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

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is an independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C.’s 1st vaccine-induced blood clot case detected in Interior Health

Interior Health also recorded 52 new cases of COVID-19

Williams Lake RCMP are asking the public for assistance locating Marion Louise Billy. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake RCMP seek woman wanted for theft, weapon possession

RCMP released the information Thursday, May 6

Audrey McKinnon was officially named the NDP nominee for the federal riding of Cariboo-Prince George. (Twitter)
Audrey McKinnon confirmed as Cariboo Prince-George federal NDP nominee

The nomination comes during speculation the federal government

Gibraltar Mine general manager and community sports coach Ben Pierce moved to Williams Lake in 2008 for a career, and has fallen in love with the area while raising his family in the Cariboo. (Photo submitted)
OUR HOMETOWN: Mine manager on solid ground

Juggling academics, sports and a family was a challenge, but Pierce said he and Liselle made it work

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent sails past a iceberg in Lancaster Sound, Friday, July 11, 2008. The federal government is expected to end nearly two years of mystery today and reveal its plan to build a new, long overdue heavy icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver, Quebec shipyards to each get new heavy icebreaker, cost remains a mystery

Vancouver’s Seaspan Shipyards and Quebec-based Chantier Davie will each build an icebreaker for the coast guard

Most Read