Social Distancing, staying at home due to COVID-19 and being a teen is a major shift. Adapting to this new normal is hard for everyone. It is especially hard for teens who are naturally more active and social than most adults. During adolescence, biology (or peer pressure) is pushing kids to get out of the nest and explore the world. Most teens want to be with their peers and not just their parents. When teens are stuck at home with their family and not going to school, socializing, playing sports, and having new experiences, they are engaging in behaviors that go against everything that we know is developmentally healthy for teens. In order to help teens adapt to the weeks or months they may have to remain indoors, they will benefit from your guidance. Remember to have an IDEA.
I--Innovate--If your teen is in Philadelphia Public School they have been out of school since March 16th. If they are in private school, they probably have been distance learning on-line, but for very limited hours. Either way your teen has plenty of free time on their hands. Teens will benefit from your help in helping them to structure their day.
To help them structure their day, you will first need to explore with them what they want to get out of this time period when the world has gone upside down. Do they want to learn the guitar, do they want to take some free online classes in web development, learn a foreign language, or volunteer at a food shelter. How a teen wants to grow from this unexpected amount of homebound time will certainly dictate the type of schedule that they will need.
A typical teen benefits from structure. Teens need help organizing their time, creating routines so that they can make the most of their time.
Their day could include things like:
- spending time for school work (if applicable)
- being productive at home (and giving them rewards!) by helping in new ways such as cooking, organizing, landscaping, cleaning or designated play time with younger siblings
- getting outside exercise
- socializing online by helping coordinate zoom calls with friends
- joining on-line events like with the Franklin Institute.
Help your teen create a schedule for how much time they would wish to spend doing each activity. Do they do better taking weekends off? Or having smaller breaks every day? What feels right to them. Sometimes teens don’t know themselves very well, and they may need your encouragement to try out two different systems. At this age, regardless of what you think is best, you need their buy-in to this process.
D-Don’t Nag-- Now that your teen has more time on their hands, let them know that during this time you may be leaning on them more heavily. To make the household work, you may be expecting more from them. Work with your teen to help them identify tasks that they can assume (or tasks that you need them to assume). Give them the time and space to do what needs to be done. Be patient. Be positive. For instance, don’t tell them to take out the garbage 10 times. Let them know that you do not want to nag. Note, some teens will struggle and will do best with chores that have natural consequences, such as being responsible for their own wash. If it’s not done, nagging isn’t needed because they will have dirty clothes. Teens are uniquely self absorbed and it’s developmentally appropriate for them to put their own needs first, so your job as a parent is to get smarter than them and get their buy in. If you can get them motivated for themselves, ie., showing how this (cooking, cleaning) chore or homework helps them, they will be much more interested and happier doing the work.
E-Entertain--You have heard the words ”I’m bored “ a million times, but this time your teen is really, really bored. This is your ONCE in a lifetime chance to actually have your teen WANT to spend time with you. Most teens who are stuck in their house, deprived of all their normal activities actually are craving company. Take advantage of this. It’s almost like having your loveable 10 year old back. Thanks to COVID 19 your teen will happily talk to you. Set aside time weekly to play board games classic, from Monopoly and Scrabble to new ones like Smart Ass or Apples to Apples. Bond with them by pampering yourself together like giving each other manis and pedis, or masks and facials. Other teens' bonding time may look like playing basketball, or singing together. Figure out what your teen is interested in and jump in. Additionally, for your own sanity, let them indulge on-line more than you would during normal times. If they are keeping themselves busy on Netflix or Xbox, let them have some couch potato time. In fact, both have group options so they can enjoy a movie or game with their friends. Just ask them to tell you how long they plan to be on and have them set an alarm, so it doesn't become a 12 hour binge. Use Alexa or Hey Google to remind them to set a timer to stop being online. This can help keep the peace. You need some alone time too and it can help them cope and be entertained.
A-Acknowledge-- The reality of needing to practice social distancing during COVID-19 and not being able to go to school is a very hard time for them. To varying degrees, they are annoyed, scared, lonely, sad, anxious and angry. Many teens now value school in a way they never did before. This is especially true if your teenager feels like they are missing out academically or will be missing out on important milestones like spring sports, prom, or graduation. I cannot personally think of a worse time to be a Senior than in 2020. They won’t ever have the chance to say goodbye to their friends. Let them know that you empathize with them and can only guess how hard it is to be a teen in these uncertain times. Ask them questions to help them identify their emotions and offer hope. Hear them and acknowledge their feelings. Let them know you love them and they will get through this. Please note, it is not always helpful to share your own feelings of anxiety and uncertainty depending on the situation.
Parents have so many concerns and hardships that go way beyond parenting. Hopefully these parenting tips can help you guide your teen through this unprecedented time of social distancing and being homebound due to the COVID-19 epidemic in Philadelphia. If you need further assistance from a therapist, please call 267-428-2609 to schedule an appointment.