The Safety.com Guide to Teen Health and Safety

Teens, we know you might be struggling during this pandemic. Your social lives and your education have been upended, and we know that coping with those changes can be difficult. If you’re staying up to date on COVID-19 news, you know that certain groups are more at risk during this pandemic than others. You may not personally be high risk, but you likely know or love someone who is over the age of 60 and/or has preexisting conditions.  Surveys have shown that many adolescents have rising anxiety over the health of your family members, which can make any of your normal stressors even worse. 

In this strange time of social distancing, your anxiety is at an all time high, while your level of support may be at an all time low. We know you are stuck at home without your usual social groups and routines, so we want to offer some non-traditional support options so that you and your family can feel safe from the outside world. Luckily, there are considerable online resources on everything from home security to emotional support to addiction management that can help you to feel more at ease. Take a look at the list of mental health resources that we’ve compiled below, and then keep scrolling for support on issues related to cyberbullying, substance abuse, smartphone addiction, and more.

Mental health resources

  • Teen Mental Health 
    • This organization delivers the top scientific information on mental health in an accessible, easy to understand format. They also have tips and resources specific to issues surrounding COVID-19. Their information is delivered in a variety of formats including videos, animations, brochures, e-books, face-to-face training programs, and online training programs.
  • Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine
    • SAHM is an award-winning organization that focuses on improving young adult’s mental health through clinical practice, care delivery, research, advocacy, and professional development. In addition to their usual mental health services, they are now offering help with new stressors related to COVID-19 like teen mental health and coping, parenting and caring for one’s family, resources for online education, guide to discussing social distancing, and sexual health considerations.
  • Youth Suicide Prevention Lifeline
    • This lifeline understands the reality of young adult mental health and the serious danger of suicide. Youth Suicide Prevention doesn’t ever disregard your feelings because of your age or assume that you are just seeking attention. They offer coping resources and helpful guides to making safety plans. You can visit this site,  Text “START” to 741-741, or call 1-800-273-8255 if you would rather talk to someone. 
  • Suicide Prevention Recource Center
    • SPRC focuses on preventing suicide through a series of steps that are systematic and data-driven. They offer education, screening, treatment through their programs and practices to best meet a variety of needs. They have a goal to increase “help-seeking” and they aim to address many of the barriers that might prevent you from reaching out. 
  • JED Foundation
    • This nonprofit organization partners with high schools and colleges to strengthen their mental health, substance misuse, and suicide prevention programs and systems. JED recognizes that teens are becoming overwhelmed by anxiety as this pandemic continues, so they have developed a Coronavirus Mental Health Resource Guide specific to young adults. 
  • TeenHealth Matters
    • This organization focuses on providing resources for everything related to teen health including mental health and suicide prevention, stress management, sexual health, drugs and alcohol, and physical health. Their site is designed to provide resources to you, your friends, your parents, your mentors and the people who care about you most to best help you stay safe, happy and healthy. They also offer helpful podcasts and videos. 
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness
    • NAMI started as just a group of like-minded families, but it has become the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to helping the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. They also recognize that COVID-19 is posing additional challenges to people living with mental illness and are providing information and support to help.
  • Ok2Talk
    • This unique organization is a NAMI and Tumblr community where teens and young adults can safely talk about their mental health by sharing stories of recovery, tragedy, struggle or hope. Ok2Talk allows anyone to post thoughts, poems, inspirational quotes, photos, videos, song lyrics and messages of support in a safe, moderated space. 
  • Apps that Can Help with Mental Health:
    • Mindshift CBT
      • This app offers free evidence based mental health based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and it helps you take charge of your anxiety. It provides quick tips for shifting your thinking, breathing, and coping with issues as they arise. It also has features for keeping a thought journal, facing fears, and expanding your comfort zone. 
    • notOKapp
      • This app was created by teen sister and brother who realized the importance of being able to tell someone the moment that they knew they were “notOK” and developed this app to meet that need. When you download the app, you select 5 trusted contacts who you want to communicate with if you are not ok. When you are in need, you simply open the app, push the red button, and the app will immediately alert your trusted contacts and even send out your GPS location.
    • Top 25 Mental Health Apps
      • These apps address a variety of needs including but not limited to anxiety, addiction, depression, eating disorders, PTSD, OCD, and suicide prevention. These apps are either reasonably priced or free and can offer you quick assistance when you need it.
Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying has become so wide-spread that you likely know someone who has been a victim – maybe you personally have had to face those online attacks. Unfortunately, now that everyone is online so much more, there may be even more instances of cyberbullying. Dr. Sameer Hinduja said that certain groups may be more prone to fall victim to online bullying during this pandemic: “It is also very possible that xenophobic or racist cyberbullying may go up,” she said, referencing parent complaints that their Asian children are being targeted. With this increased potential for harassment and without teachers and school staff to intervene, you may need to take advantage of online resources to keep your friends and yourself safe from cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying resources

  • Teens Health
    • This site helps to explain what cyberbullying really involves. This form of harassment takes many forms and Teens Health aims to educate parents, teachers, and teens about the potential dangers involved. It also offers a helpful guide for what to do if you become a victim and who to contact. 
  • StopBullying
    • StopBullying addresses the danger young adults face online, and they offer a list of warning signs to watch out for in your friends or loved ones. If you are a victim of cyberbullying, they also have a guide to “Get Help Now” that tells you who to contact in a variety of scenarios. 
  • Cyberbullying Research Center
    • This organization offers a list of “Top Ten Tips for Teens” who are targeted by cyberbullying. The Cyberbullying Research Center suggests blocking bullies and even reporting their posts to the platform provider. They also have resources that you can use to educate other teens to help keep you and your friends safe while online. 
  • Teens Against Bullying
    • This organization cares about the ideas and opinions of kids and teens and offers videos and resources to help victims understand that they are not alone. You can peruse their support options or listen to advice from real teens. 
  • Go Speak Up!
    • This app gives students and schools an opportunity to prevent bullying by increasing reporting. It allows students to anonymously report incidents through either the website or the phone app. When you use this app to report cyberbullying, you are not only helping victims, but you are also empowering yourself by standing up against harassment.
Substance Abuse Addiction

Substance Abuse Addiction

Among teens, abusing substances as a way to cope with your isolation and anxiety is not uncommon. Since there are no legal recreational substances for teenagers, those who are utilizing illicit substances are doing it in secret, which is even more dangerous. Due to your age, you are already at a higher risk for mental illness and depression, and social isolation and pandemic worries make those concerns even worse. It’s understandable that you are looking for distraction or comfort during this time, but misused substances pose serious dangers to your health. If you or a friend have found yourself in this situation, please seek out one of these resources.

Substance abuse resources

  • Addiction Center
    • This organization talks about the dangers of recreational teenage drug use developing into long-term adult addiction. They recognize the additional pressures from COVID-19, and they make it easy to contact a professional, even during this time of social distancing. From their home page, you can easily call  for help, or request that a professional call you. 
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
    • SAMHSA offers support for both mental illness and substance abuse, recognizing that often those issues go together. While they do not provide professional counseling, they can put you in touch with professionals who can help. Call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service.
  • American Addiction Center
    • This organization recognizes that teens have different needs than older substance abusers. They have research-based treatment models that aim to address the unique circumstances related to age and life experiences of a teen or young adult. They also believe in utilizing community, family, and peer support to overcome substance abuse. You can call them at (888) 832-7603 or request that a professional call you.
Smartphone and Device Addiction

Smartphone and Device Addiction

Drugs and alcohol are the first things that come to mind when you think of addiction, but your phones and devices can also be extremely habit-forming. As you find yourself at home and alone more now than ever, you are likely to become even more wrapped up in your phones and devices. While it may seem like a harmless outlet, there is actually considerable evidence that smartphone addiction and social media are negatively affecting mental health, making device-addicted teens more likely to struggle with depression and anxiety, as well as sleeplessness and impulsive behavior. In fact, between the years of between 2011 and 2015, there was a spike of major depressive episodes among teens increasing by 50 percent within those few years. San Diego State University Professor Jean Twenge says that smartphone use has replaced time that teens would normally spend socializing in person or sleeping. 

While you are stuck at home, you are likely increasing your screen time, and since school is remote and online for many of you, you may find yourself using devices over 7 hours a day. Teens are becoming hyper-connected to their devices even though many realize that they are online too often. Smartphone and device addiction can cause chemical disruptions in the brain, meaning that this type of addiction could be associated with damaged cognitive and emotional processing. If you or your friends are finding it impossible to disconnect, look into the resources below.

Smartphone addiction resources

  • Help Guide
    • This resource explains that smartphone addiction can cause issues related to virtual relationships, information overload, cybersex addiction, and online compulsions. They describe warning signs, and withdrawal symptoms, and self-helps guides for quitting the habit. Their step-by-step guide and goal-setting plan can help you to reduce your internet use without added anxiety. 
  • Thrillist – 13 Ways to Break Your iPhone Addiction
    • This guide offers tips for incorporating different habits into your daily routines. They suggest easy to apply changes, like not bringing your phone into your bedroom, turning off notifications, or keeping your bathroom tech free. These changes still allow you to use your devices when you actually need them, but limit any other use.
Social Distance Activities

Social Distance Activities

Alright, we’ve talked about how this pandemic is causing increases in mental health issues, cyberbullying and addictions, but now we want to share some alternative outlets to keep your mind off all the stressors. Exercise can be a major help when it comes to staying physically and mentally healthy. In fact, research suggests that elevated levels of aerobic activity and strength training can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Of course, exercising is more difficult to do in isolation with limited equipment, so you may need some additional resources to help you get started. If workout programs aren’t your favorite pastime, check out our list of other game and activity resources below.

Work-out resources

  • Aaptive
    • This app provides unlimited access to thousands of work-outs, with 30 new ones added each week.  Their focus is on developing wellness through exercise and they adapt to all skill levels.There are expert trainers to guide and support you through each workout, and you can even incorporate your favorite music. 
  • obé fitness
    • This app will help you fight boredom in your workout by providing unique, curated content throughout the day in addition to on demand work out programs. They also have a feature that lets you export your workout schedule to your calendar app so that you can plan your days to include exercise while social isolating. 
  • DanceBody
    • This program also offers an anywhere anytime workout model, but they focus on developing a dance physique. They have both live classes and on demand options. DanceBody has a free trial so that you can determine if it’s a good fit for you.

Games or activity resources

  • Safe outdoor activities during the COVID-19 pandemic 
    • Many of your favorite outdoor activities are still safe during COVID as long as you practice safe distancing. The Mayo Clinic has a list of those safe activities that will help you keep your body active and your spirits up. Some of the activities they suggest are walking, running, hiking and biking.
  • House Party App 
    • Although you may be trying to limit your social media usage, you will likely still want to connect with friends from a safe distance. The house party app is free, and it allows you to video chat on any wifi enabled device without the public interactions on other apps. 
  • Bunch Group Video Chat and Games 
    • Bunch is a free gaming app that brings people together through the games they love, even when they are physically apart. Basically, it allows people to group video chat while playing their favorite multiplayer games. It offers silly low risk games that are fun for all ages and skill levels.
Meditation and Disconnecting

Meditation and Disconnecting

In addition to physical activity, meditation and self-reflection can be essential for keeping your mind healthy. The National Center for Complementary and Integrated Health says that studies have investigated meditation benefits for different conditions. Taking time to meditate may be exactly what you need to disconnect from social media and find peace in your mind and home. If you are interested in meditation, but don’t know where to start, we have a list of resources to help you get started.

Meditation resources

  • Headspace
    • Headspace is a meditation and sleep app that has a “How to Meditate Guide” for beginners. They are committed to both providing expertise in meditation and also studying the science of meditation. Their goal is to increase the health and happiness for all of their users. 
  • Calm
    • Calm is an app for sleep, meditation and relaxation. They also have body-focused video lessons on mindful movement and gentle stretching so that you can also incorporate some light exercise. Calm uses nature scenes and sounds to enjoy while relaxing, sleeping, working or studying.
  • Ten Percent Happier
    • This app focuses on meditation, stress management, sleep and happiness.  Ten Percent Happier utilizes the expertise of highly accomplished meditation teachers, and they have a “Basics” guide for beginners who want to get started in meditation. Additionally, they have a Coronavirus Sanity Guide that may help you find your center during this strange time.
Conclusion

Conclusion

There are a myriad of mental and emotional obstacles that you as teenagers must navigate in near isolation during the pandemic. You may feel lonely without your usual school and social environments, which can make it especially difficult to cope with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Since you are spending more time online than ever, you are at greater risk of cyberbullying and developing smartphone addiction. You may also be more sedentary than usual, not exercising or taking care of your physical health. Luckily, there are online resources, apps, communities and people out there that can help. Use our safety guide and reference links above to find the specific support you need, and most importantly, please remember that you are not alone in your struggles with the pandemic.


Contributing Writer

Mary Blowers

Mary Blowers is a freelance journalist who has covered home security, safety, and other topics for Safety.com and elsewhere.