By Carly Gibbs and Ethan Griffiths
Being a teenager has always thrown up challenges, but Covid-19 has upped the angst for some Gen Z kids.
Dr Kristen Hamling, a psychologist with Whanganui's Wellbeing Aotearoa, says there has been an "unequivocal rise" in anxiety and wider mental health issues across the country as a result of Covid-19.
"Covid has created a ripple effect," Hamling said.
"You've got the virus which causes anxiety on its own, but you've got the ripple effect of how the virus has damaged and interrupted our lives also. For kids and parents, that can be damaging.
"Covid is not great for fuelling anxiety. If you had a little bit anyway, it can kind of generalise and grow."
Hamling said there has also been a notable increase in wait times in seeking support.
"There is quite a rise in wait times for people wanting to see someone, and I think that's causing issues in itself.
"People are feeling anxious and reaching out for support, but they're being told to wait. It puts them in a further uncertain state."
Hamling said this rise in anxiety and mental health issues has been noticed widely, particularly in schools.
"I've been working with some teachers for a while and they say they've been noticing a real lack of resilience. That married up with Covid, which we don't have control over, the kids nowadays don't seem to have the tools to accommodate that.
"I'm hearing an increase in students not attending school and an increase in conflict. Again, when you're in that heightened state of alarm, you see and interpret things in a different way."
These mental health-related issues within children are also becoming more prevalent in the home, and Hamling has some advice for parents on how to best deal with the struggles.
"Stop arguing with anxiety. Anxiety is not rational," Hamling said.
"It's called a window of tolerance, where we become too stressed and we become anxious and our attention narrows. We don't think clearly or rationally, and our brain is designed to find problems or even make stuff up.
"The thing to recognise in your children is, is my child overwhelmed? Is my child looking like they're anxious or becoming catastrophic in their thinking? Are they seeing things through an anxiety lens or a reality lens?
"It's a case of stopping and getting back into the window."
From anxiety to self-destructive behaviour, or losing motivation for school, parenting guru Tracy Roose is supporting a variety of families, particularly those whose home life has changed as a result of the pandemic.
"Parents have either lost work or lost their home.
"Instability and the anxiety of the unknown, leaves the children feeling unstable and insecure, so it has ripple effects," says Roose, who is a Toughlove representative and chairwoman of the Toughlove Waikato Trust.
Toughlove is a non-profit, self-help organisation, which empowers parents to overcome challenging behaviour with their teen or young adult at what's already a particularly vulnerable stage of life.
Each parent acts as a counsellor to the others. Shared experiences and understanding are what keeps them coming back.
Each week, they update one another on their progress - much as a group of friends would over a coffee. There's some laughter, a few tears - and plenty of guidance.
After level 4 lockdown, Roose says there was also a "freedom and rebellion" movement, where some teens were "out living; experimenting".
"We just saw this huge explosion of freedom and the parents weren't quite prepared because it was just lovely for their kids to be able to go out, (but) they weren't prepared with the boundaries in place, and the kids got a little bit out of control.
"The problem is, it's harder to pull them back than it is to keep them in place to start with," she says.
"When our young people go past experimenting and it becomes part of their lifestyle choice, that's a very difficult thing."
If you're struggling with your teen's behaviour - and Roose challenges you to come up with something she hasn't seen before - Toughlove teaches strategies to help.
"We're about changing who we are as parents, and how we respond to a situation, rather than react because our kids aren't broken."
Lend a listening ear
During times of change, Patrick Walsh, principal and past president of the Secondary Principals' Association of New Zealand, advises parents to "keep the lines of communication open".
"Teenagers often just want a non-judgemental, listening ear. They also tend to catastrophise matters so parents can give them perspective," he says, adding it's helpful to be positive.
"We tend as adults to present a pessimistic outlook of the future including Covid-19.
"Parents and teachers need to be optimistic about the world facing young people and their ability to change it for good."
One way you can generate some positivity is by having a regular sit-down meal and make it "whānau bonding time".
But his biggest piece of advice is simple: Tell your kids that you love them.
"We don't tell them we love them enough, and just assume they know it.
"Kids like parents to say it out loud and to affirm it with a hug and kiss no matter how old they are. They may protest, but deep down they really love it."
A youth worker agrees you can't underestimate small actions.
The 26-year-old, who we've chosen not to name, had a "mischievous" childhood and later turned to crime, but changed when a counsellor invested "loving" time and words - something he says his parents didn't do enough of.
"(My counsellor) kept telling me about the potential she could see and how far I could make it... Seeing that she wanted me to succeed and do good, I always remembered it."
Relationship expert Jacqui Moulton says children are more likely to open up to a parent who is non-judgmental and validates their feelings.
"Try to notice when they are most emotionally available, and gently ask what is going on in their world.
"Stay calm by recognising your own triggers, and find ways of managing these so that you can stay attuned to what's going on for your children," she says.
We're often quick to judge our children's behaviour without seeking to understand the reasons and emotions behind it.
"Avoid lecturing and offering solutions, unless they ask for them."
What's more, in uncertain times, it's important children experience stability at home.
"Creating family rituals like pancake breakfast at the weekend or family movie night can help children feel grounded and connected, even when the world around them can seem out of control."
Take time to decompress
And, when it comes to your own wellbeing as a parent, remember you're not alone, especially in a topsy turvy year, one that has made everything that's already difficult about adolescence that much harder.
There's no guide to parenting during a pandemic, and parenting is already "the most difficult job in the world and the one we receive the least amount of training for," Moulton says.
"It's okay to not know what to do."
Roose says that's where Toughlove can help.
"You've got a group of people who want to make positive change in their families and that's the best thing ever.
"Part of our support group is that we also have phone calls every week ... it means you get a call from someone 'who understands what my life is right now'.
"When you don't tell your family and you don't tell your friends because you're embarrassed or ashamed, that support group is your lifeline.
"It's all about changing you, and people underestimate the power of the word 'I'.
"I can make a difference in my life."
Tips to keep the calm at home
• Answer questions about Covid-19 simply and honestly.
• Recognise your child's feelings and model how to manage them.
• Keep in touch with loved ones.
• Look forward positively. Things will get better.
• Offer extra hugs and say "I love you" more often.
• Keep healthy routines. Sleep is particularly important during a stressful period.
• Spend special time with each child. Keep cellphones off or on silent so you don't get distracted.
• Take care of yourself as a parent and find ways to decompress and take breaks.