COVID-19, lockdown and home quarantine: teenage feelings
Teenagers probably have many and mixed feelings about COVID-19, lockdown and home quarantine. 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
- scared – or relieved – that their studies have been interrupted, especially teenagers in Year 11 or 12
- frustrated or annoyed that they can’t do some of their usual extracurricular activities
- disappointed that grand finals, musical performances, work experience placements, birthday parties, school formals and other big events have been cancelled
- worried that someone they love will get sick
- scared about getting the virus, particularly if they’re still attending school or part-time work
- 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.
By staying at home in lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re helping to reduce your family’s risk of getting COVID-19. You’re also helping to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect your friends and your community.
1. Make time to talk about COVID-19, lockdown and home quarantine
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 lockdown and home quarantine
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:
- ‘I saw you watching that news report about department stores and local shops closing. Do you understand why?’
- ‘Yes, we’re going into lockdown. What do you know about our local restrictions?’
- ‘We’ve been at an exposure site, so we all need to get tested. Do you understand what that involves?’
- ‘There are a lot of people talking about vaccination. What have you heard?’
4. Explain lockdown and home quarantine
This is about sticking to the facts, focusing on the positives, reassuring your child that this 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. When we all stay home, we protect ourselves. We also help to slow the spread in our community.’
- ‘Lockdown means staying at home as much as we can. You can still go out for exercise, if you keep away from other people.’
- ‘The good thing is that staying at home is a 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.’
- ‘We don’t know how long things will be like this. But it won’t be forever!’
- ‘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.’
5. Tune into your child’s feelings about lockdown and home quarantine
Some teenagers might be OK with staying at home all the time. But some might be frustrated, worried or upset. Other teenagers might still be working or going to school. They might be scared if they feel they can’t keep a safe distance from other people.
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 the netball season has been cancelled. 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?’
- ‘It’s hard to stay motivated without a regular timetable. But it does feel good to finish things. What if you try to finish that science lesson, and then you can make that cake you’ve been planning?’
- ‘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.’
- ‘Not knowing when this will end is hard. I’m finding it helps to set small goals, like jogging around the block each day. This way I feel like I’m making progress towards something!’
- ‘I know you want to keep earning money, but I can see you’re concerned about being around so many people in the supermarket. Why don’t we sit down and talk through your options?’
- ‘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?’
We don’t know how long the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown will last, so you might need to check in regularly with your child while the situation goes on.
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, lockdown and home quarantine
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, chronic health 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 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 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 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, lockdown, home quarantine, exposure sites 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.