Our teens have had to endure some pretty unnerving shifts this last month. One minute they're in the routine of school, friends, socialising and a myriad of after school activities. They were looking forward to the school holidays. The time off, time out and the opportunities for outings, movies, catch-ups and adventures this would bring. Nek Minnit (to use a generational phrase) they're being restricted far beyond what is comfortable or even reasonable of a generation that holds their friendship groups and social interaction above all else.
Many parents may be worried for their teens mental health, or perhaps are just struggling to think of how on earth they're going to keep a grumpy, isolated teen from climbing the walls while we stay home and stay safe.
As a personal trainer, of course my feel-good toolkit involves movement & exercise daily, however feeling mentally, physically and emotionally supported goes much deeper than simply telling your teen to go outside and go for a run.
Here's my 5 top tips for keeping your teen happy, active and most of all mentally & emotionally supported during this unusual and difficult time.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to get our teens moving every day. Not only for their physical health but for their mental health. Daily exercise is the foundation of every mental health plan for a reason, it releases endorphins and lowers cortisol; which for many is spiking daily right now. It also helps promote better sleep & helps move negative, stagnant energy out of the body. So how can you encourage your teen to get moving every day?
Take advantage of the many virtual classes that are available. Empower360 Fitness has Virtual Teen Bootcamps running three times per week right now. The sessions are designed specifically for teens with easy to follow exercises that require no equipment and offers teens an opportunity to connect with their peers and train in real time. For more information on Virtual Teen Bootcamp, click here
YouTube has an unlimited array of fitness, dance or sports-specific training programs, just be mindful they don't end up down the rabbit-hole of cat videos and screaming goats!
Get outside! The whole family should be doing at least 30mins of vigorous exercise daily. Especially now that our capabilities for incidental exercise are severely diminished. Dust off your bikes, kick a footy or throw a frisbee. Exercise is literally one of the only reasons we're allowed out of our homes right now so take advantage of it! The fresh air and vitamin D will also do wonders for their mood & sleep patterns.
Lots of celebrity fitness programs are offering free 30 Day trials. These are fantastic in theory, however teens are rarely self-motivated enough to exercise independently. In addition, many of these programs are heavily weight-loss focused and use phrases like 'Bikini Body Girl' and 'Drop A Dress Size' in their marketing so just be mindful the content is suitable for an impressionable teen. We want our teens to understand that we are moving to feel good not to look good.
Empower360 Fitness also has an online Teen Fitness program that is specifically tailored to teens, with age appropriate bodyweight workouts, a nutrition program that shows them how to eat and doesn't restrict calories and mindset content from Australia's leading teen educators. Plus, it comes with the added support of a local trainer who is there to support them every step of the way. Click here to learn more
If HIIT and strength aren't your teens thing, try a YouTube yoga class or download on of the many free or low-cost yoga apps that are available. I love Gaia as it combines Yoga, Fitness, Meditation and Spirituality content.
Got some heavy lifting or gardening that needs doing? Exchange a few hours of manual labour for free time on their device or fave game
Max out on self-care
Self care gets a bad rap as being overly indulgent, however many psychologists insist on a strong self-care practice as being a vital component of any mental health plan. This isn't about taking baths & getting your nails done, it's about daily rituals & practices that help your teen feel in control, feel safe and feel mentally and emotionally supported.
Chat with your teen and come up with a few ways they can devote some time to simply feeling good. Some of their fave self-care practices like catching up with friends or going to the beach are no longer an option so chat about what they would like to do and then come up with some options for how they can generate that same feeling while at home.
For example, if going to the beach was their happy place, can they burn a delicious ocean scented candle, play some soothing ocean sounds or make a beautiful sea-salt scrub?
If their dance class or sporting team was where they got their happy hormones humming, can they take a virtual dance class, or do a YouTube sports conditioning workout specific to their sport? Loads of clubs and studios are creating virtual content to keep kids moving whilst in isolation.
And of course, there's always Virtual Teen Bootcamp!
Here's a few other ways teens can add a little more self-care into their lives:
Create a self-care vision board of all the things they can do right now to make them feel good. Place it somewhere prominent so they can look at it regularly and quickly access an activity to help bring their mood back into a more positive space
Play self-care bingo! You can download the bingo cards here & place stickers over each activity when you've completed it. For more info on self-care bingo you can watch this YouTube episode from Teen Psychologist Mallory Grimste
Get quality sleep and go to bed and wake up at a reasonable time each day. A regular routine, including getting up at the same time each day will help to increase their self-confidence
Declutter or reorganise their space. Now is the perfect time for a teen to upgrade their environment to feel more positive, whether it's completely rearranging their bedroom or workspace or simply adding something new or different to liven it up, if you're going to be spending a lot of time in the one space, making it as enjoyable as possible will really help to give your teen a lift. Plus, as we all know, there is a real sense of achievement you get from clearing out some of the old crap and welcoming in the new. Clearing out their space can actually help to clear out some of the mental and emotional clutter too.
For 40 more self-care ideas, click here
Stay Connected, on and offline
It's a little unnerving that most of our daily interactions are now through a screen. It was hard enough to coax your teen from their bedroom before! Even though they are schooling, socialising, gaming and staying active online, it's still easy to feel isolated and alone. Particularly in times of crisis. To help your teen feel connected you could try one of these:
Go old school! Encourage them to write a letter to someone. Anyone. That sponsor child you always mean to send a card to, your elderly uncle in the UK, the neighbour or even one of their friends. Or even better, send one to someone in a care facility. Many of our older Australians are feeling incredibly lonely and isolated as their families are no longer allowed to visit. Click here to learn more about an Australia wide program connecting would-be Pen Pals with the elderly.
Same goes for picking up the phone. Not everyone wants their face shoved in a screen all day and Grandma or Grandpa might just enjoy a good old fashioned chin-wag without the tech-stress.
Keep family ties strong, have a device-free dinner together every night if you can, organise family game nights or get outside together. The more opportunities you have to connect offline, the more chance you have of keeping a dialogue open.
This one may ruffle a few feathers but if your teen can be trusted to adhere to social distancing rules, it is still perfectly legal to exercise with one other friend. A face to face connection and a sense of normalcy can do wonders for a teens morale and mental health. This one will have to be at the discretion of the adult in charge.
By now we're probably all well-versed in the ways we can stay connected online but here's a few just in case:
Video chat platforms like Zoom, Google Hangouts & House Party
Virtual gaming platforms where players can play against each other in real time
Too many social networks to mention
There has never been a more important time for your teen to learn to regulate their emotions, have the tools to deregulate their nervous system and keep anxiety at bay. They learn to gain control over their thoughts and feelings, instead of becoming consumed by negative thoughts, they can simply allow them to float by. Many guided mediations focus on positive affirmations or statements, lifting a teens confidence.
Mediation is also a fantastic way to cope with stress, improve sleep quality, boost a teens mood and can be done in as little as 5 minutes a day. A guided mediation is the easiest way to start as you don’t have to think at all. There’s plenty of free guided meditations for teens on YouTube and lots of mediation apps are available. My favourite is Insight Timer as it’s completely free and you can filter the mediation by how long you have, the shortest being 0-5 minutes.
It also offers teens the opportunity to find some quiet time, some solace and solitude during a time where the whole family is likely on top of one another and finding peace and quiet might be much more challenging. I highly recommend that everyone in the family, including parents make mediation a part of their daily ritual right now.
In his recent book The Resilience Project, school teacher, author and speaker Hugh Van Cuylenberg shares that he was startled by how happy the kids were at a poverty-stricken school in India where he volunteered. How was it that young people he knew at home, who had food, shelter, friends and a loving family, struggled with their mental health, while these kids seemed so contented and resilient? He set about finding the answer and in time came to recognise the key traits and behaviours these children possessed were Gratitude, Empathy and Mindfulness.
Hugh went on to create workshop series' for Primary and High Schools as well as massive corporations, create an app and work with just about every team in the AFL& NRLas well as Cricket Australia and Netball Australia, all based around the principles of G.E.M
Put simply, our body cannot be in a state of gratitude and fear at the same time. Cultivating gratitude daily, particularly while your teen might feel there is little to be grateful for, can help them to see the bigger picture and reduce fearful, anxious feelings. Research has shown that practicing gratitude can also strengthen your immune system, lower blood pressure and increase compassion and empathy. It can be as simple as sitting around the dinner table every night and sharing what you're grateful for, or as Hugh recommends, writing down the top three things you're grateful for every night.
Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else shoes, taking into account their thoughts and emotions. Yet, most adolescents are typically not focused on others, and if they are, they’re wondering what others are thinking about them. But if we can help our teen develop empathy, they’ll be facilitating their teen’s self-esteem, mental health, healthy relationships, and emotional wellbeing. It can be as simple as chatting about current events and asking teens to put themselves in the other persons shoes, or asking them how the other person might feel in certain situations. Reading is also a wonderful way for a teen to develop empathy as it encourages them to see the story from the authors viewpoint.
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present in the moment, aware of where we are and what we are doing without being overwhelmed by our surroundings. The practice of mindfulness can include meditation techniques designed to keep you centred and calm.
3 ways you can help your teen practice mindfulness:
Model Mindfulness: As with healthy eating or any other practice, one of the best ways to get your teen to practice mindfulness is doing it yourself! Whenever you can, demonstrate your ability to handle stress and respond positively to any bumps in the road. Resilience is a vital skill, and many kids and teens lack it.
Show Them What’s In It for Them: Teens are no different from any other human, and one thing is an excellent motivator—seeing what’s in it for them. Studies show that students who take time to meditate before an exam have better scores than students who don’t.
Realise Mindfulness isn’t Just Meditation: While meditation is a component of mindfulness, it isn’t the only way to be mindful. Even playing a round of Mario Kart as a family can be mindful if you are focused on what you’re doing, getting rid of distractions and engaging in the moment.
So to recap; my 5 top tips for supporting your teen during isolation are:
Max out on self care
Stay connected on and offline
Of course, you know your child best and some of these tips may work for you, some may not. But the best way to encourage your child to try something new is to meal that behaviour. So why not try a few of these practices for yourself? If you feel your teen needs some additional support, please seek the guidance of a healthcare professional.
This article was written by Kate Hickey Personal Trainer and director of local bootcamp business Empower360 Fitness. For more information on their virtual bootcamp and online training programs for both parents and teens go to www.empower360fitness.com.au