such as nausea
- Significant reduction in academic performance
In some cases, these increases in anxiety were indicators of worsened pre-existing anxiety and in other cases were the initial onset of such reactions to the difficult challenges students faced returning to school, post-COVID. Many parents reported serious compromises to their student’s social skills and academic interest because of the initial significant reduction in “face to face” social interactions that students had with others during Covid, spending the majority of their time isolated with video or computer games as well as increased levels of anxiety regarding their health and future or that of their loved ones. Uncertainties of the future and their physical health also increased levels of OCD amongst many students, who would constantly check and re-check their surroundings, repeatedly wash their hands, etc. in an effort to regain a sense of control over their lives, but only served to lose control through the negative distraction of the rituals. Many students also felt more pressure academically, due to shifts in their sleep routines, increased procrastination, and lack of motivation.
Returning to in-person classes in the “second phase”, having to navigate remaking relationships with their classmates and friends in person after the extended social break and periods of isolation created these hikes in anxiety, as students had to acclimatize and “be back in circulation”. These effects were magnified if there was a simultaneous transition in education to a secondary school or post-secondary institution. The effects of COVID-19 often impacted teenagers and young adults harder due to their stage of emotional development when social interaction goals/successes are primary to self-esteem and competence.
Adolescents with pre-existing mental health symptoms were at even greater risk than those without symptoms prior to the Pandemic. The result of this may be explained by many factors such as a lack of structured or daily routines, a decreased ability to access mental health services in school, a lack of advanced emotional development, lowered self-worth, compromised resilience, a lack of coping strategies, and physical isolation from peers.
So, what can parents do to help their young people navigate these challenges and changes? Here are some TIPS for parents:
- Parents can make sure their students have a daily routine, with regular times for healthy meals, exercise and sleep.
- When students are faced with such challenges, it is important for parents to try and remain calm and reassuring.
- Parents can also help come up with strategies to manage stress and cope with their worries.
- Parents can also remember to take care of themselves during stressful times so they can be better equipped to take care of and support their child(ren).
- Parents can talk to a healthcare professional if their child’s symptoms of anxiety or behavior problems are severe or persistent.