We are now in the third year of the pandemic, and it has been challenging for everyone, especially our kids. That’s why I wanted to share a recent conversation I had with Dr. Anisha Abraham, pediatrician/adolescent medicine specialist and Acting Chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Children’s National Hospital. She is also the author of Raising Global Teens and a contributor to my new book, Authentic Power!
Keep reading for Dr. Abraham’s insights on how we can support our kids and help them build resilience through the ongoing pandemic and beyond.
- Ashley: First, how did you decide to focus on adolescent medicine?
- Dr. Abraham: I’m a pediatrician and a mom of two boys ages 11 and 13, so adolescent medicine interested me because I think it’s amazing how big of an impact you can make on a child’s journey. I spent my entire career working with young people, and now especially with young people who have a multi-cultural background. Prior to what I did now, I lived in Hong Kong and the Netherlands, and I have a husband who has a different background, so my boys have grown up around multiple cultures and I love this idea of young people moving to different backgrounds and communities and what that all brings.
- Ashley: That’s so relatable, especially during the pandemic because so many families have moved. My in-laws moved to Bulgaria and I’m from a military family so I’ve moved many times, and even if you’re not moving, it’s still so important to raise global kids. Let’s talk about raising resilient kids. What are you seeing on the frontlines as we enter the third year of the pandemic?
- Dr. Abraham: A lot of young people continue to experience a loss of milestones and normal routines. They can’t travel to see family members and they’re constantly questioning whether they can go to school. Some have been able to handle this with grace and learn a lot, but I’ve seen others really struggle. At the hospital, I’ve seen a rise in adolescents who’ve been admitted for eating disorders, mental health issues, and stress and anxiety. This is something we have to be aware of as parents and caregivers to help support our kids and give them the tools to handle these challenges.
- Ashley: That’s alarming to hear. How can we help our kids cope as parents and caregivers, especially before they get to the point of being hospitalized?
- Dr. Abraham: Having conversations and creating an environment to check in is important because kids’ lives change day-to-day. Ask how they’re doing, Are they down or stressed? Are they depressed or thinking about hurting themselves? Sometimes asking how their friends are doing is easier for them to talk about because they don’t feel like they have the spotlight put on them. Parents can get nervous to ask these specific questions because they’re afraid they won’t handle them well.
- Ashley: As a parent of an 11-year-old I even struggle with that. How can we safely have these conversations with them?
- Dr. Abraham: First, realize that these conversations are really helpful, especially because some teenagers are pulling away and want to be on their own. It’s also important to remember that a big part of adolescence is going through puberty and the hormonal changes that come with that, so moodiness is a very normal teen behavior, but it doesn’t make it easier to have these conversations! I suggest talking while doing an activity because it can be really intimidating to ask these questions eye-to-eye. Try while you’re going for a walk or driving somewhere. Again, you can also ask them what their friends are experiencing. Are they getting pressure to do things they don’t want to do like being sexually active? And if you don’t feel comfortable, remember it takes a village to raise a child. You can also reach out to grandparents or aunts and uncles for support in talking to your child about these topics.
- Ashley: That’s such great advice! Going back to coping, kids have had it so much harder these past two years. Can you talk to me about your RESPECT model for helping kids cope?
- Dr. Abraham: Yes! RESPECT is an acronym that I like to use. R is for Routines, which are really important right now to add structure like mealtimes and family events to do together. E is Empowering our kids because we’re really quick to tell them what they’re doing wrong instead of what they’re doing right. S is for Strengths and building on what is unique about your kids. All of us are great at one thing but struggle at others. Then there’s P, which stands for Praising our kids, and the next E is thinking about Engagement with their community around them in the way they support and help others. C is Connections, whether it’s making a connection with your kids or helping them create connections with the community around them. Finally, the T is for Technology. There are significant benefits to helping kids connect with each other through technology, but you know your child, when to give limits, and what they’re watching or viewing. For example, if your child is anxious right now, we can probably relax those rules just a little bit to help them feel a little bit more connected.
- Ashley: You address Connection in my book Authentic Power. Do you think the lack of connection we’ve had the last two years is going to have a negative impact on our kids? How can we work around that?
- Dr. Abraham: There’s a lot that’s been researched about the impact that social isolation has had on kids during the pandemic, and it’s been said that we’re going through a mental health crisis. I really think at the end of the day it depends on your child. Some kids have become creative in how they’re addressing isolation and others are struggling. It comes back to being aware and staying in tune with them and going out of your way to make sure connection is happening on a regular basis, whether it’s family rituals like having family movie nights and dinners or Zoom calls with extended family. And not only do we need to take care of our kids, but we also need to take care of ourselves. It’s stressful as adults and parents to handle what’s going on at home and it can really take a toll if we don’t address taking care of ourselves as well.
- Ashley: Do you have any tips for parents and adults to take care of themselves?
- Dr. Abraham: I tell young people to fill their “toolbox” with things that they can turn to that will help them overcome these challenges, and the same can be said for adults. For me, it’s running and getting out into nature. For others, it’s journaling, listening to music, playing sports, talking to friends, watching a funny movie, or practicing yoga and mindfulness. Whatever it is, make sure that you fill that toolbox with it and go back to doing that on a regular basis because if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of those around you.
- Ashley: Another thing I wanted to touch on is technology. In the teenage years, technology is becoming more and more prevalent. Do you have any ideas around what parents can be doing to set boundaries when it comes to technology?
- Dr. Abraham: This is a question that I’m continuing to think about as a parent because our parents didn’t have this issue, so it’s new to us. I like the idea of parents and adults being coaches when it comes to monitoring your child’s technology consumption, and supporting them in navigating what to use it for and how much. I teach the three C’s: knowing the Child, the Context, and the Community. Does your child stay up all night playing video games, or do they listen to the boundaries you give them? For a child who is just starting out with technology, you as a parent have a lot of ability as to what the boundaries are while keeping your child’s behaviors in mind. It’s also important to remember that it’s more about what they’re experiencing rather than how much time they’re spending because we’re all constantly connected and it’s difficult to give a time limit to technology. For example, if a child is using it for personal education purposes, I’m fine with the child using technology for long periods of time. If it’s video games with shooting and violence and it continues on and on, I’d have less of a threshold for letting them use it. It’s also important to think about community. Is your child able to have friends and communicate, or is your child starting to withdraw and only spend time on their devices? That child may be struggling a little bit more. If this is true you can use a media contract to help set boundaries. Common Sense Media is my go-to site for media contracts and suggested sites, shows, movies, and books for young people. A lot of kids are on social media apps as well, and I see a correlation between these apps and eating disorders, body image issues, and lower self-esteem.
- Ashley: Something else I wanted to talk to you about is helping our kids understand and be confident in their own unique identity, whether sexually, physically, culturally, etc. How can we support them?
- Dr. Abraham: Yes, these are very important parts of adolescence and a lot of young people are thinking about these things. Physical identity becomes important as they go through puberty. I know a lot of people who think about and struggle with issues of their sexual and gender identity. With cultural identity, a lot of young people are having more and more experiences of moving or have parents of different backgrounds, so understanding where they belong is another important piece of identity. For adolescents, it’s simply about getting closure with all of these identities. To help them, ensure you’re checking in and making sure they’re comfortable by helping them create self-confidence to think about what’s unique about them on the inside rather than on the outside. For cultural identity, I think it’s important to expose them to their roots and traditions. Also, telling your kids stories about your background and where you come from helps kids in understanding how to shape their own identity and learning to be storytellers of their own journey.
- Ashley: I resonate with that because I teach in media training to become your own storyteller, and I love that it connects with supporting our kids! Any final parting thoughts?
- Dr. Abraham: One of the biggest predictors of success in life isn’t how well you do in school and having a perfect job, it’s how you get back on your feet after you experienced a challenge. We call this concept “having bounds”. If you think about the pandemic, young adults are experiencing challenges left and right, but rather than protecting them from these challenges, it’s important to let them experience them. Instead, you can help them brainstorm and problem-solve ways to get them back up on their feet. It’s a concept that will help them throughout their lives.
To learn more about Dr. Anisha Abraham, check out her website dranishaabraham.com, follow her @doctor_anisha, and buy her book, Raising Global Teens!
CLICK HERE to watch my full IG LIVE with Dr. Anisha Abraham on Instagram and subscribe to Nardi Media’s newsletter HERE to stay up to date on our upcoming Instagram Lives!