Schools Are Closed, Your Teenager's Home, How Are You Holding Up?
My 14-year-old son recently asked my wife and me, “Is there a medical term for losing your mind from being stuck in the house?” We all chuckled, though somewhat agreeing with his sentiment, and said, “No, son, not that we know of.”
I’m sure that we’re not the only parents dealing with similar questions and concerns. The rapid spread of the Coronavirus has without a doubt, disrupted all our lives in some way. Precautions are being taken everywhere to help slow the spread, and “flatten the curve” of this new pandemic. However, the change that’s probably affecting us most as parents is the closing of schools. There’s growing uncertainty from parents and students alike regarding if and when school can safely resume. Only time will tell, but in the meantime, what a great opportunity we all have as parents to focus on what matters most - connection.
We firmly believe “a connected student is a protected student,” and connecting students to their families is especially protective.
With teens, this can be a bit tricky. They’re not a “one size fits all” group. Each teenager is unique, and the ways we connect with them during this time will need to be unique as well.
So how can we stay connected, while simultaneously giving our teens their much-needed space?
Maintain a Structure (kind of!) – We’ve never had to parent during a pandemic, so it’s natural for there to be some uncertainty. I can recall a few times during this “extended spring break,” where I simply did not know what to do with my teenager. In those moments, I try to recall the words of one of my college professors who often said, “When you don’t know what to do, do what you know to do.” That has helped us to keep a “business as usual” mindset wherever possible, which has really kept a sense of normalcy in these abnormal times. For instance, we’ve negotiated a new bedtime that we all agreed upon. His reading/homework, family time, chores, free time (yours and theirs) all still keep somewhat of a structure, with lots of room for flexibility. We’re learning that keeping a structure and routine tends to reduce the stress of having to create it daily, which gives us more time as a family to focus on connection.
Reinforce Family Values - Your teens are living through a time unlike anything they’ve ever experienced. If they have access to current headlines, they’ve no doubt been inundated with daily news of local and national disruptions. They’re having to process weighty information at an alarming rate. This is where your family’s values can shine best! As a family, reinforcing the values of hope and resilience, compassion and togetherness, can provide a powerful lens through which they process this ordeal. Your stories of a crisis you overcame, or difficult challenges that molded you into a better person, are desperately needed now to encourage them. As an organization, we’ve always reminded parents to never neglect face-to-face time with their teens. Well, in an ironic twist of fate, we’ve all found ourselves having endless opportunities for face-to-face time with our teens. Let’s leverage that time wisely and come out on the other end of this pandemic more connected than we were before it began.
Help to Expand their Horizons – Times of crisis can catalyze creativity, and this generation of teenagers has endless outlets to be creative. Unfortunately, they also have endless outlets to be stagnant. Phones, video games, TV shows and movies can all be good, but depending on how they’re consumed, these good things can get in the way of our teens doing great things. Cue the need for an older, wiser adult such as yourself! Our jobs as parents is not to only explain how things are, but also to help expand their minds on how things could be. As a rudder is to a ship, so are we to our teens. So during this time of quarantine, we can have amazing moments of connection as we steer them into new ideas. Your teen may enjoy writing (and video games), so why not help them start a blog about their favorite games? Instead of just consuming YouTube and TikTok videos, why not encourage them to start a channel where they can be a content producer, not just a content consumer? You can give them something to watch or read that will inspire them and trigger their own ideas. As a family, you could learn a new dance together, or even have a “swapover,” which is like a sleepover, but instead of leaving the house, they would just swap rooms with you or a sibling for a night. If they don’t know how, you can teach them to cook their favorite meal, or even challenge them to cook dinner for the entire family (the only stipulation is you have to eat what they cook!).
So maybe your teen, like mine, is starting to feel like they’re “losing their minds from being stuck in the house too long.” And most likely they are really missing their friends and activities. Nevertheless, the majority of this experience doesn’t have to be negative. There are ways that we as parents can lead well during these uncertain times, even if it means going viral on your teen’s TikTok account!