April 30, 2020

My teen is really struggling right now~ how can I help?

With the Covid-19 Quarantine extending into May and possibly June, the reality is beginning to sink in that the end of the school year and all the fun that goes with that (especially for teens!) will be very different this year. Students who graduate in 2020 will have stories to tell for a lifetime about ending High School during the Global Pandemic of 2020.

As the novelty of being home wears off and the reality sinks in, the grief that goes with cancelled proms, concerts, sports seasons, and graduations, is beginning to ramp up. Some of our students may feel like it’s indulgent or selfish to feel bad about missing all these activities when people are dying. Others may be so focused on their own losses and grief that they come across as completely narcissistic and insensitive to others. Most are probably somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.

Let’s face it. There is nothing about this that is fun for anyone, but for teenagers it really stinks. Their whole world revolves around friends, activities, jobs and moving out into the world! Just when they are starting to launch, they’re being yanked back into the nest and there IS NO TIMELINE for when they can move forward again.

College decisions are being made and more and more students have no idea what their fall will look like. Some schools may begin the year online. For students looking forward to being on campus, this will call for a huge change in plans. Some families who were already anxious about paying for college may find themselves now completely unable to help at all due to Covid-19 related job losses.

No wonder we are seeing more and more teenagers struggling. Their world is upside down, they miss their friends, they are more aware of the stress and anxiety experienced by their parents, they have their own fears about the state of the world, they have little to no perceived control over their world right now AND the future they have been planning for is completely up in the air.

As a parent, what can you do to help?

First, make sure you are taking care of yourself. Even though teens sometimes seem adult-like, when life is scary, they still need to know they are being taken care of and it will be ok. They need to know that YOU are OK and are there for them. Don’t hide your concerns from them, but don’t burden them either. Find ways to check in with your teen about how they are doing, not just with school work and chores, but how they are doing emotionally. Be a safe place for them to vent or cry. Validate their sadness and frustration. You can’t fix it and belittling it (what’s the big deal? It’s just a dance! People are dying.) will simply push them away. All of our feelings are valid right now. While we can’t control what is happening we can control how we are responding to it.

Talk with your kids about what is going on. Help them to identify the things that they can control and do.  Share with them the ways you are managing as a way to model for them, rather than telling them what to do. For example, when I’m working from home, creating a schedule for myself with an hourly check-in (alarm on my phone) helps me to stay on track and get done what needs to get done. If I told my college student daughter to do it that way she would be annoyed at me for telling her what to do. Instead, I simply shared the process when she expressed frustration at getting her distance learning done, and said “here’s what works for me.” She saw it as an example instead of a command and adapted it to a strategy that worked for her.

Teens need to know that while their world has changed and their ability to come and go has been severely curtailed due to no fault of their own, they still have the ability to create an environment and routine that works for them. As parents, we need to step back as much as we can, being available to help when asked, but allowing them to continue to develop their independence within the confines of home. Make sure they have time to create social connections virtually – there are lots of options via Zoom, google, etc..

Support OTHER parents by not allowing your children to have friends over right now, or go to other’s homes. We need to have each other’s backs and as hard as it is, enforcing social distancing guidelines right now is the best way to help our community get back on track. It’s really hard to be the parent saying NO. Help each other out!

Micro-managing them because they happen to be home won’t help anyone. As long as they are not doing anything that is harmful to themselves or others, and are following the rules of your family (this is NOT the time to push high achievement. Just like we need to cut ourselves some slack, we need to cut our kids some slack too), give them room to process this strange time in whatever way they need to.

Know that this too shall pass. Remind yourself and your kids that we will gradually move back out into the world as it becomes safe again. Life will continue. It will be different, but it will continue. Notice and comment on the good things that have come about while being quarantined and dream about the things to look forward to when it ends. For seniors, help them to find ways to celebrate the end of high school. Create your own virtual or social distancing events to mark these important rites of passage.

Above all, when you find yourself feeling more upset about what your child is missing out on than they are, learn from them. Reflect on the positives you are experiencing. THEY ARE THERE. Kids are resilient. They will be fine. So will we.