Pandemic-fuelled frustration has some teens expressing anger in unhealthy ways after a year of missed social connections that would typically help them mature and regulate their emotions, says a psychiatrist calling for more education on coping skills as part of the school curriculum. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Pandemic-fuelled frustration has some teens expressing anger in unhealthy ways after a year of missed social connections that would typically help them mature and regulate their emotions, says a psychiatrist calling for more education on coping skills as part of the school curriculum. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Teach students coping skills to deal with anger during the pandemic: doctor

Dr. Shimi Kaur Kang is troubled by some teens expressing their frustration through addiction to pornography, gaming and increased use of alcohol and drugs

Pandemic-fuelled frustration has some teens expressing anger in unhealthy ways after a year of missed social connections that would typically help them mature and regulate their emotions, says a psychiatrist calling for more education on coping skills as part of the school curriculum.

Dr. Shimi Kaur Kang said that while anger is a normal reaction to chronic stress for everyone, she is troubled by some teens expressing their frustration through addiction to pornography and gaming as well as increased use of alcohol and drugs.

Some teens are also lashing out more at parents, or engaging in cyberbullying as pandemic restrictions prevent them from going out with friends and establishing new relationships, Kang said from Vancouver where she has her own practice and is also a clinical associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s psychiatry department.

“Psychologically, they’re meant to differentiate some of their identity from their home, the nest, and explore,” she said of teens who are craving independence as part of their normal development apart from parents.

Teens are biologically driven to connect with peers, take risks and seek novelty as the part of their brain that helps with planning, impulse control and emotional regulation is developing while they seek more autonomy. But over the past year, teens in many parts of the country haven’t gone much beyond their house.

More online learning at home without a teacher is boring for some students who find it challenging to sit for hours while they lack social contact with peers, Kang added.

Online learning away from the structured school environment is particularly difficult for students who need more stimulation, Kang noted.

“If you’re someone with a learning issue, like my son, who has (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), and my daughter, who has dyslexia, that’s 25 per cent of teens. That’s additional stress.”

Extracurricular activities including sports, drama and music would normally satisfy some risk-taking needs but they’ve also been cancelled in areas with high COVID-19 cases, removing opportunities for teens to develop new skills or impress peers, Kang said.

“So they’re going online and they’re taking stupid risks. And I see kids who are posting things they never would have posted otherwise. It’s impacting their scholarships, their reputations, all kinds of stuff.”

The isolation, uncertainty and frustration are sometimes leading to angry outbursts that can get out of control, she said.

“I have cases of parents who tried to limit screen time or shut the Xbox off and the kid trashed their bedroom, got violent with their parents, ran away from home because they’re addicted to technology. They don’t want the limits of their house and they turn to alcohol and drugs to kind of deal with their emotions.”

So-called social-emotional learning, which highlights the importance of mental health and resilience in the face of challenges through mindfulness, for example, is already part of the curriculum in many jurisdictions across Canada but such programs often take a back seat to academics, Kang said.

“I’m hoping the pandemic will push this through further and faster because we have been going way too slow,” she said, adding a more formal approach is needed to train teachers on ways to impart self-care and social-emotional tips to students and create lifelong healthy habits.

“We need to really focus on child and youth well-being. But we need to get more serious about giving teachers the skills that they need so they can translate information to the young people, and also take care of themselves.”

While some children seem to be adjusting to online learning, parents say the lack of extracurricular activities at school and in the community is having a negative impact.

Rod Roodenburg of Vancouver said his 16-year-old daughter Rowan can no longer participate in soccer or badminton and seeing her school friends wearing masks isn’t ideal for reading social cues.

“It’s definitely hamstringing learning opportunities, and I think social opportunities as well,” Roodenburg said, adding Rowan is already wondering if she’ll be attending a normal graduation ceremony next year and partying with her friends to celebrate that milestone.

A hybrid of online and school learning will soon include classes that are three hours long at her school, he said.

“Sitting down for three hours at a stretch to cover material is really going to be a challenge for her. That’s my understanding from her. I don’t think it’s really good for anybody to be sitting down in one spotfor three hours in a row.”

Roodenburg, who is chair of the parent advisory council at his daughter’s school, said parents regularly speak with him about various issues their children are dealing with during the pandemic, including more conflict in the home.

“I get emails, I get phone calls and I get stopped just in the street and talk to parents about all the issues they’re having. I know that there’s been a lot of struggle, and a lot of difficulty for a lot of students.”

In February, property damage at the east-side school known for its theatre and film program included broken windows, and that was concerning for many parents, he said.

“I think that just comes out of some of the frustration. The neighbourhood came together, the parents came together, and the school came together to solve the problem. I definitely think that was an issue that was borne out of this COVID situation.”

Joanna Henderson, a psychologist and senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, said it’s important for teens to establish a predictable routine for sleeping, eating and exercise. They also need a supportive adult or mentor relationship, preferably with someone outside the home during the pandemic.

However, she said that may be a challenge for teens whose relationships with other family members or regular contacts such as coaches and teachers have been disrupted due to public health orders.

“That sense of ‘What’s the point of getting out of bed today or tomorrow or the next day?’is so profound in our current context,” said Henderson, who is executive director of Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario, which has been providing virtual mental health and addiction services at 10 locations in the province.

Many of the programs were designed with the involvement of youth and that should be a guiding principle of any initiatives that aim to address their needs coming out of the pandemic, including whether schools should continue providing some form of online learning for students who suffer from anxiety and have fared OK at home, she said.

Overall, it’s important for parents to model self care and coping skills that would include taking a breath before reacting to intense emotions during an overwhelming time for their children, Henderson said.

“That, of course, depends partly on knowing your child. There’s lots of time for consequences about destroying things and slamming doors and using (inappropriate) language. But in the moment it’s not the right time. You can process, you can talk about that the next day.”

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ superintendent Scott Saywell at a May 6 press event for two new electric school buses. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district shows off electric buses

New buses anticipated to reduce 17 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from SD68 buses

A B.C. Centre for Disease Control map showing new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 25-May 1. (BCCDC image)
Vancouver Island’s COVID-19 case counts trending down

Fewer than 200 active cases on the Island, down from highs of 500-plus earlier this spring

Nanaimo city council has voted to deploy speed-reduction measures for the summer along Departure Bay Road and to consult with area residents and road users to explore ways to further reduce vehicle speeds in the Departure Bay Beach area. (News Bulletin file photo)
City will again lower speed limit on Departure Bay Road to 40km/h

City of Nanaimo will consult with stakeholders for ideas to reduce speeds past the beach

Reforming food systems will require taking a long view, and determined people organizing at tipping points, says columnist. (Stock photo)
OPINION: Food system reform can change world for the better

‘Long food movement’ could be a road map to curb our current global follies, says columnist

Traffic service worker Warren Van Sickle installs street banners bearing cedar bough designs by artist Becky Thiessen outside the Nanaimo Ice Centre on May 5. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)
City of Nanaimo installs new street banners envisioning ecological survival

Artist Becky Thiessen’s designs depict cedar boughs and the Nanaimo estuary

Beef to the woman focused on her phone, driving a dark-coloured sedan through the Cilaire school zone. Perhaps you could use that same device to research some of the accidents and injuries caused by drivers who can’t seem to stay off their phones whilst behind the wheel.
Beefs & Bouquets, May 5

To submit a beef or a bouquet to the Nanaimo News Bulletin, e-mail editor@nanaimobulletin.com

Two semi trucks collided on the Nanaimo Parkway just north of Northfield Road on Wednesday morning, May 5. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
UPDATE: Nanaimo Parkway reopens after crash involving semi trucks

35-year-old driver was taken to hospital with serious injuries

People line up outside an immunization clinic to get their Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Edmonton, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Hospital investigating whether Alberta woman who died after AstraZeneca shot was turned away

Woman was taken off life support 12 days after getting vaccine

People line up for COVID-19 vaccination at a drop-in clinic at Cloverdale Recreation Centre on Wednesday, April 27, 2021. Public health officials have focused efforts on the Fraser Health region. (Aaron Hinks/Peace Arch News)
B.C.’s COVID-19 spread continues with 694 new cases Thursday

Two million vaccine doses reached, hospital cases down

Allayah Yoli Thomas had recently turned 12 years old when she died of a suspected drug overdose April 15. (Courtesy of Adriana Londono)
Suspected overdose death of Vancouver Island 12 year old speaks to lack of supports

Allayah Yoli Thomas was found dead by her friend the morning of April 15

More than 6,000 camping reservations in British Columbia were cancelled as a result of a provincial order limiting travel between health regions. (Unsplash)
1 in 4 camping reservations cancelled in B.C. amid COVID-19 travel restrictions

More than 6,500 BC Parks campsite reservations for between April 19 and May 25 have been revoked

B.C. average home price and sales level to 2023, showing steep drop in sales expected next year. (Central 1)
Forecast calls for B.C. home sales to ‘explode,’ then drop off

Average price to rise another 10% in 2021, credit unions say

Members of Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. (File photo)
B.C.-wide #DayOfMusic to feature 100-plus free virtual concerts May 15

‘Our colleagues across the province have figured out new ways to perform and connect,’ VSO boss says

Two passengers were recently fined thousands of dollars after they faked their pre-flight COVID-19 test results. (Paul Clarke/Black Press)
2 passengers in Canada fined thousands for faking pre-flight COVID-19 tests

The government issued a warning Thursday to others thinking of doing the same – do it and you’ll be ordered to pay

Most Read