The biggest problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges when parenting teenagers is taking the time to listen properly. It is easy to jump in with our opinions, our solutions. That often just escalates an already difficult situation. Here are some ideas from John Sharry and Carol Fitzpatrick at Parents Plus from their Adolescent Parenting programme.
We are all aware that the teenage years can be challenging. Here are some great tips from the Kidspot website about how we can help our teenagers develop the skills and strengths they need to support good mental health.
It can be very difficult when a young girl hits puberty early. Especially when all her classmates, and indeed she, still seem just like little girls. If your daughter starts puberty early, she will need a lot of help, guidance and support from you. As well as dealing with a changing body, she will face further difficulties such as dealing with the reaction of her friends, peers and even adults. The best way to do this is be informed.
We know that the restrictions of recent months have been very difficult for young people whose social life is so important to them. Many young people have been absolute heroes, staying home, maintaining social distance when out, doing everything they can to protect those around them.
Now that things are opening up again we cannot afford to think that life is back to what it was before this all happened. We still need to be careful, to limit the number of people we are mixing with, to maintain social distancing, hand washing, cough and sneeze etiquette and to wear face coverings in busy places.
Although the number of new cases of Coronavirus is now much lower we can see that many of those new cases are happening among young people. It can be difficult for us as parents to get our children to understand and accept the ongoing need for restrictions. Often young people see themselves as invincible, thinking either that they won’t get Covid or that if they do it won’t do them any harm. Here is an interview which was aired on Newstalk on 24th June which might help young adults to realise that Covid-19 is still a challenge and a threat to people – young and old – in Ireland.
A Dublin doctor is warning young people that they could be left with long-term effects if they contract COVID-19.
It comes after health officials warned that 76 of the 202 people diagnosed with the virus in the past two weeks were under the age of 35.
Sixteen of those cases involved children under 14-years-of-age.
On The Hard Shoulder this evening, Dublin GP Maitiú Ó Tuathail said all five of the patients he referred for testing yesterday were under 40-years-old.
He said increases in young people catching the virus are now “happening the world over.”
“They are the most social of all the groups so it stands to reason that we would see an increase in these numbers as lockdown has been, kind of, reversed,” he said.
He said the narrative that the virus only effects older people has led to younger people being too relaxed about guidelines on social distancing and face coverings.
“There has been a clear message throughout the pandemic that this is an illness that predominantly affects and kills people who are over the age of 65,” he said.
“Because that was the message that has gone out, those that are under 40 really feel like this is not a disease that affects them and what I am seeing in my practice is that that is not true.”
Post-viral fatigue syndrome
He said people under 40 are unlikely to end up in intensive care with the virus; however, they could face other long-term issues.
“I am seeing an increasing number of people that were 20 or 30 that got COVID-19 and were left with the effects of it,” he said.
“The most common one we are seeing at the moment is chronic fatigue. I have patients in their 20s and 30s that are now out of work for weeks with severe chronic fatigue because of COVID-19.
“So, it is not true that people under the age of 40 are completely immune. I am seeing people coming in with long-term effects from the virus.”
He said young people need to consider their older relatives when they are out and about.
“The real issue is that these people in their 20s and 30s have loved ones,” he said. “They have mothers, they have fathers and they are putting them at risk by the actions they are taking.
“There is a likelihood that you will spread the virus to a loved one who may end up in intensive care and may die and that is the message that needs to get out.”
Calling all parents of teenagers! Would you like to be able to help your teenagers to avoid getting involved with alcohol during their adolescent years? This webinar organised by the Alcohol Forum based here in Letterkenny gives you the chance to understand how the adolescent brain develops and the impact alcohol or cannabis use can have on it – putting you in a better position to have those important conversations with the teenagers in your life.
Alcohol and the adolescent brain
We all have an important role to play in supporting young people to avoid, delay and minimize alcohol use as they pass through adolescence. Hosted by the Alcohol Forum, this webinar will feature the latest international research on brain development during the teenage years and the impact that alcohol use can have. Professor of Psychiatry, Susan Tapert, from the University of California will outline her ground-breaking research on adolescent brain development, the impact of the repeated use of alcohol and cannabis drugs during adolescent and young adult years and brain markers predictive of substance misuse. The Alcohol Forum will be launching a new resource for young people: Alcohol – Its a No Brainer – All you need to know about alcohol and the teenage brain.
Who’s it for?: This webinar will be of interest to professionals and organisations working with young people and parents including those working in the fields of well-being, mental health, education and substance use.
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.
Questions for Speaker: If you have any questions in advance of the seminar that you would like to be addressed as part of the content, these can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. There will also be an opportunity to ask questions during the seminar.
The Coronavirus pandemic has made things particularly difficult for this year’s Leaving Certificate students. There was a lot of uncertainty about what would happen. Now that a decision has been made that students will receive Calculated Grades many students and their parents probably still have a lot of questions. Here is some information from the Department of Education website which you can access at https://www.education.ie/en/Learners/Information/State-Examinations/leaving-cert-2020.html
This instructional video is designed to assist schools, further education and training centres, and all other settings in the process of arriving at an estimated mark in class rank order for each student but you might find it useful to see how calculated grades are arrived at.
Here is a podcast about well being for our Leaving Cert students which may be useful to you.
We are all facing an uncertain and extraordinary time at the moment, and many of us are out of college or work and may be spending more time with our families or the people we live with.
So it is even more important that at this time we are making sure that we are setting and keeping boundaries for ourselves.
During the next few weeks it is likely that these boundaries will be challenged when we are all spending more time together whilst also trying to manage the uncertainty of the times we are facing. But firstly, what do we actually mean by personal boundaries?
What are personal boundaries?
Personal boundaries are rules or limits that we set for ourselves within our relationships and generally within our lives. They help us to identify our needs, preferences and desires. These guidelines set out how you want to be treated by others and what kind of behaviours and communication you accept from other people.
Types of personal boundaries
Some different types of boundaries include; physical, intellectual – your own thoughts and opinions, emotional – your own feelings to a given situation, sexual, material, time and spiritual.
Boundaries can be healthy or unhealthy. Healthy boundaries are really important in all of these areas so that we are able to take responsibility for our own actions and also to help avoid being in a position where we could be hurt or manipulated in some way.
No one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable because of what you believe in.
How to create and maintain personal boundaries
Here are some tips for creating and maintaining healthy boundaries:
Know your limits/values. What is acceptable to you in a situation and what’s not. Identify what’s important to you. For example if family life is very important, set boundaries around not working late and protect this.
Listen to your emotions. Try not to avoid or bury difficult emotions. Allow yourself to feel them and listen to what they are telling you.
Be assertive. Clearly affirm your boundaries, this gives others the message that you value your feelings and needs above the thoughts and opinions of others. You can let people know they have crossed your boundaries and say no respectfully. This does not mean that you are unkind, it means that you are being honest with them and maintaining your self-respect.
When you have been clear in voicing your personal boundaries and someone is not respecting this, it is OK to remove yourself from that situation or conversation. Remind yourself in these moments you are not responsible for others people’s feelings or reactions and your needs and feelings matter. No one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable because of what you believe in.
This exercise gives you a space you let all of those thoughts out freely and safely.
How to do the ‘brain drain’ exercise
The brain drain exercise can help when you’re wanting to set out and define personal boundaries.
To start the exercise
Write down whatever comes into your mind until you have completely filled 2-3 pages, it should only take you about 10 minutes. Try doing this in the morning when you get up. Don’t think about what you are putting on the paper just write exactly what comes in to your mind as it comes, even if you are writing ‘I’m bored’ or ‘I’m hungry’ or ‘this feels silly’
At first your writings will sound a lot like this, but over time you will start to go deeper and identify more important thoughts and feelings.
Generally, when we have more time on our hands and less distractions than usual, our minds can go into over-drive and overthinking and worrying escalates. So all these uncomfortable thoughts are stuck in our heads and we just keep going over them.
This exercise gives you a space you let all of those thoughts out freely and safely. It gives your mind permission to say and think anything without fighting it or trying to bury the thoughts because they feel uncomfortable. So what your doing is acknowledging and accepting them for what they are, just thoughts and your letting them go.
By engaging in this for 10 minutes every morning you are much less likely to be overthinking these same thoughts throughout the day and you will feel a greater sense of calm and of being in the present moment. This will inevitably have a positive impact on your relationships and the people you are spending more time with.
Opinion: recognising the need for social contact will be key to helping young people cope in the coming weeks and months.
Our house is home to three teenagers. Last week, when social distancing first came into practice and teenagers were being criticised for not complying, our eldest became indignant. “Adults are giving out that we’re not respecting the science about social distancing” she said, “while they’ve been ignoring the science on global warming for years”. Since Greta Thunberg’s rise to prominence, global warming has come to be associated with young people. Social distancing since the coronavirus outbreak, not so much.
A so-called “Corona challenge” has been described in the mainstream media in recent days. It’s unclear how widespread these incidents are (our teens hadn’t come across this at all on social media), but reports have associated it with young people. Minister for Health Simon Harris recently mentioned an incident when someone thought it would be funny to run up to him and cough in his face. In that case, the perpetrators turned out not to be teens, but an older couple.
RTÉ Brainstorm podcast on how to mind your mental health during the lockdown
Whether these distinctions in behaviour are well founded or not (it wasn’t only teens out for walks together), it’s made me think about how young people are affected by the coronavirus and whether this differs from older adults. How do pandemics affect the general population? Here, the research has suggested what will probably seem obvious to most. Firstly, information is really important to assess risk and take relevant precautions and, secondly, communication about steps being taken is key to managing uncertainty, a key factor in anxiety.
A recent review of quarantine studies was published in The Lancet by Samantha Brooks and colleagues. They observed that a key determinant of people’s ability to cope psychologically was having an understanding of why quarantine was important and exactly how long they would be in lock-down. But this review also suggest that those between 16 and 24 years of age might be particularly at risk of poorer psychological coping.
As a developmental stage, young adulthood is a particularly sensitive period in psychological development. We know that 75% of all mental health problems first occur during this period. Good data for Ireland on this group comes from MYWORLD_2, a landmark national survey of over 8,000 young adults published recently. Approximately half of this representative sample showed high levels of anxiety in 18-25 year olds even before the pandemic.
From RTÉ Radio 1’s Drivetime, Della Kilroy reports on new research about teen mental health
This was not just worrying: anxiety here related to experiencing what psychologists consider to be clinically significant symptoms. Neither was this “business as usual” for this age group as these scores were significantly higher that was reported for a similar age group less that 10 years previously. The top stressors reported by young adults were college, the future and finances.
The real reasons for this massive surge in mental health difficulties are often debated. Social media is often blamed, but high self-expectations and long term consequences of recession related financial instability may be just as important.
How are these individuals, who are already showing significant difficulties, likely to cope now? With some difficulty, is the answer. Social isolation (including the inability to gather in peer groups, no sporting outlets etc.), boredom and a lack of routine are likely to compound the mental health difficulties already being experienced.
From RTÉ Radio 1’s Ray D’Arcy Show, interview with Tim Lomas, author of The Positive Power of Negative Emotions which shows the necessity of sadness, anxiety, envy and boredom
Of course, this is unlikely happen immediately. Unlikely physical illness, the psychological fallout from emergencies such as the present one may not be felt right away. If anything, young people may respond positively initially to college closures and the suspension of usual routines as the prospect of one big long break may initially bolster all moods.
But even beyond young people, the delayed effects arising following being caught up in an emergency are well known. The graph below from the HSE’s Psychosocial & Mental Health Needs Following Major Emergencies guidance document illustrates that it’s often only when physical/medical needs start to resolve that emotional needs are felt. What this graph also suggests is that while immediate (acute) needs may resolve quickly, psychological needs can take longer to resolve.
But how can sitting at home as a young person be considered as any sort of emergency? In truth, we don’t know for sure because our current situation is unprecedented. But clues about the likely answer can be found in a number of places. For one thing, we know that the effects of social isolation and loneliness are damaging. A review based on data from more than 70 studies found that chronic loneliness and isolation was associated with significantly increased mortality. Relating these chronic effects to the current situation, the author Julianne Holt-Lunstad suggested there was a risk that people would start to habituate to being isolated and find the habit hard to break even when restrictions were lifted.
Sound alarmist? Not according to scientists who study post traumatic stress disorder, a type of mental health disorder affecting some individuals who experience a traumatic event. Compared to the present pandemic, they argue that the effects of major disasters like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina or the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami at least had finite endings. We’re stuck in something where we don’t know when it will end and many of our normal needs and coping strategies have been disrupted in the meantime.
The opportunity to get dressed up, go out, and meet up is sorely missed by this group and they’re already starting to talk about big post-coronavirus parties
Among these needs, the need to connect socially is paramount. Aristotle defined humans as essentially social animals and modern neuroscience still holds this to be true. The “social brain” hypothesis suggests that our brains have evolved to allow us to connect with others on a large scale so as to solve problems and gain acess to physical and emotional support.
In her book Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain, Sarah Jane Blakemore argues that developing this ‘social’ brain takes time and effort, and most of all experience. One way of thinking about the brain is like a tree that is pruned by learning experience. Unlike other animals who reach maturity relatively quickly, humans are slow to mature because they need time to gather the experiences to map out their social worlds and know how to respond adequately.
Sarah-Jayne Blackmore’s TED talk on the mysterious workings of the adolescent brain
But weren’t young people getting that primarily from TikTok and Snapchat anyway, modes of interaction that are alive and well if the number of memes floating around are anything to go by? Well, yes: certainly taking a phone from a teenager is like akin to taking a gazelle’s thigh bone from a tiger. However, that’s all well and good as a supplement to other social activities, including schools and colleges, hanging out in each others houses, going on night’s out and so on.
We all understand the limitations of social media such as the lack of depth, and the frequent misunderstandings. Video clips and memes do allow us to connect at a certain level – we share, we laugh together, we are entertained, we can feel connected and we feel we know what’s going on. One interesting example has been the increased use of Houseparty, an app where young people video chat in groups in a virtual house. Just as in a real house party, you can choose to join or leave conversations. Just as friends of friends might join in at a regular party, same here.
Humans are slow to mature because they need time to gather the experiences to map out their social worlds and know how to respond adequately
Of course, this virtual contact can’t meet all social needs. The opportunity to get dressed up, go out, and meet up is sorely missed by this group and they’re already starting to talk about big post-coronavirus parties. But in the meantime, this is what they have. Our current situation is unlikely to help parents who were afraid of the effect of too much screen time and social media.
So what message should you be giving to the young people in your house? Well, according to the evidence, the poet Hesiod is probably still right: moderation is best in all things. Based on the MYWORLD_2 survey, spending more than three hours per day on social media was associated with poorer coping and greater difficult with mood and anxiety. Now that young people have to sit at home all day, could that be a rule of thumb? Whether it is or not, understanding the need for social contact, both for mental health and for developing brains, will be key to helping young people cope in the coming weeks.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ.
Covid-19 has highlighted how our actions impact ourselves and the people around us. It’s helpful to consider how the use of alcohol and drugs can influence and impact our ability to cope with this situation.
Life was tough enough, and Covid-19 can make everything seem harder. Faced with challenging circumstances, alcohol and drugs can seem like a way to cope. We may feel they will help us escape the uncertainty of this pandemic.
Both the Covid-19 situation and substances can impact mental health, so inform yourself as much as possible to make the right decisions for you.
Reasons for using substances during Covid-19
Covid-19 has created a lot of uncertainty in our lives that many of us find difficult to sit with. Getting high or drunk can feel like a way to escape this.
Anxiety naturally produces a fight, flight, or freeze response that can make us feel uncomfortable both in our bodies and with our thoughts. Alcohol or drugs can seem like a reasonable response to help calm this.
Media stories have shown how anxiety has led to panic buying. This is likely because it help us to feel more in control to focus on the problems that we can fix. This type of impulsive response to the situation can also be seen with substance use.
With the limited social contact and outlets, as well as increased hours indoors, it simply might seem like there’s nothing else to do.
Using intoxicants while alone may actually increase the likelihood of over doing it
You may already be aware of the links between alcohol and mental health. However, hangovers have the potential to make the anxiety and low mood that many are already experiencing from Covid-19, worse.
With the prospect of extended social isolation, we might think “sure it makes no difference, I’ll have one more.” Using intoxicants while alone may actually increase the likelihood of over doing it. Without friends to provide support or supervise, the chances of risky behaviours increases. This could include going against the HSE Covid-19 guidelines, or driving under the influence.
Starting an unhealthy cycle
Substance use can lead to feelings of shame, guilt or denial. With the current Covid-19 circumstances, we may be left alone to deal with these heavy emotions. You may feel trapped, and in an effort to manage these unwanted feelings, use more substances. This starts a cycle of unhealthy substance use which can be difficult to break.
The more you use any substance to help you cope, the more likely you are to start turning to that substance ahead of other coping strategies. The longer alcohol or drugs are used, the more tolerance we build, meaning we need to take more of the substance to feel the same effects. There is also the chance of developing an addiction, when we need to take the substance to “feel OK” or get on with the day.
Which needs are met through substance use and can these needs be met in other ways?
What is your relationship with substances?
Reflect on your relationship with the substances you’re using. Think about why you take them. Is it to feel temporary relief? Do you believe it helps you feel more comfortable in social situations? Is to alleviate boredom? Or does taking substances help cope with the feelings created by the Covid-19 pandemic?
None of these are unusual relationships with substances. But think about is which needs are met through substance use. Can these needs be met in other ways? For example:
If you want relief, could talking with friends, doing exercise or art help?
If you feel anxious socially, can you use apps like houseparty or jackbox to hang out with friends through a common game?
Any substance that can have a negative impact on your mental health and may also compromise your physical health. If you are going to drink or use substances during Covid-19 pandemic, consider using a harm-reduction approach. This includes practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with substance use. Examples of harm reduction are:
Eat before taking substances
Don’t “bulk buy” alcohol or drugs to limit intake
Only use substances in a safe environment
Clean and disinfect drug paraphernalia before each use
Do not use substances if taking care of someone else
Alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
If you feel that substance use is creating difficulties for you, the HSE Drugs and Alcohol Helpline provides support and information. Their number is 1800 459 459.
If you would like some extra support at this time, you can Ask Jigsaw or sign up for one of our group chats.