How has lockdown impacted teenagers?

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images 

Researchers from around the world are examining the impact lockdown has had on teenagers to work out ways to support them now and in the future.

Co-director of the Student Well-being and Prevention of Violence research centre at Flinders University, which is leading the Australian research, Dr Grace Skrzypiec said researchers from 19 countries are hoping to gain insight into how lockdown has impacted teens.

"Social interactions and team activities during adolescence are paramount for promoting wellbeing and happiness, as the influence of positive social connections for psycho-social outcomes include, feeling validated, cared for, understood and accepted," Dr Skrzypiec said.

"Restricting social interactions through social distancing could impede adolescent psycho-social development and lead to mental health difficulties. 

"However, there may be advantages to social distancing, such as decreases in physical altercations and bullying."

Recent studies from China have reported an increase in anxiety and depression among young adults and similar findings among adolescents would not be surprising - however the impact of lock-down on adolescents is not clear.

"This new study will address this gap in our knowledge as well as allow a comparison with conditions prior to the lock-down," she said.

"In addition to depression and anxiety, the same resilience and wellbeing variables will be measured.

"The aim of the study is to inform what pastoral care programs will be needed when students return to school, particularly in schools where social-distancing may be required."

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Researchers are hoping to gather responses from 12,000 teenagers globally which will help them formulate ways to help them going forward and learn measures to put in place if a pandemic should ever happen again.

"We are in unchartered waters and we should investigate how young people have been impacted by the COVID-19 lock-down and learning from home, at a time when they are normally moving away from their social dependence on family and establishing their personal identity," she said.

"What we learn from this study will not only inform schools about the support students may need on returning to school, but it will also inform future lock-down scenarios of this kind."

Author and psychology consultant Dr Jo Lukins welcomed the study.    

"This research may provide a useful snapshot into the lives of many teens," Dr Lukins said.

"It will help to understand the impact of the experience of COVID-19 and perhaps highlight impacts that may not have been considered or explored with teens, yet still relevant.

"For organisations, it may help to tailor support and counselling services to best assist teens and as a community it will help us to better understand the positive impacts of this time and consideration of how these things can be further embraced moving forward."

The impact of lockdown on teens was dependent on a number of factors including financial security, social development, personal circumstances and community pressures. 

Dr Lukins said teens could've experienced cyber bullying, family and financial stress, higher levels of anxiety in response to the illness itself and distress at media coverage.

"They could also be experiencing a grief response to losses such as anything from contact with significant others, missing out on activities, sporting events, school trips, formals and driving lessons," she said.

She suggested parents:

  • Listen to what our teens tell us.
  • Help them to understand what is happening in the world.
  • Support them in gaining some perspective and lessons from the experience.
  • Normalise the grief response (if that is what the teen is expressing).
  • Understand that mood is contagious, so provide healthy emotional responses for them to mirror.
  • Seek help and support during this time if they're concerned about their teen.

Relationships Australia NSW's general manager of practice Megan Solomon said social distancing has impacted everyone to varying degrees.

However, lockdown for teenagers has acted like a magnifier of any family relationships issues that already existed in the family. 

"It has also brought some sibling groups closer together as they have been forced

to spend time together," Ms Solomon said.

"The day-to-day buffers and balancers of school, friends, sport, hobbies and activities outside the home and part-time jobs have mostly disappeared. 

"So, for some families this intense time together without those buffers has added pressure to family relationships, even healthy ones."

Adolescence is also a time when teenagers develop their identity, and this often happens by interacting with their friends and experimenting with new ways. 

"This has been impacted by social distancing, closure of schools and reducing independence by decreased casual employment opportunities," she said.

"The lack of freedom to go out and explore and make decisions, good or bad, has led to frustration and conflict with parents. 

"Teenagers need to re-connect with friends, be reassured that life can change and that it will be OK."

If you have a teenager who would like to take part in the confidential study researchers are accepting responses until the end of June. You can find the questionnaire here. Results of the study will be available in November.

For professional advice and support, call Relationships Australia's free Time 2 Talk telephone hotline on 1300 022 966.