If you ask parents what part of childhood they are the most apprehensive about, the most frequent answer given is: “The teenage years”. Our children are flexing their muscles and seeking new horizons, establishing independence, and working out their identity away from us, their parents. It’s a time of change physically and emotionally; feelings are volatile, hormones are flying, the peer group takes centre stage, and image is all-important. Add to that already potent mix, the implications of COVID-19 – school terms curtailed, exams postponed, parties cancelled, sports matches abandoned, social distancing and isolation imposed (all being processed within the four walls of the family home) – and you have the recipe for a perfect storm.
The teenage years can be a rollercoaster at the best of times. So how can parents survive this season of pandemic and keep the door of communication open?
Here are a few suggestions:
Our teenagers will most likely be getting information about the pandemic from time spent online, including social media and YouTube, and especially from chatting with friends. Some will be well informed; others misinformed. Some may take it in their stride; others will be anxious and worried – many will find the sheer volume of 24/7 news bulletins overwhelming. As parents, it’s good to check in with our teens, find out what they know, and point them to reliable sources that will help them gain perspective – the NHS or WHO (World Health Organisation) websites are good places to start. If they are anxious, suggest limiting news consumption to a set time every day.
Understand their world
Whilst attention-grabbing headlines in relation to coronavirus can cause anxiety in the best of us, other issues may be nearer the top of the list for our teens. In particular, social distancing and school closures mean they can’t hang out with the very people they most want to spend time with – their friends. Whilst it might be tempting to dismiss their concerns and point out that there are bigger things to worry about, it’s far better to acknowledge their sadness, disappointment, and frustration, let them get this off their chest, and then think together of some positive things they can work towards doing when life has returned to a new normal.
Find a good time to talk
Teenagers typically will open up on their terms. With our four children, it always seemed to be at the most inconvenient times – and nearly always late at night. It was often when they didn’t feel backed into a corner, or when we were involved doing something together so the conversation wasn’t the focus of attention. Spot those moments, ask open questions, and find out how they are doing. Nine out of ten times you may get rebuffed, but hang in there. Simply the fact that you are there and ready to listen gives them the opportunity to talk as and when they feel like it.
Our teens are being forced to stay home at the very time they should be beginning to learn to be more independent, so this could be a good time to reassess family guidelines, maybe introduce new responsibilities, and even relax some boundaries. Chris, dad to three teenagers, said: “We usually have quite strict rules about screen time, but we have realised how important staying in touch with their friends is to them, so we have really relaxed the rules. This has made a big difference to them (and made them much nicer to have around!)”
If you do relax boundaries, it is worth also talking through post COVID-19 expectations.
Remember that teenagers have a need for some private space (somewhat challenging with everyone at home 24/7), but be creative and try to make it possible. We can also maximise their drive to be in control of their lives by encouraging them to plan and structure their days – including exercise, family mealtimes, sleep and fun.
If you are struggling, although it won’t feel like it at the moment, remember that both this present crisis and the teenage years themselves will pass. Take it a day at a time, acknowledge it’s tough, lay down the guilt, as far as possible stay calm, and know that one way or another, you’ll get them through!