Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Our Teens in the Time of Covid

We've had a hell of a year. If you're still standing upright, hair intact, somewhat sane, and haven't adopted more than 10 pets since the beginning of Covid, then you're doing okay in the scheme of things. But what about our teenagers? This year has wreaked havoc on their lives and has driven them into some very unhealthy behaviors. Mental health issues among our teens are up almost 50 percent since the start of Covid, and more in teen girls than boys. Anxiety and depression along with negative changes in their sleep and aggressive behaviors have reared their ugly heads as our teens have been required to stay away from their friends and the activities they love.

Teenagers are primed to seek independence from their families at this stage of their lives. It is a time when they find their way in life, discover who they are, and who they want to be. But with Covid, there is no time for independence, hanging out with friends, playing those cherished sports, finding those special loves, being absolutely silly, or even a little reckless. Instead, they are trapped. Even worse, they are trapped with their parents and fear of the unknown. In addition, they are disconnected from their friends and possibly feeling stress from their parents. So what now? Where does a teen go? What does a teen do? Well, if you think your teen is abiding by your rules and staying at home, you're probably mistaken.

Teenagers are now finding a way to escape through vaping whether it's nicotine or marijuana, it's an easy, relatively cost-effective way to extricate themselves from this jail that has been created by the "experts" who didn't take into account the effect their actions would have on the children of this country and around the globe. Investigators surveyed 1000 Canadian adolescents about binge drinking, cannabis use, and vaping in the three weeks before and after social distancing began. They found that the frequency of both alcohol and cannabis increased during social isolation. 32% reported using substances with peers via technology and 24% used substances with peers face to face despite the mandate (Mdedg.com). "These authors suggest that teens who feared loss of friendships during quarantine might be more willing to engage in risky behaviors such as face-to-face substance use to maintain social status. while solitary substance use was related to both Covid19 fears and depressive symptomatology" Dr. Cataletto said (Mdedg.com).

So, how do you know if your child is vaping? Sometimes it's easy to wave off the symptoms as common teenage angst, but if it's unlike your child to be angsty or on edge, or if there is a quick change in his or her behavior, you need to question why. Your child might exhibit distorted thinking and behaviors. You might notice a change in his or her personality, abnormal movements, and other abnormal behaviors. They might become irritable and aggressive if they are going through withdrawal.  You might even notice interpersonal problems with friends and family as well as physical and psychological issues.

Some other facts about vaping from flavorshookkids.org. 97% of kids who vape use flavors. In the last two years, vaping has increased by 218% (that's a staggering number!) among middle schoolers and 135% among high schoolers. Teens are nearly 7 times more likely to vape nicotine than adults. Marijuana vaping among youths increased by 58% in a single year. All this seems very scary and Covid is only making these numbers jump.

There are many treatment options for Substance Use Disorders (SUD) or Addiction. But as a parent of a teen, the most important thing you can do is create an open and non-threatening line of communication with your child. Getting mad that they are vaping is not going to help the situation, it's only going to send your child running to the substance that you want them to so desperately quit. Find out why they have turned to vaping. If they are not willing to open up to you, see if they would be willing to talk to a therapist or counselor. I can't express enough how important it is to allow your child to talk about what is driving them to turn to vaping. Unfortunately, unless your child wants to quit, it's going to be difficult to get them to do so. Even if you forbid them they will find a way to vape. But if they do decide that they are willing to stop they will probably need help depending on how addicted they are to the substance they are vaping. Here are the options:

  • Hospitalization for medical withdrawal
  • Therapeutic communities
  • Outpatient medication management and psychotherapy
  • Intensive outpatient programs
  • Residential treatment
  • Multi-aid groups
  • Self-help groups
I'm not here to scare you, only to open your eyes to what is happening to our teens and how we can help them as they try to navigate through this tough world that has been made even more difficult by Covid. I can't imagine being a teen during this time--they have lost more than a year of their childhood, a very important time of development that just might come back to haunt us years down the road. Let's try not to cover our eyes and pretend that all this will go away because it won't. Let's be proactive and try to guide them as best we can. Let's get them the help they need now, not years later when the damage is already done. And let's not forget to take care of ourselves. It's always important to keep ourselves afloat so that we can keep those around us from drowning.