Much has been said in recent years about declining mental health among teens in the United States, and for good reason. By every measure, instances of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation (among other serious issues) have been on an undeniable rise. Many expected that the pandemic would only worsen the loneliness and isolation teenagers felt, as they were quarantined at home, away from the usual support of school and friends.
Anecdotally, teen mental health appears to have suffered tremendously during the pandemic. When we asked our Rooted youth ministers to share what they had seen in their youth groups, the responses were so concerning that we decided to develop a mental health series to help youth ministers and parents address these issues with the hope of the gospel and some practical support. Those articles will be posted on the blog over the next several weeks, and they will be helpful for all adults who disciple youth.
Amid the chaos of the last year, we may have information we can use to make some changes. Research done by the Institute for Family Studies uncovered a couple of trends that will help and encourage parents.
We serve a God who gives beauty for ashes, even in the tragic reality of a global pandemic, terrible racial conflict, and economic uncertainty. We invite you to see some of the beauty these researchers found.
Overall, the teens studied were less depressed than they were in 2018. Researchers attributed their improved well-being to two factors parents should know about:
- More sleep: “…teens have been sleeping more during the pandemic, and teens who are sleep deprived are significantly more likely to suffer from depression.”
- More time with their families: “one of the primary foundations for teen resilience during the pandemic is family support and connection.”
During the pandemic, teenagers faced major stressors: one in three knew someone diagnosed with COVID; one in four said one of their parents had lost a job. Despite this, increased sleep and increased connection led to greater resilience, even in the face of greater stress.
The study was concluded in July 2020, and certainly the duration of the pandemic warrants a repeated version of the study, but this is valuable information. As moms and dads, we can begin to prioritize sleep in our family culture, for ourselves and for our kids. Certainly, we hope to teach our children healthy habits, but somehow sleep getsoverlooked once kids hit the teen years. This may mean closing down televisions, phones, and computers sooner, creating a restful atmosphere at a slightly earlier hour, re-imagining curfews, and even advocating with local school boards about later start times (in 2022, California high schools will not start until 8:30 AM at the earliest).
Here’s the beauty of the second finding: during quarantine, teenagers spend more time connecting with their families, and that time makes a difference:
With many parents working from home and most outside activities cancelled for both parents and teens, the majority of teens reported increased family time. Fifty-six percent of them said they were spending more time talking to their parents than they had before the pandemic, and 54 percent said their families now ate dinner together more often. Forty-six percent reported spending more time with their siblings. Perhaps most striking, 68 percent of teens said their families had become closer during the pandemic.
Don’t miss this, moms and dads. Those taciturn teens, who can be slippery and sullen or just plain too busy when life is routine, are strengthened by spending time with you. Quality and quantity time with your teen matters. Don’t think for a second that they have outgrown you. They may look like fledgling adults, but they still need connection with mom and dad.
You cannot fix their brokenness, heal their depression, or calm their anxiety. Jesus is still their one and only savior, but in His hands, your love makes a real difference in the life of your teen.