In the U.S., there are nearly five million young parents between the ages of 16 and 24. At the time of their child’s birth, half of these young parents were considered low-income, and more than a third were teenagers. These parents, including the nearly 60% who were single when they had their child, are especially vulnerable to the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these children are now at school age. They are becoming more independent, but cannot be left alone, and many young parents rely on public school. With the pandemic, in many cases, the traditional school setting has been in limbo and many day care facilities have closed or are operating at limited capacity. Factors that have led to many challenges for this group include the following:
- Parents who are considered low income, those who have been laid off or have seen reduced hours often need financial support to meet the basic needs of their families.
- Young parents whose work has not been interrupted may still lose access to childcare options and could face a choice to reduce their hours at work or leave their jobs to care for their children.
- While the most common industries young parents work in are education, health and social services, many jobs within these industries are considered essential.
During the pandemic, young parents have experienced a new set of challenges, such as balancing work, childcare and schooling demands. As a result, they are reporting increased levels of stress. But financial hardships are not the only challenges that young parents are facing.
MENTAL HEALTH AMONG YOUNG PARENTS
Before the pandemic began, researchers found that mental health problems are four times higher among young mothers under 21 compared to mothers over the age of 21. Pandemic-related job losses have hit young women especially hard, with unemployment rising among young black and Latina women. Young mothers’ prevalence of mental health challenges is up to four times higher than women without children and mothers older than 21. At 40%, nearly half of young mothers have one or more mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and ADHD. In the midst of the pandemic, the proportion of Americans saying the economy or work is a significant source of stress in their lives has risen considerably. Young parents are particularly vulnerable to the many stressors caused by the pandemic, as many of them are lower income and lack the resources to navigate an uncertain future. For a lot of parents, it can feel overwhelming to be confronted with competing demands at home and work along with financial challenges.
TIPS TO HELP YOUNG PARENTS
Children are acute observers and often notice and react to stress and anxiety in their parents. Parents can use these tips from the CDC for talking to children about the pandemic. Parents should prioritize self-care and try to model healthy ways of coping with the impact of the pandemic. While it is important to be cautious of the road ahead, too much can lead to more stress and mental health issues. Here are a few tips to help maintain physical, social and mental well-being:
- Establish a routine. Keep consistent bedtimes, naptimes and wake-up times. Carve out structured time for learning, free time, healthy meals and snacks and physical activity.
- Take care of you. With a routine, you’ll hopefully find you are able to schedule quiet time to meditate, take a walk or just be.
- Use story time to entertain, teach and engage. With many schools and social events closed, children need other outlets for entertainment. Arts & Craft time as well as reading can be excellent, alternative sources of entertainment for children.
- Plan a virtual playdate. Set up virtual playdates for kids with other young parents. You can use Zoom, Skype or other video chat platforms to organize a parent support group for your own social connection.
- Stay physically active. Parents can promote safe physical activity by encouraging outdoor play, using virtual classes or assigning calorie-burning chores.
For many of us, the pandemic has turned our world upside down. These unprecedented times call for new and creative ways to support young parents, who are experiencing increased stress and anxiety levels. Use these tips to stay safe, healthy and active during the challenges ahead. Related:
- Food Insecurity and COVID-19
- During Holidays, Discuss Health with Loved Ones
- Navigating Boundaries During the Pandemic
Photo credit: FatCamera