The uncertainties from the first two years of the pandemic brought newfound fear and anxiety for families and individuals across the globe. Unfortunately, as a result, these harmful emotions and characteristics still linger within some of us today. Not only have adults been left with lingering fear and anxiety because of the pandemic, but adolescents have also suffered and continue to experience its adverse mental health effects.
Over time, many adults can regain a sense of security by rationalizing and coping. However, our teens and youth often need more support in the recovery process. Part of your teen’s recovery process may be making their own decision about whether to continue to wear a mask now that they’re no longer mandated.
Up until recently, masks had become a staple in everyday wear. But now that masks are no longer mandated, some teens continue to wear them for reasons other than trying to stay healthy. In some ways, masks have even become a means of a “safety blanket” for an insecure teen. A few causes of this could be fear of germs, not wanting to expose a recent acne breakout, or using the mask for a false sense of comfort when struggling with social issues with peers.
As parents, guardians, and adult role models, we need to help our teens feel hope, confidence, and happiness. In addition, we can help empower them, so they are confident in making some of their own decisions. One way to do so is by using the Three E’s idea- Empathy, Empowerment, and Engagement.
Suppose you believe your teen has struggled with anxiety from the pandemic or other world events. In that case, it’s essential not to discredit your teen’s anxiety or assume what they are feeling. If their decision about mask-wearing is causing them anxiety, you can ask your teen why they think they’re feeling that way and how they’d like to move forward. Try to see this from your teen’s perspective. You can do this by letting them know you understand the feeling they must have from having to wear and almost depend on a mask for so long and now feel pressured to remove it.
While listening to your teen, please remember they have significantly heightened emotions, which may seem “overly dramatic” to us as adults. However, these are normal emotions for the average teen. Assure them that you are here to listen, encourage, and not judge. While you may not agree with your teen’s decisions or how they feel, it’s essential to validate their thoughts by letting them know you understand what they are saying. Your teen is more likely to be honest with you if they feel you’re listening to them versus trying to change them.
Having a choice is empowering and your teen making a choice for themselves to keep or stop wearing a mask is an accomplishment in itself! If your family does not have its own rules for mask-wearing, you should allow your teen to decide if they wear a mask or not. Helping your teen become self-aware of their emotions, concerns, and stressors will help them feel more confident to make their own healthy decisions, which is the first step in empowering oneself!
Also, your teen may benefit from some role play to feel more comfortable responding to situations. For example, by practicing what to say, your teen will be able to respond more appropriately if they are getting bullied because they choose to wear a mask.
A teen who feels lost and alone in their thoughts can be a slippery slope. However, you can help remind your teen that they’re not alone through engagement. Engaging with your teen can help ease insecurities and give them the confidence to move forward with their choices and decisions. Some ways of engaging with your teen to help ward off any unnecessary stress can be:
- Helping to research the concern. Sometimes we are not fully educated, which can warrant fear in our minds. Help your teen look up and learn about anything they feel insecure about. This could help to put their minds at ease.
- Get your teen a journal. One of the best ways for teens to express themselves is by writing. This journal is for them! It can be raw, and it can be grammatically incorrect. They can even draw and write words that relate to their feelings. Journaling can help your teen feel a sense of relief or clarity.
- Spend time together, so your teen does not feel alone. Going outside on a walk with someone is, at times, precisely what a teen needs! The fresh air, sun, and exercise can instantly help clear your teen’s head. If your teen is in a talking mood, great, listen! But don’t feel like you have to strike up a conversation if your teen stays silent. Sometimes it’s best not to say anything at all. Instead, let each other dig into each of your own thoughts. You don’t need to be engaging in conversation constantly; sometimes, it is about being present.