Keeping our Teens Drug and Alcohol Free

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How to Help Teens & Tweens Navigate the Pandemic

By Highland Park Pediatrician Dr. Susan Sirota

We find ourselves nearly 6 months into the COVID-19 pandemic with another school year set to begin. Teens and tweens who feel like they can’t handle any more loss and disappointment must now prepare for an academic year that will be anything but typical; it’s likely to include a considerable amount of online learning and separation from their friends and activities. And, unlike other hardships they might have experienced in the past, this one will be a marathon rather than a sprint.

As parents, you can play a critical role in helping your teen navigate through the pandemic. Supporting strategies that build resilience can help mitigate the mental health impact on your teen and reduce their risk of seeking unhealthy and ineffective coping approaches, such as using nicotine, marijuana, alcohol, or other intoxicating substances. We know that 90% of addiction begins in the teen years. When it comes to marijuana, 1 in 6 teens will become addicted, which is possible with even limited use.

How to help your child build resilience and adapt in the face of adversity:

Make time to listen and learn from your teen. Let them know you understand how they feel; they need your validation. Empathize and work to support them in finding a solution.

Encourage your teen to stay engaged. Encourage their efforts to find a positive solution for challenging and unwelcome situations. Point out their ability to successfully handle hardships, solve problems and make good decisions.

Help your teen set a schedule that includes regular meals, daily activity, enough sleep, and time connecting socially, whether virtually or with masks physically distanced from friends and/or family.

Encourage your teen to set and move toward goals. Taking one step at a time toward a bigger goal allows you to praise all the small steps.

Four healthy ways to help your child navigate the pandemic:

When you see your teen in victim mode, help them find their way to survivor mode and ultimately to hero mode. Volunteering is one way to help others in need and give teens a sense of purpose.

Teach your teen to accept that change is unavoidable. New plans can take the place of those that are no longer possible. Share personal examples of how you have experienced this in your past and during the pandemic.

Model self-care. Good health depends on making time for healthy eating, exercise, sleep, and fun.
Check in with your teen and take a walk together. Discuss the risks of teen substance use, and turn down the path toward building resilience.

Susan Sirota, MD, FAAP
Assistant Professor Clinical Pediatrics, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Chair, PediaTrust, LLC, Pediatric Partners