Nearly half (46%) of US parents say their teen has demonstrated signs of a new or worsening health condition since the pandemic onset in March 2020, according to a new poll conducted by C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan Medical School. The poll was based on responses from almost 1,000 parents of teens. The teens were between the ages of 13 and 18.
The poll also found that the parents of teen girls were more likely to state that their children had worsening mental health conditions than parents of teen boys.
"Just as young people are at the age of being biologically primed to seek independence from their families, COVID-19 precautions have kept them at home," poll co-director Gary L. Freed said in a recent press release.
"Pandemic-related lifestyle changes have wreaked havoc on teens' lives, with many experiencing disruptions to their normal routines. Our poll suggests that pandemic-era changes may have had a significant mental health impact for some teenagers,” Freed added.
The poll found that one in three teen girls and one in five teen boys have experienced new or aggravated anxiety since the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, around 24% of teen girl parents said that the child has had negative changes in sleep compared to 21% of teen boy parents. Parents also reported their children withdrawing from family (14% for girls versus 13% for boys) and exhibiting aggressive behavior (8% for girls versus 9%).
"Isolation during the pandemic may be triggering new problems for some teens but for others, the situation has exacerbated existing emotional health issues," Freed explained.
Many parents also reported that their teens have been texting (64%), using social media (56%), playing online games (43%), and talking on the phone (35%) every day or almost every day during the pandemic. Very few parents, however, said that their teens have been gathering in person with friends either indoors (9%) or outdoors (6%).
"Peer groups and social interactions are a critical part of development during adolescence. But these opportunities have been limited during the pandemic. Many teens may feel frustrated, anxious and disconnected due to social distancing and missing usual social outlets, like sports, extracurricular activities and hanging out with friends,” Freed explained.
Parents who have noticed changes in their teens’ mental health have tried different ways to help their teens by relaxing social media rules, connecting their child with a professional health professional or providing their child access to a mental health app.
"Parents play a critical role in helping their teens cope with the stress of the pandemic," Freed explained.
"There are strategies parents can engage to help, whether or not their teen is showing signs of problems. One of the most important things for parents to do is keep lines of communication open; ask their teen how they are doing and create the space for them to speak honestly so they can provide help when needed,” he added.