As a Studious Girl Destroyed Her Mobile Phone
The home confinement of children and adolescents is associated with uncertainty and anxiety which is attributable to disruption in their education, physical activities and opportunities for socialization. COVID-19 might not be as lethal in children and adolescents as it is in adults, but it does cause a lot of psychological distress in the former age group.
Adolescents are experiencing acute and chronic stress because of parental anxiety, disruption of daily routines, increased family violence, and home confinement with little or no access to peers, teachers, or physical activity. Absence of structured setting of the school for a long duration results in disruption in routine, boredom and lack of innovative ideas for engaging in various academic and extracurricular activities. Some children have expressed lower levels of affect for not being able to play outdoors, not meeting friends and not engaging in the in-person school activities.
The following is the true story of an adolescent girl who had to tread a perilous journey through the thick and thin of Covid 19, the pain and loss brought in by the family’s fragmentation, and the parental anxiety.
An Explosive Situation
Lynda (a +2 student, topper in her class, preparing for board exams) was brought to counseling by her family after an explosive situation at home in which she smashed her mobile phone into shreds. The entire family was in great shock at the sudden outburst of anger unleashed by Lynda who was otherwise, gentle and soft-spoken. During the session, Lynda appeared visibly upset, yet, not at all remorseful. Besides, she had an air of threatening defiance on her face. (Even a mental health professional is forced to tread this emotional minefield with so much caution and alertness, in order not to trigger the hidden ‘explosives’!). After some initial resistance, Lynda began to open up her side of the story. She described with great anguish and despair how her life was being ‘squelched’ by the Covid blues and her own family’s feud.
Lynda narrated how she has been suffering even before the first lock down (March 2020). Lynda’s mother was in constant conflict with her father, and one day, she left the family for good, to live with another man. At about the same time, Lynda’s grand-father also died. These were two great losses of her life and the consequent emotional upheaval left her lonely and lost forever. The family was too restrictive and mistrustful of any outside contacts.
The parents (her father and grand-mother) were very anxious and they unloaded their grief, fear of loss, and uncertainty on the children. (Lynda has a younger sister who studies in the 9th Grade). No school, no friends, no teachers, no social meetings, the only thing that mattered was study! Poor girl, Lynda, got fed up with grandma’s oft-repeated, annoying battle cry, “Study, study….” Therefor, study became such boring exercise, and she started reacting negatively to grandma. Lynda summed up her past year as a very suffocating, depressive, boring time. She did accept the fact that she smashed the mobile phone into pieces. But then, she also added that it was due to the barrage of accusations and unbearable nagging by her family that led to the mishap, at her wits’ end. Lynda felt so lonely and lost and didn’t want to live at all, let alone appearing for the final exams. As Lynda, the bright prospect of the family has put a brake on her studies, the entire family wagon, suddenly came to a screechy halt, with great shock and shudder, unable to proceed ahead.
Lynda’s grandmother and father came up with a different version of the narrative. According to them, the girl has been acting strangely after the death of her grandfather and the unexpected departure of her mother. She kept an emotional distance from the rest of the family and was moody, irritable, defiant, etc. She was angry at dad and didn’t relate to him well. Lynda was indiscriminate in choosing her friends, especially the boys. This is one reason why the parents kept a special vigil on her contacts and conversations which Lynda vehemently objected to. It was this conflict that led to the destruction of her mobile phone.
Taking into consideration the criticality and intensity of the situation (Board Exam), a short-term strategy was designed. The immediate goal was to de-pressurize Lynda who was under great tension and stress, and muster the family’s support for her emotional well-being. And then, create a set-up in which Lynda, the candidate for public examination, will be in the driver’s seat. Hence, the first phase of the intervention was to prepare Lynda who was a bright student, to become involved in academic preparations again, and to enable her to be self-motivated. Preparing for a public examination is stressful for both the candidate and the family.
Covid fatigue is certainly adding extra stress on family dynamics. Lynda’s family is only one example. The family has to get ready to face the examination by supporting their candidate, reducing stress, and pooling together the family’s resources, especially emotional strengths. Unfortunately, this family is severely damaged and needs long-term and ongoing professional intervention. Parents are the best role models for children and home is practically the best place to learn ‘life skills.’ Hence, this is the best time for parents to model the most important of all life skills i.e. coping with stress, coping with emotions, and problem-solving with their children. Parents are advised to take care of their own mental health needs and try to cope with stress adaptively.