Teen Anxiety on the Rise
Psalm 46 states that God is our refuge and strength in an ever-present danger. We cannot deny that there is an ever-present danger looming during this pandemic. Our minds constantly filter a daily bombardment of conflicting information. Even as healthy adults, with plenty of life experience, this can cause a sharp increase in stress levels. How, then, are our teens expected to cope?
The ever-present danger for teens is not only the fear of COVID-19 itself, it is also the anxiety induced by their changing social and school environment. Schools are in a constant state of flux between home study and a return to the classroom, creating confusion and chaos. As one teen said, "I don't even want to go back when we can. The teachers will be teaching us on our Chromebooks, like they are at home. We will not have paper or books or pencils. What is the point? I could stay home and do that." She was in no hurry to return to an upended school system.
Social distancing is a heavy contributor to teen anxiety. Teens naturally congregate in peer groups and discuss "stuff." Teen groups can play a role of comfort and social connection that Mom and Dad cannot entirely replace. Some teens have been reported to secretly group together at the park. One group found a stand of trees to hang hammocks from. Distancing, they "hang out" from their swinging couches. Life finds a way.
We do not yet know what long-lasting effects 2020's pandemic will play on our teens. Sadly, psychologists predict an upsurge in teen suicide. Last year, we lost 2,000 teens to suicide. That is the equivalent of a good-sized high school student body. Teens without the personal strength to seek out peers in creative ways may hole up in their rooms and become more and more introverted and anxious. One mother claimed she slept outside her teen son's door most of the summer, praying for him during his depression and thoughts of suicide. Pre-COVID he had been an exemplary student with a promising future as a collegiate football player. His hopes of scholarships, the homecoming game, and football scouts in his senior year, have all been dashed.
An article in Sharp Health News by Dr. Wojciechowski lists warning signs of atypical behaviors parents should be alert to, such as decreased enjoyment in spending time with friends and family, or changes in school performance, motivation, or attendance. This could be accompanied by irritability, low energy, changes in eating and sleep patterns, and frequent physical complaints (e.g., headaches, stomachaches, backaches). Escalating signs of trouble include hopelessness, crying spells, persistent sadness and anxiety, and disinterest in personal hygiene and appearance.
Especially concerning are engagement in high-risk behaviors, self-injury, verbal or physical aggression, or substance use. Parents should stay alert to preparatory behaviors for suicide, such as as writing a goodbye letter or post on social media, giving away possessions, researching methods for harming themselves or securing ways to harm themselves.
How can the church respond? The Christian community is called to support our next generation of Christian men and women who will carry on the message of Jesus Christ.
1. Reach out individually to each teen in your church.
2. Connect youth groups via Zoom or similar platforms.
4. Make face-to-face connections as often as possible.
4. Engage teens in outdoor community service.
5. Re-open church youth activities now.
Teens crave the assurance that the One who is with thme, is greater than the one who is in the world. Guide them to recognize the ever-present love of Christ and find strength in it.
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 https://www.sharp.com/health-news/teen-isolation-and-suicide-prevention-during-a-pandemic.cfm  https://www.psycom.net/covid-19-suicide-rates https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/25/well/family/teens-mental-health-needs.html?fbclid=IwAR12hPN5fiWFnSddaAFegXW4K3zQv23-dq0V54vO9Ir-7gPYy0Rm4e-oyPws  I John 4;4