Q: My Teen Is Suffering Quarantine Fatigue. How Can I Lift the Dark Cloud?
Quarantine fatigue is real. If your teen with ADHD hates remote learning and social distancing, help them by reintroducing connection and enthusiasm in their lives — and by getting them evaluated if their behaviors are worrying.
Q: “My 16-year-old daughter is not coping well with the pandemic. Remote learning with ADHD hasn’t worked well and has even caused some emotional problems for her. She has had low self-esteem for years, but I worry that she might now be depressed. She had an active social life, but with social distancing, she seems lonely and down and unmotivated. Virtual friendships and texting have run their course. How can I help?”
Let me start with, “I hear you!”
Several months of quarantine have transformed all of us into unhealthy versions of our former selves. Remote learning is challenging for many teenagers, especially so for those with ADHD and low self-esteem. Their executive function skills — in the part of the brain that manages organization, motivation, self-monitoring, attention, future thinking, and prioritization — lag approximately three years behind those of neurotypical classmates. Remote or hybrid learning can and does cause mental fatigue.
It also sounds like your daughter’s social life is very important to her. In order to identify why being social is so important, I suggest that you do some digging. Ask her what she misses about “being social,” and how being with friends makes her feel. How is it different now? Do any parts of virtual connection bring joy? Her answers will identify her social values and help you determine how to stimulate good feelings and experiences during social distancing.
Quarantine Fatigue and Depression
If you think your child is experiencing symptoms of depression, it’s important for her to be evaluated by a medical professional. Depression treatment should include a whole-person plan that matches her learning style and takes into consideration her ADHD as well. She may need adjustments in exercise, medication, sleep hygiene, and other protective strategies designed to defend against anxiety and stress. Such treatment is often covered by insurance.
My role as a social skills coach is to supplement this treatment by strengthening her resilience and sense of self. To counterbalance struggles, let’s help your daughter recall (and/or introduce) something that demonstrates her strengths, passions, and interests. Harnessing strengths produces positive energy, while reducing the feelings of entrapment and depression. Cultivate positive attributes such as enthusiasm, humor, caring, helping, inquisitiveness, perceptiveness, experimentation, and creativity.
Beating Quarantine Fatigue with ADHD
Nora Volkow, M.D., a psychiatrist, says ADHD brings a deficit of interest. The machinery of the brain in people with ADHD makes focusing hard when they are bored, or when they have low interest and lack of human connection.
To counter this, help your daughter find interesting ways to add connection: virtually studying with friends, reading to the dog, or making a game of learning with friends to earn redeemable points for outdoor walks or treats. Keep in mind that texting and other virtual activities may not be great substitutes for the multidimensional, in-person connections your daughter might prefer. If, in fact, she is experiencing depression, the virtual replacement of her social life may seem like a lot of effort without much reward.
It’s also critical that school work be tied to a reward, and socializing is a big reward for your daughter.
Inform her school that she is struggling and ask for accommodations. How can she take classes that align with her interests? What remote learning supports can they offer?
Finally, let’s address the low self-esteem, which usually originates from feelings of under-achievement. Work with her to identify and reframe her negative inner voices. She needs to know how her brain works and to feel that she has some control over her schoolwork. Employing her passions and strengths will give her a more positive outlook. The more you can help her navigate these challenges and introduce social outlets, the more confident she will become. Problem-solving, self-advocating, and enthusiasm will become organic when her life is filled with passion and connection.
Quarantine Fatigue for Teens with ADHD: Next Steps
- Guide: Safeguarding ADHD Youth Against Depression in the Age of COVID
- Read: “I Feel Like a Loser!” How to Build Self Confidence in Teens with ADHD
- Download: The ADHD Guide To Distance Learning
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