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Helping Teens Navigate Pandemic Waters – Pt. 1


Pt. 1 Interview with Family Nurse Practitioner, Sherry Dulling, CRNP

AMY – MREC Executive Director: Many teens are experiencing intense sadness and disappointment over the disruption of a critical milestones in their lives, especially during their senior year of high school. No prom, no celebrations, and no graduation ceremony. What are some ways to navigate the natural sadness they might be feeling right now? And, how can we help our teens who may be frightened in the present understand that this will end, when many of them have difficulty seeing past present pain and towards future hope?  

SHERRY – Family Nurse Practitioner, CRNP:  Supporting the family structure and keeping open lines of communication are critical. Teens have certain milestones they are navigating and the recent outbreak disrupts these.  For example, they typically spend more time with friends and less time with family and have more interest in romantic relationships. They are becoming more independent from parents and, for a lot of teens, it is actually a time of less conflict with their parents.  Not being able to naturally experience this mental and emotional development often translates into a grieving process they must go through and [it] is no different from grieving any kind of loss – death, illness, etc.  The stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance can be experienced any time and teens and their parents often don’t even realize this is what they are experiencing and, if they do, don’t know how to deal with it. 

Here are some strategies I have found helpful with my patients:

1. Stay informed from RELIABLE sources [offering information] about the virus and why being quarantined is so important.   Clarify what is known and unknown to prevent the spread of misinformation.  Fill them in on the research and clinical trials being conducted to find treatment and, most importantly, a vaccine.  This will not last forever. Remind them our country and our world has gone through this several times which is why we now have the vaccines we do – measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, flu, etc. 

2. Remind them proper hygiene practices work – wash hands, don’t touch face, social distancing…

3. Promote a teen’s sense of goodness, or altruism, by explaining [to them that] them staying home helps keep other’s safe. 

4. Limit and closely monitor their use of social media to help reduce confusion, worry, and fear.

5. Help them connect with their peers in a safe environment.  Many families and friend groups are establishing a “bubble” of relationships and they stick to that bubble when being around others.  Within that bubble, have a graduation party, have friends and family do “drive by” graduations, plan a special activity – just to celebrate them. 

6. If the family is normally involved in a church or religious group, encourage them to stay active, [whether] online, donating supplies or time to serve others.  It’s important for them to know that God is not surprised by all this.  He is not up in Heaven wringing his hands and saying “Oh no, how did this happen? What do I do now?”  He has a plan for our lives with our good in mind, even though we can’t always see it. 


AMY: In 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death for persons ages 10–14, 15–19, and 20–24, according to the CDC, how can adults come alongside teens who tend to be more emotional  and meet the emotional needs of our kids? 

SHERRY:  Adults need to take care of their emotional needs as well, if they want to successfully help their kids.  This pandemic has been hard on several sects of the population. Adults are struggling with anxiety, depression, and loss, (job, lifestyle, privacy, escape) just as the kids are. 

1. Maintain a positive attitude.  Don’t overuse alcohol or use other unhealthy practices to manage stress.  Teens will notice this. 

2. Give teens a safe environment to express their concerns and can ask questions. 

3. Check in with them frequently to address newly emerging fears or misconceptions.

4. Maintain relationship connections as much as possible with phone, zoom, video chat and internet resources.

5. Keep the medical team involved in case there are pre-existing conditions [that are] being exacerbated.

6. Contact a mental health professional if you notice signs of anxiety or depression such as changes in appetite, sleep, aggression, irritability, and fears of being alone or withdrawn. 


AMY: Can you share ways to get them out of their room and off their technology – especially if my child has become increasingly isolated during quarantine?


1. Establish a routine for waking up, eating, doing chores, homework and exercise.

2. Limit time on social media, and if they can’t control it themselves, [and/or] if they are staying up late on the phone and not going to bed, take away phones at night. 

3. Plan enjoyable family activities.

4. Manage your time wisely just as you expect them to manage theirs.

* Please Note: This is not intended to function as medical advice or be used as a substitution for specific and personal direction from a professional familiar with you and your family. Please seek medical attention if you have any questions about your health or the health of your child.

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