Twice last week I had a teenager sit down in the counseling room and burst into tears in the first sixty seconds of their session.
One of my client’s lost a job that was critical to staying in safe housing that they had worked very hard to attain on their own.
The current pandemic has put another client’s younger siblings in a neglectful and potentially abusive environment and they don’t know how to navigate that as a teenager.
I cannot even tell you how many times I have heard:
“I am so done”
“I can’t do it anymore”
“I’m so lost right now”
“I feel like I can’t breathe”
It is such hard stuff and even more difficult if you are just learning how to navigate big feelings and thoughts about the world you live in. Brene’ Brown calls what we are experiencing "collective grief and communal weariness." I think the emotional battle raging behind the medical challenges of COVID-19 will soon be, if its not already, a new curve that will need to be flattened.
While we know that masks, hand washing and sanitizer along with social distancing will help reduce the spread of this virus and others, what will we need to help our teenagers reduce their anxiety and work through their grief?
Empathy. We know everyone grieves in their own way and teens are no exception. They think differently than both children and adults. It is important to be available and validate what ever they are feeling even if it is different than what you feel. Remember they may not know what words to use and may need patience and guidance on figuring out their emotions.
Support. Teens need to feel safe. They need someone to talk to and something to do that gives them value. We can ask questions like what do you need? Or Is there something I can do that will help you? We may think they need something different so we should be prepared to work with them to accommodate both ideas.
Reassurance. Some teenagers are just now experiencing their own ability to navigate hard things. Some have endured difficult situations before COVID-19 and may be re-traumatized but what is going on around them. Reassuring them that a way forward is emerging and they have people to help is important. We say we are “in this together” but they need constant validation that they are not alone. Learning that they have what it takes to do hard things builds an internal confidence and a true resiliency.