I remember clearly sitting at a restaurant in Miami on a work trip when I first heard about COVID on the news. I was traveling alone, and struck up a conversation with another diner who had a travel agency, who told me clients of his were starting to cancel trips to Asia. That evening, and the next day, life went on as normal and it did not yet feel to me as though the world would soon be shutting down for an indefinite period. Of course we all now know that much of the world did shut down, and though reasonable people will always debate, many people feel that the government made the best decisions that it could with the information it had at the time. Thankfully, we now know so much more about treatment and risks, and we have, more or less, learned to live with COVID.
Witnessing the impact of COVID on young people and their families, we have gained valuable insight into the aftermath of being confined at home during crucial stages of development. This is not a criticism on why that happened, but acknowledging that it did happen, an inquiry into what this has led to amongst young people and how we can support them and their families.
Here are a few things we have seen which may emerge as trends in the treatment and support of adolescents and their families in this period of post-COVID malaise as kids continue to try to bounce back to a new version of stability.
Smartphone obsession and potential addiction
While this trend may not be totally new or post-COVID specific, and there are surely highly specialized experts focused on it, the degree of utilizing a smartphone to become totally separate from everyone and everything else seems to be at an all time high. I read a silly pop story online recently that described a young man as “seemingly physiologically incapable of looking up from his phone.” That description fits.
How to help with smartphone obsession
The simplest ideas are often the best – teenagers still need time limits on the use of their phones. No cell phones at dinner should be a floor; young people (and anyone for that matter) can benefit from not having access to their phones in their beds before sleep.
Increased marijuana and vaping habits
Legalization and the accompanying lowered risk perception, plus the availability of more commercial THC products like vapes, which do not smell, have led some adolescents to use marijuana, and nicotine, increasingly. Couple this with more celebrities using marijuana openly on social media, and the conditions are perfect for young people to really believe marijuana is harmless. In the young people we serve, we are certainly not seeing it as harmless.
How to deter teens from marijuana use
Talk to young people about the deleterious effects of marijuana on the developing brain. And, if they cannot completely abstain, which is ideal, reduced use is better than repeated consumption of high potency THC extracts.
Parents also suffered during COVID and are collectively still trying to recalibrate their lives alongside their teenage children. Years of pent up frustration are continuing to come out. Teenager children can both contribute to these struggles, and suffer from such instances.
How to address family struggles
Insist that family systems engage in healing work together. Disabuse parents of the notion that the right practitioner can help a kid on their own. In most cases, the whole family needs supportive work from trained and dispassionate professionals to heal and grow.
There’s plenty of hope for today’s teenagers
I am optimistic that we are at the dawn of a new age of healing and growth for people, and that today’s teenagers will grow up to live in a better version of social harmony than those of us that have come before them.
About the writer:
Justin Cambria, LICSW is the Co-Founder and Director of Clinical Outreach at New Harbor Behavioral Healthcare. He began his work in behavioral health through his personal recovery journey, which began in 2009. He is a passionate believer in holistic healing and many paths to recovery. Justin has worked in behavioral health for a decade as a therapist, family coach, case manager, and clinical outreach director. He has developed extensive experience in care planning and advising for individuals and family systems facing all sorts of challenges in mental health and substance use, and maintains relationships with organizations and practitioners throughout the country.