I’m the mother of a son, 15, and a daughter, 13. I work from home so am more attuned to the children daily than their father.
Both children experienced a lot of pandemic-induced loneliness from not seeing friends in person. Their adjustment to online learning took time and caused self-doubts and frustration.
I’ve read that many similar-aged young people developed mental health issues during these past 15 months. I’m wondering whether I’ve been responding correctly to some of their reactions.
My daughter, who’d mostly been a cheerful, fun-loving girl, started showing puberty signals and became quieter and moody.
While that seemed part of the natural process, she suddenly, without discussion, dyed her hair blue having bought the product from her allowance savings.
My son became more distant. His bedroom door is mostly closed, so it’s been difficult to tell when he was playing video games from doing homework. He maintained some fairly-good grades, but got a couple of lowered marks.
He’s also much less talkative than before, much less animated, and sometimes seems removed from us all during a family meal.
I don’t want to overreact but also to not recognize my children’s innermost needs, and have them slide into depression or other seriously worrying moods and behaviour.
What’s the significance of these signals? How should I handle them?
My Children’s Mental Health
The first response I got from a school-based social worker, Andrea Kaye, who deals with youth displaying similar behaviours to those you’ve mentioned, is, “It’s complicated, because one thing can look like another. An adolescent can appear moody as if they’re isolating themselves, when they’re actually being appropriately social in these times by spending more time online.”
Still, you’re doing the right thing by paying attention. Kaye advises parents to “work on the relationship with a child by listening more than talking and being clear that if something’s really going wrong, you’d be the person they could talk to.”
Is blue hair a strong signal? “Pick your battles but note changes and keep your antennae up. See it as an opportunity to talk to your daughter, or as information to keep watching while accepting it now.”
Meanwhile, your son maintaining some good grades is a positive indication that he’s doing okay. If he’s seeming “off,” you can maybe articulate concern, ask a few questions.
But when it comes to actually seeking help, Kaye notes that with teenagers, you need to get their “buy-in. You can’t just drag them off to a therapist.”
The easier time to get your child’s agreement to seek professional help is, “after a meltdown, when most young people will agree to go once.”
Remember, difficult behaviours are a very normal part of youth. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore changes.
“The difficult tension for a parent is between taking care of their children and to allow them enough freedom to continue to work on their independence.”
For help, contact your family doctor for referral. But if an emergency arises, go straight to a hospital emergency department. Mental health centres can be found online (usually with waiting lists). If affordable, many private practitioners are listed online.
Most important, whatever plan you make has to be in collaboration with your teenager.
FEEDBACK Regarding Kenny Johnston’s success story regarding alcoholism (July 17):
Reader – “I lost my husband at 45 to this disease. My boys and I lost our home and all our belongings. I hope this article can help others. My sons are still dealing with the aftermath.”
Reader’s Commentary Regarding the woman whose husband walked out 11 years ago (July 14):
“After 48 years married, two children and two grandchildren, mine had a six-month affair with a sociopath who was then with four men for sure.
“He wouldn’t leave, and there’s no law to force it. I was nearly 70 and devastated. Why should I leave my home? I tried to make it work but I was betraying myself.
“He moved downstairs. It was awkward, however I wanted to maintain the status quo for my then-young grandchildren. In hindsight, it was the right move. I’m free to do what I want, when I want, if I want.
“If there’s a way to move on, it’s to stop “caring.” Why would anyone want someone who’d do that to them? We never “get over it.” We relive it each time we’re reminded.
“I told him I’d be better for this and he’d still be pathetic. True.”
Tip of the day:
Worried about teens’ behaviour? Ask questions, listen, find help together.