COVID-19, isolation, quarantine or lockdown: teenage feelings
Teenagers probably have many and mixed feelings about COVID-19, isolation, quarantine or lockdown. Teenagers are also more connected to media than any other age group and might be finding it hard to make sense of all the COVID-19 messages that they’re exposed to.
For example, teenagers might feel:
- sad or frustrated that they can’t hang out with their friends and see their extended family
- frustrated, annoyed or disappointed at missing out on extracurricular activities, musical performances, parties and so on
- worried that someone they love will get sick
- scared about getting the virus
- overwhelmed by constant coverage of COVID-19 in the media and on social media.
Teenagers will cope better if you talk with them about what’s happening and how they feel about it. It’s also good to talk with teenagers about where they’re getting their information from and how reliable it is.
The steps below can help you work through this situation with your teenage child.
Depending on where you live in Australia, you might hear the terms ‘isolation’ and/or ‘quarantine’. Both refer to periods of staying away from other people if you’ve tested positive to COVID-19 or are a close contact. A ‘lockdown’ is when everyone in the community limits their activities. These are all ways of slowing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting communities.
1. Make time to talk about COVID-19, isolation, quarantine or lockdown
Find the right time to talk with your child. A good time might be around the dinner table or while you’re preparing dinner together. When your child is ready to talk, try to give your child your full attention.
If you’re working from home, you might find that your child wants to talk while you’re working. You won’t always be able to stop, and that’s OK. It’s fine to let your child know that you can’t talk right now. For example, ‘I’m in a Zoom meeting at the moment. Can we talk at lunch?’ Just make sure to follow through later.
2. Use a calm and reassuring tone
If you can stay calm when you talk with your child, you set a good example. It also helps your child feel calmer and encourages your child to keep talking with you.
You might be feeling stressed or upset about the situation yourself – that’s natural. If you can, try to take a few deep breaths before you talk. This can help you feel calmer.
3. Find out what your child knows about isolation, quarantine or lockdown
It’s a good idea to start by asking your child what they know about the situation and whether they have any questions. For example:
- ‘Because you’ve tested positive, you’ll have to isolate. Do you know how long isolation is for?
- ‘Mum has a positive test, so we need to get a test too. Do you understand what that involves?’
- ‘You won’t be going back to swimming training until your symptoms are gone. Do you know why?’
4. Explain isolation, quarantine or lockdown
This is about sticking to the facts, focusing on the positives, reassuring your child that the situation won’t last forever, and explaining what your family can do to help. For example:
- ‘COVID-19 spreads very easily. Because people don’t show symptoms straight away, anyone could be spreading it without realising. Isolating at home helps to stop the spread to other people.’
- ‘Isolation means staying at home away from other people and not having any visitors. We can only leave home to go to the doctor or in an emergency.
- ‘The good thing about lockdown is the chance for us to spend more time together when we’re not working or doing classes. When we finish our work, let’s go for a bike ride.’
- ‘I know you’ve heard about your friends still meeting up. We need to follow the government’s instructions and stay at home. You can video call your friends instead.’
COVID-19 isolation, quarantine, lockdown or school closures might mean your child has periods of learning from home. To help your child get the most of this situation, try to use routines, tune in to your child’s feelings and stay in touch with the school.
5. Tune into your child’s feelings about isolation, quarantine or lockdown
Some teenagers might be OK with staying at home all the time. But some might be frustrated, worried or upset.
Ask your child how they’re feeling and listen to what your child says. Let your child know that their feelings are OK. You can also ask your child what they need to feel better. It might reassure your child if you share your own feelings and let your child know what you’re doing to cope.
- ‘I know you’re disappointed that you can’t go to netball. It’s OK to be disappointed, but we might both feel better if we do some exercise. How about we throw the ball to each other instead?’
- ‘I know you’re frustrated that you can’t see your friends at the moment. Why don’t you set up a video chat to do something together? You could go on a virtual shopping trip or do a virtual craft class.’
- ‘It can be hard having everyone in the house together all the time. It’s natural to feel a bit frustrated. It’s important to be patient and speak nicely to each other, rather than shouting.’
- ‘I’ve noticed that you seem sad a lot lately. It can help to talk about your feelings with a professional. How would it be if I make an appointment for you with the counsellor at the GP clinic?’
If you’re concerned that your child might be experiencing teenage anxiety or teenage depression, phone your local GP, who can help you or refer you to local mental health services that are offering telehealth consultations. Your child can also call Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800, Youth Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636, and eheadspace on 1800 650 890.
6. Discuss media coverage of COVID-19, isolation, quarantine or lockdown
It’s good to talk with your teenage child about where they’re getting news and information about COVID-19 from – government websites or apps, news websites, social media and so on. It’s also worth talking about how different news media and social media platforms are covering the pandemic.
You could ask your child whether they’ve noticed any differences among platforms. For example:
- Are some media sources or stories more fact based than others?
- What sources or stories seem trustworthy?
- How can you tell whether a source or story is reliable and trustworthy?
- Are any platforms using click-bait just to get users?
- Are some just interested in showing distressing scenes?
It’s also worth looking at how much media about COVID-19 you and your child are both seeing. If you have the facts you need, it’s often best to switch off or switch to something else.
Because teenagers are used to consuming a lot of social media, they might find it really hard to stop. You might need to talk with your child about how it isn’t helpful to see distressing news over and over again. And if you switch off, your child might be more likely to switch off too.
Teenagers with disability, autism, chronic conditions or other additional needs
Teenagers with disability are more likely than their peers to experience anxiety. For example, your child might be anxious about getting COVID-19 or getting sicker because of it. They might also be upset by the way isolation, quarantine or lockdown has changed things like your family routines, their medical or therapy appointments, and their friendships and schooling.
Talking can help teenagers with additional needs in isolation or lockdown, just as it can help teenagers without additional needs. In particular, you can support your child with additional needs by acknowledging their worries or anxieties and listening actively when your child wants to talk about feelings.
It’s also important to make sure your child has reliable information about how COVID-19 and isolation or lockdown might affect them and also your family. Teenagers can get a lot of misinformation about their conditions from the internet or friends.
It’s a good idea to seek advice from your GP or specialist about whether your child has a higher risk of getting COVID-19 and what extra precautions your child might need to take.
Australian, state and territory health department websites have the latest and most reliable information and advice about COVID-19, isolation, quarantine, lockdowns and vaccination bookings. You can also call the Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080 or Healthdirect on 1800 022 222. Or download the Australian Government’s Coronavirus Australia app.