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The Pandemic Mental Health Toolkit #4: Parenting Young Adults

A recently published Harvard research paper states that young adults were hit the hardest by loneliness during the pandemic. They have been particularly vulnerable as at this phase of their life, a robust social network is of utmost importance to them.

I had the privilege to seek inputs from mental health expert, Ms. Desiré Dias on parenting young adults during the pandemic. Ms. Desiré Dias has been a counselling psychologist since 2005. She has extensive experience with counselling individuals, couples, children, teens and families.

1. How do I ensure their privacy & ‘time out’​ when we are all housebound in small physical spaces?

Privacy is something that is truly prized and valued by teens and young adults. However, we as a culture don’t entirely believe in the concept. The current pandemic has made this even more complicated, as young people besides losing out on being able to step out and meet their friends, have also lost out on their personal space where they would get to spend time exclusively with their friends. We may be tempted to say, “You are always on your device. Why don’t you spend some time with family?”

 However, now with everything being online, including social interaction, we must be able to respect and maintain healthy boundaries when our youngsters want to talk to their friends, while resisting the urge to know what they were discussing. May be they want to tell a friend about something that is bothering them that they are not yet ready to share with us as adults. How we decide to give each other space is entirely up to each family.

It’s absolutely normal for teens and young people to not want to spend time with us as adults and more time with friends. It is in fact an important stage of psycho –social development, where young people learn how to navigate relationships without the supervision of parents. They must learn how to do be in relationships with friends or otherwise, or else we cannot say that we as parents have truly prepared them for life.

2. What should I communicate to them about ‘death & dying’​ in this environment? 

 COVID -19 has brought us face to face with our own mortality. We are all part of a ‘collective trauma’ as the world suffers and copes with death on an unprecedented scale. The reality is that a large number of people are dying. I think that many of us as adults ourselves are anxious about our own death. There are many moments where we have the opportunity to talk about death, like when plants or flowers die, when a pet dies. As teens and young adults are very well able to cognitively process the finality of death, it is the emotions that come with knowing that a loved one who is on the ventilator may never come back is what they may need help with.

Most teens think that death happens somewhere far off in the future. But COVID – 19 is a great leveller and does not think about age when it knocks at our door. Even so, many of us have varying capacities to handle stories about death and the same goes for teens.

It is true that like some children, even teens may get overly anxious talking about the death of their loved ones and if parents notice any behavioural changes as a result of such a conversation, it may help to give the child the opportunity to talk to a professional therapist. 

3. They have zero physical social time with their friends? How do I deal with the resentment they have about it?

In these COVID times physical distancing has become a matter of life and death. Messages about maintaining social distancing and wearing a mask are everywhere. Teenagers at times tend to forget that COVID is still out there even if it’s a friend’s birthday, or graduation etc. we have forgotten this at times too. If only we could wish the virus away. The reality is that interacting with friends and family online is the safest thing for all of us to do right now and the same is likely to continue for a long time if we are to remain safe. It’s become hard for us to comprehend how a hug, which is an act of love and affection, can become deadly as it spreads the infection sooner. COVID has become a non-negotiable reality and the sooner we all accept it, the better it is for all of us.

4. They are witnessing more of their share of conflicts between the parents. What can we communicate to them about this? We are unable to avoid it in their presence.

COVID has brought people and families together in a good way, but it has also forced us to be in constant contact with family members who we don’t get along with – be it spouses, extended family, children, teens and parents. Staying together with literally nowhere to go to escape the conflict or take a break from fighting has become impossible. It is important that we keep our adult arguments away from our children but in such close quarters it seems unlikely. In cases where couples are unable to come to a resolution, it would seem that the problems may be deep rooted and they may benefit from couple’s therapy.

We would be mistaken if we believe that conflicts at home do not impact teens and young adults. For many, the harsh truth about their parents not being able to get along is apparent. It’s unfair for us to use our young teens in our marital and family disputes, compelling them to take sides and withholding love and attention because they refuse to do so. 

When small arguments turn violent and teens or young adults fear for the parent who is being hurt as well as for themselves, then intervention is needed. Safety of the parent and teen who is being victimized is paramount. Therapy is certainly the next step to enable the couple to reconcile differences or in some severe cases, police intervention may be needed.

5. Should I be worried that their schooling & social time is entirely in the virtual world?

Right now, if schools are unable to provide online schooling, our kids would effectively have no academic input in any way. Children who are older and are familiar with technology, have no problem handling devices. Teachers too, although having little or no experience with online teaching, have risen to the challenge and have been delivering effective lessons online.

This generation however, is so familiar with screens that they have been able to transition to online schooling with little or no difficulty. In fact, the online platforms allow them a certain level of safety as they can always ‘escape’ a reprimand due to internet issues or simply turn off their camera and not be seen and teachers can do very little about it. So no, you shouldn’t be worried that they are online. If they aren’t online how are they going to learn?

6. We are undergoing financial duress. Do we share this with them or keep it away? Their lifestyle will be impacted by this in the future.

Teens are as much part of the family as any adult and sharing the family’s financial standing in a realistic manner about what families are able to provide while difficult is necessary. Teens are most concerned about whether their needs will be met and parents can present a realistic picture to them without overwhelming them. COVID has changed our lives forever and our finances are no exception. What better way to talk to our children about saving and spending wisely for “unforeseen circumstances” as this.

7. My child had finite career interests pre-pandemic. Now, they are just confused, demotivated in the current environment and question the purpose of it. How do I deal with this?

 I think it is important to allow students some time with a career counsellor who will help them see that no amount of education is a waste and will allow them to rethink their career path. We obtain self – esteem and a sense of identity from our work and it is important for adults to take a young person’s career woes seriously. It is going to take time for the Education system to figure out the right way forward for students. In the meantime, encourage young people to take advantage of the time to add to their skills with the various online courses on offer in keeping with the field they hope to be in or do what interests them. 

8. More tech time, and relatively unhealthy eating is causing erratic sleep patterns. Most of this is unavoidable – what can I do as a parent?

In this regard I think it’s important to model good eating habits and encourage youngsters to stay fit at home. How much rest and sleep we get is directly related to our immunity and we must try our best to get adequate sleep, especially for those of us who have or are recovering from COVID and even otherwise. However, drastic changes in sleep and eating patterns must not be ignored. Our emotions are tied into our feelings and sleeping patterns, with many unable to sleep on account of the distressing losses we all are experiencing and others using food to cope with anxiety. If parents see extreme changes, it may be time to seek professional help.

COVID – 19 besides affecting our bodies, has impacted our mental health is more ways than one. Long after COVID has been wiped out, the psychological impact of this global pandemic will be felt for years to come as the human race staggers to its feet. It is important for us to have a mental health professional who can tend to the mental wellbeing of a family just like a general physician does for our physical wellness.

Ms. Dias undertakes personal consultations as part of her private practice in Mumbai & is available on

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