Being a young person today is hard enough without the added stress of living through a pandemic. Teens growing up now are in a unique period of their lives where expectations of “adulting”, and still being a kid collide. There are many ways we can support our youth through this time that centre on validation and personal growth.
This. Super. Sucks. Teens may be experiencing more emotional ups and downs lately due to social distancing and changes in their normal routines. Expect that they may be more frustrated, sad, annoyed, bored, or lethargic. They are allowed to feel this way. When they express a negative opinion or emotion, please kindly try to validate them first then see if you can help out. Saying things like, “Yeah. It must be tough for you to be home 24/7 now” is an example of a validating statement. As parents, if we want to help out, we first need to acknowledge what they are actually going through. Even if it means validating that they are sick of just being around us! We can love our family members and want to be away from them sometimes. It’s ok to normalize those kinds of feelings.
Social Networks and Behaviour Concerns
The adolescent years usually involve a shift from family-focussed relationships and connections to peer-focussed ones. Every teen is different but all of them have been influenced by COVID-19 in some way. It may be really uncomfortable for teens to practice social distancing especially if they were frequently around peers before. Teens may see on social media that their peers are not following the public safety guidelines. They may feel hurt and resentful due to the FOMO (fear of missing out) experienced when they see how much fun others are perceived to be having without them. They make take out these feelings on you. Stay calm, be kind, and remember that you are not an emotional punch bag. Notice when your teen is escalating and help them to mindfully ground themselves. Step 1 and 2 are validation and emotion regulation. Try to help them get back to a calm state by using deep breathing or other sensory grounding skills. Model these skills in the moment by using them yourself. When things have de-escalated, you can have a conversation with them about behaviours that may have “crossed the line” and hurt your feelings, for example. We want to be supporting growth so just ignoring inappropriate behaviour will not help in the long run. It’s a balancing act between validation of feelings and labelling and changing behaviours. Sometimes you may feel like you just fell off the tight rope! Know that you can get back up, dust yourself off (sometimes with support from your spouse, friend etc.) and try again.
After being quarantined together for over a month “Let’s spend some quality time together” may get you a few eye rolls from your teens. That’s understandable. Teens need to know that you still want to engage with them through this weird time. They may crave more alone time, or online social time, with friends and prioritize those things over time with you. Make sure you are practising acceptance of these feelings and behaviours and still reach out to connect with your teen to let them know that you’re here and available to hang out when it works for everyone. Just because you’re all home most of the time now doesn’t mean you’re available all of the time. Having a schedule or flexible routine to follow can be really helpful to keep things as on track as possible. Keep in mind that as tensions flare up and down due to the significant increase in home time, we all need to know that we are still worthy of love and connection. Every family members’ needs and wants are valued equally.
Alone Time and Sleep
Trying to figure out whether your teen is having healthy amounts of alone time during the pandemic? You’re not alone. One thing we can do is talk to our teens about alone time and ask them if they feel like the balance is there between time spent in their room and time with the family. Make suggestions if they seem open to changing any part of the daily routine they’ve fallen into. Many young people are reporting that they stay up way later than they did when school was happening. For some teens, the staying up late thing may not have a negative effect. For others, it can really throw them off and influence mood. Check-in with your teens about their sleep habits lately and ask them if they like the routine they have or if they want it to change at all. This kind of conversation encourages teens to have personal ownership over basic needs like sleep, while still helping them to feel supported and cared for by you.
If you’re sitting there thinking that the above parenting strategies seem impossible, or if you’ve fallen off the tight-rope after trying 17 times today already, it may be time to reach out for help. We’re here for you. Connect with HeadWay Clinic if you or anyone in your family could benefit from connecting with a therapist. And please practise kindness towards yourself and your family. Here is my webinar on Parenting During COVID-19.