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How is the pandemic affecting adolescents?

Sadness, anxiety, stress, apathy, fear … are some of the emotions that have shaken adolescents since the pandemic began . In a stage of life where everything is about to happen to them, they have suddenly had to stop short and hit the pause button. The desire to eat the world, to discover, build and share with their peers, remain in stand-by mode until further notice. Yes, they know that important things are happening and that many are serious. Yes, they know that there are families who are having a hard time. Yes, they know the world is upside down. But they do not stop feeling what they feel. And no, because of that, we can leave them adrift. Your mental health is at stake. The experts and they themselves tell us how Covid 19 (also) is taking its toll on adolescence.

We are focused on all the crises that are raging around us and their devastating consequences. However, perhaps we have forgotten those who are neither children nor adults, but who are also enduring the downpour, in their own way, and managing emotions that are too big for them. In them, the pandemic is also leaving its mark. As adults, we continue to demand that they continue with their studies as before, that they abide by the house rules as before, that they respect the hours of screens as we asked them before, that “change that face” (as we challenged them before) and that ” with which he is falling, you only thinking to leave … as before. ” But nothing is like before. And to the current situation we are experiencing, all of them add the personal tsunami, typical of their age.

At first, it seemed that children and adolescents were escaping the pandemic. Today, we know that young people of all ages can carry as much viral load as adults, even if their symptoms are mild or absent. We think of them as invulnerable and have even pointed the finger at them. As if they were to blame. “After confinement , the increase in cases was blamed on young people. But it must be made clear that we are all responsible and we are also part of the solution. Most of the children, adolescents and young people are doing very well and with great responsibility”, maintains Amaya Prado, an expert in educational psychology and in child-adolescent clinic, and member of the Official College of Psychology of Madrid (COP).

But, as UNICEF indicates, “the pandemic not only compromises our physical health. It also affects our mental health, particularly that of the most vulnerable people, among whom are children and adolescents.” And it is urgent that adults review this point, because 1 in 4 children and adolescents who have suffered isolation due to Covid-19, have depressive and / or anxiety symptoms. “The greatest concern of society and institutions is in health, in the sanitary emergency and in the measures. But emotional health has been put aside or how this situation is going to affect it. Measures have been put in place, without taking into account it takes into account the needs of each evolutionary stage. Young people, within their development, need to go out and interact with their peers “,

According to experts, it is still too early to fully assess the emotional, social and educational repercussions, but some research is already emerging. One of them, from the Miguel Hernández University (UMH), concluded that more than 85% of the parents of children between the ages of 3 and 18 (in Spain, Italy and Portugal) noted changes in the emotional state and behavior of their children , with the most common symptoms being difficulty concentrating (77%), disinterest and boredom (52%), irritability (39%), worry and family discussions (30%), anxiety(28%), in addition to agitation, nervousness, feelings of loneliness, restlessness … These are the demands made by young people, to which sadness, apathy, anger, stress are added … “In addition, the fear of the pandemic and getting sick, fatigue and the uncertainty of what the outlook will be like in the medium-term future, “says Prado.

Socializing is a priority in adolescence.

Adolescence is a period in which peers are the great reference and source of satisfaction. For this reason, between the ages of 11 and 19, socialization becomes one of the great pillars of adolescent development. Paula (16 years old), Estefanía (16 years old), Álvaro (17) and Lucía(18) agree that the aspect of their lives most affected has undoubtedly been the social one. “Some people continue to feel a certain reluctance to leave the house and, even more so, to speak or interact with unknown people,” says Paula, while Estefanía maintains that “restrictions and confinements have caused her to lose contact with many people who almost saw daily”. And we cannot minimize this aspect. “It has been worse in young people who were more introverted and who found social relationships difficult; they have regressed in these social skills and increased fears,” says Amaya Prado. The educational center is the great context in which adolescents interact with their peers. Laureano Cuevas, director of the IES Ángel Corella, from Colmenar Viejo (Madrid), reminds us that “the social aspect is of utmost importance for adolescents because it involves integration, feeling part of the group, feeling loved and valued by that group. Cuevas believes that” They are in full training in all areas: academic, emotional and personal. They are going to interpret the world in a different way, because they are learning to relate in a different way, totally different from the one we related to ourselves. I am not sure, but it is a possibility. “In some centers the face-to-face model has been maintained; in others, the online model, and a third model is semi-face-to-face. Entire families, schools and teachers have had to adapt to this revolution, “making a huge effort in resources and training to get ahead.”

As for intra-family relationships, in some cases they have been nurtured. Estefanía acknowledges that “we have learned to live better together and to make the most of our time together .” The same thing happened to Paula: “We even played board games and cooked together.” But, there are cases in which things have gotten worse and being at home has generated more tensions. “For many parents it has been difficult for their children to follow the sanitary measures (the use of the mask, curfew or meet more friends) or to disengage from the screens, which generates more conflicts at home. In some cases, Intra-family violence has increased, especially during confinement, “says the psychologist.

Confirmed: there is emotional impact. But is it also costing them more to study? Despite the fact that adolescents have the feeling that it is costing them more and their grades have dropped, Laureano Cuevas maintains that “the data tell us that performance is being similar, except in 3rd year ESO students, in whom it has substantially dropped. This is because they are not yet mature enough to alternate face-to-face and online classes . They are required to have autonomy and responsibility for which they are not prepared.. The same does not happen with 1st and 2nd of ESO, because they maintain their face-to-face classes, with a lower ratio per classroom, which always favors learning. The boys allude to the fact that it is very easy to lose the thread. Álvaro says that “at first, I thought I was on vacation, the institute stopped worrying me so much and at home I find it more difficult to concentrate.” Paula says that it is difficult for her “either because of laziness or because some teachers do not pay attention to the students connected from home.” It can also contribute something: “I have learned to be more independent and I organize myself better,” says Estefanía.

If before we were worried that our children would spend so much time in front of the screens, now we put our hands on our heads. But we will have to turn a blind eye, because it is what it is. According to the UMH study, before the pandemic 15% used devices for more than 90 minutes a day; during confinement, that percentage rose to 73%. Technologies have solved the academic year and have also been their channel of socialization, but there is no doubt that their use is being excessive. The teacher warns that ” online classes have been a solution, but we cannot lose a basic element which is socialization, knowing how to act with others, empathize and promote emotional intelligence”.

The pandemic has also led to changes in habits such as eating. Mónica Pérez , president of the Association Pro-Colegio Profesional de Dietitians Nutritionists of Extremadura affirms that “the pandemic has triggered the incidence of eating disorders (ED), both new diagnoses and the worsening of existing ones, especially anorexia nervous, but also bulimia and obesity. During situations of more stress, anxiety or depression, we can experience an increase in appetite and alteration in the control of satiety, triggering the intake of highly sugary foods to seek that false sense of well-being and calm that, a posteriori, will only suppose remorse and worsening of the emotional and physical state “.

It’s also time for teens to start making decisions about their future . And they only hear from adults the word ‘uncertainty’. At these ages, not everyone is clear about what they will do when they finish high school. Estefanía and Álvaro assure that this indecision already came from before the pandemic. Lucía and Paula have it clearer, who already know what they want to do, although not without lack of qualms. “After high school I will go to university, but it scares me to think that classes will continue to be online and passing the course will cost me more,” says Paula.

The Official College of Psychology of Madrid published a guide with guidelines for the families of children and adolescents during their quarantine, which could well be applied for life. Recommend sharing, listening, and negotiating. How do you do that? Well, by example, since our own behavior as adults, conflict resolution, but especially how we manage emotions, should be a model. For her part, Amaya Prado recommends:

  • Understand them from the understanding and from the evolutionary moment in which they are: their fears, concerns, worries …
  • Validate their emotions and feelings more that they are the ones who have to endure and that they understand that this is what it is. But at the same time be flexible, get out there and engage with timely protection.
  • Try to supervise and verify your study , detecting difficulties.
  • Assess their effort and ability to endure at home or respect curfews.
  • Help them alleviate this pandemic fatigue by doing things together.
  • Encourage them to play sports and eat healthy.
  • Sleep and seek a good night’s sleep.

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