Teens Coping with COVID FOMO

By Dr. Arastou Aminzadeh, Co-founder, BNI Treatment Centers

Generally speaking, teens are social animals, deriving their life-blood from their daily interactions with peers. Since March, however, this normalcy has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing teens to significantly limit their social life. This, of course, goes against nature, sending F.O.M.O. (fear of missing out) to new heights. If FOMO was prevalent among teens before the lockdown, now it is pervasive. Teens do not like missing out on their social events.

These past few months have been hard for everyone, but possibly more so for teens who were looking forward to the usual rites of passage they had come to expect. Events like attending prom, enjoying end-of-the-school-year parties, and even the graduation ceremony itself have had to be shelved or scrapped altogether. Teens have been left feeling disappointed and sad as a result, not to mention experiencing the FOMO that accompanies these losses. Teens have missed out on so much, and with summer arriving they fear there will be more social fallout. Beach barbeques, pool parties and festive 4th of July gatherings are now in questionable territory as coronavirus cases surge in about half the states.

Parents may feel at a loss, unable to make it all better for their kids. Rising cases of teen mental health issues are concerning, so it can be helpful for parents to become aware of the warning signs of distress. By recognizing the signs of depression, anxiety, self-harm, or eating disorders, parents can respond in a timely manner and get their teen some professional guidance. Parents may be grappling with mental health issues themselves, as a result of the virus fears or the financial impact of the pandemic. Even so, it is important to be aware of emerging emotional distress in their adolescent during the quarantine era.

Signs of Teen Mental Health Distress

Adolescence is already a tumultuous chapter in life. Hormones are surging, which can elevate moodiness and irritability, and causing teens to be more emotional than during normal times. Now, with the pandemic wearing everyone’s nerves and patience thin, it isn’t surprising that your teen may be exhibiting some signs of stress that are in excess of the usual ups and downs of adolescence.

Signs and symptoms might include:

Depression. Teens may show signs of depression after so many months of dealing with the pandemic. The symptoms of depression may include some of the following:

  • Excessive sleep or difficulty sleeping
  • Change in eating habits, sudden weight gain or loss
  • Exhibits feelings of sadness and despair
  • Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irresponsible behaviors that are not typical for the teen
  • Memory issues
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Isolating behaviors, withdrawing from friends
  • Engaging in risky sexual behaviors
  • Declining academic performance
  • Substance abuse
  • Change in eating habits, sudden weight gain or loss
  • Feelings of shame or guilt
  • Thoughts of death or suicidal 

Anxiety. All of the uncertainty around COVID-19 causes immense anxiety. The symptoms of teen anxiety may include some of the following:

  • Excessive feelings of worry, fear and dread
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Disordered eating
  • Fatigue
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • More frequent mood swings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep problems, especially insomnia
  • Hyper-vigilance, tightly wound
  • Self-harming behaviors

Depression and anxiety are serious mental health conditions that necessitate professional intervention. If parents notice the signs of a mood disorder in their teen, reach out to a pediatric mental health professional for assessment and guidance.

How Parents Can Help their Teen Cope with Covid F.O.M.O.

Now that school is officially out for the year and summer is upon us, teens will not even have schoolwork to keep them somewhat occupied. Usually plentiful summer jobs for teens are now scarce, further disrupting their plans. After months of social distancing, teens are frustrated with the limitations placed upon them. Parents should not discount their feelings but instead should commiserate with their teens, which validates their very understandable feelings of frustration.

Fortunately, many states are beginning to loosen the lockdown policies, allowing teens more mobility. However, in some states that had relaxed social distancing the virus has now started surging again. It is important that parents provide a good example for their kids of how to cope with the pandemic as they traverse this uncharted territory. Teens and kids will take their cues from their parents’ signaling, so it helps them if parents remain steady for the course of this global health event.

With the future so unpredictable it helps to have some handy tips available for helping a teen through the coronavirus quarantine:

  • COVID-19 F.O.M.O. Parents can help their teens deal with FOMO by encouraging them to stay socially connected as much as possible. So much of what they think they are missing out on is a figment of their imagination, as their friends are all under social distancing rules, too. As far as feelings of sadness about missing out on important teen events, continue to empathize with them. Also, as restrictions (hopefully) ease, start brainstorming about how to make up for such things as a school dance or graduation by coming up with alternative plans.
  • Keep communication lines open. Parents that continue to chat with their teens and allow them a supportive space to vent feelings of frustration or disappointment will be tuned into their child’s emotional state. Just by occasionally asking them how they are doing will provide an opportunity for the adolescent to open up and share their thoughts and feelings while in quarantine. This allows the teen to tell their parent if they are struggling with depression or loneliness or anxiety.
  • Provide perspective. To a teen, these unheard of measures in response to the pandemic may seem to be permanently life altering. Help your teen understand that “this too shall pass.” Describe other historical events that were extremely challenging, but in hindsight can now be seen as a temporary situation. Since a teenager does not have the luxury of life experience to refer to, they may fear these social distancing policies are never going to end. Offer your teen this much needed perspective.
  • Seek outside help. If a teen’s mental state appears to be deteriorating as the pandemic drags on, it is appropriate to seek the help of a therapist. Some psychotherapists are beginning to see clients in the office setting again, while others are depending on telecommunication platforms for providing therapy online during the COVID-19 situation. The teen will benefit from having someone outside the family to confide in. If serious mental health issues develop, consideration should be given to seeking treatment at a residential mental health center for teens. 

Teens today will some day look back in amazement on this chapter of their lives, proud to say they lived through it and, who knows, may even have children of their own that they can in turn depart the same wisdom to. Just as their parent’s helped them during this historic event, these same teens will someday be able to say to their own kids when they encounter challenges that this too shall pass.