“You treat this place like a hotel!”. It’s a common phrase used by parents to scold teens for generations. As long as there have been teens (and hotels), parents have become disgruntled by the comings and goings of their gregarious and socially-led teens at all hours of the day and night. Teenagers define themselves by their relationships with their peers. Friendships groups are an important part of their development, teaching them social skills even as they learn about themselves and the kinds of people they want to be. And for many reasons, the current lockdown necessitated by the COVID-19 lockdown is especially tough on your teens. After all, they’ve spent their entire lives closely bound to the home and the family unit. Now, just as soon as they’ve gotten to spread their wings, it can feel as though they’ve been clipped once again.
Your teen may have only just gained their independence, learned to drive, gotten a new girlfriend or boyfriend, joined a band or joined a new social group. Social distancing may seem virtually impossible for your teen. And if your teen is failing to comply with social distancing rules, it can be a source of great annoyance and anxiety for parents. Here are some practical tips to help parents support their teens and the rest of the family in this difficult and uncertain time to ensure that you all come out stronger on the other side.
FIRST OF ALL, TRY TO KEEP CALM AND REMAIN IN CONTROL
Social distancing and self-isolation are proving a challenge for all of us, taking a toll on our physical and mental wellbeing. As much as we love and cherish our homes, even the most lovingly decorated domicile can start to feel like a prison when you spend virtually every waking hour living and working within it. Parents might be feeling their own brand of cabin fever. They may be depressed, frustrated and irritable. Thus, when their kids start to act out by defying social distancing rules, slipping out while parents are working or inviting friends over their first instinct may be to get angry.
And while this is 100% understandable, it’s only going to exacerbate the situation and make your teen feel unfairly victimized. Fairly or unfairly, you’re the responsible adult in the room. It falls upon you to keep a calm head on your shoulders and diffuse the situation. Now might be a good time to research some anger management strategies in advance and take a moment to step outside yourself before reacting to noncompliance.
HELP THEM TO SEE THE BIG PICTURE
Teens are stereotypically portrayed as being self-centered. And while there’s an element of truth to this stereotype, it’s important not to blame them. Their brains are hard-wired to be selfish. In fact, the cognitive process that makes teens selfish can also boost their ability to learn.
It’s just up to you to educate them.
Help them to see and understand the big picture. Explain to them the risks that occur when they visit their friends, even if they’re asymptomatic. Explain the nature of the virus and what makes it lethal. Don’t try and use scare tactics or shock tactics. Just cite the facts plainly. Their first instinct may be to shrug it off. To say “But it’s okay because I know *insert name of friend* doesn’t have it. But the truth is, they can’t know. Not unless their friend has been tested. If your teen is exposed to the virus, they represent a health risk to everyone in the household, including vulnerable elderly relatives or younger siblings in your home.
Helping them see the big picture will make them realize that you’re not on a power trip. You’re not trying to exert your authority over them for the sake of it. You’re doing what every parent has a responsibility to do… keeping their child safe.
ENCOURAGE THEM TO LOOK TO THE FUTURE
Just a few weeks in, we’re all starting to feel like this lockdown is going to last forever. However, your teens have less life experience than you, and we all remember how slowly time seems to pass when you’re young. A day on lockdown can seem like a month to an antsy and impetuous teen who feels that they’ve been falsely imprisoned and yearns to be with their friends.
The fact that there’s no clear exit strategy and no clear idea of when the lockdown is going to end can only exacerbate these feelings for your teen. However, it’s important to help them think about the future. To remind them that the lockdown is both necessary and finite. To help them think about exciting stuff that’s just around the corner like graduation or college. Encouraging them to look into potential institutions (it’s never too early to start thinking about college) or how to apply for a student loan can help remind them that they will have a life beyond lockdown. Not only will this help them, but it’ll also be a helpful reminder to yourself that the status quo won’t last forever.
HELP THEM TO STAY BUSY… BUT GIVE THEM AUTONOMY THEY CRAVE
Idle hands are the devil’s playthings. And that goes for your teen about as well as anyone else in the home. The more stationary they are, the more they’re likely to feel confined and irritable. It’s up to you to help them to keep their minds and bodies occupied. However, you also need to give them the autonomy they crave and avoid the urge to micro-manage them. Give them schoolwork and chores around the home to complete within a set time period. Get them to agree to their commitments and define sanctions for if they don’t live up to them. That is, after all, how the world works. If they learn that now, they’re more likely to be able to adapt to the nature of college and work.
This approach isn’t just for the boring and fun stuff, though. You should also encourage them to come up with ideas for fun stuff you can do together as a family when all your shared responsibilities are taken care of. This will help them feel like an active participant within the household rather than an unpaid employee.
THINK CAREFULLY ABOUT THE LANGUAGE YOU USE
Our word choices can be inflammatory. They can exacerbate tensions and lead to conflicts that can undo all the good work you’ve put in to create a harmonious household.
This is why those anger management techniques can come in useful. They can keep you from saying the wrong thing in an emotionally charged moment. For instance “It makes me feel very stressed out when I’m trying to work and you come in without knocking to ask me questions” is infinitely more diplomatic than “Dammit, I’m trying to work here and you’re barging in asking stupid questions!”.
Try and avoid any language that will make them feel victimized or paint you as an aggressor. You should also try and ask questions rather than giving commands “What’s your plan for today?” is potentially much more helpful than presenting them with a list of chores that need to be done by lunchtime.
AND FINALLY… ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THIS IS HARD FOR THEM… AND FOR YOU
Teens often feel that their parents belittle their struggles and accomplishments. The last thing your teen needs is to feel as though everyone is coping just fine with the lockdown except for them. Acknowledge that this is difficult for them, just as it’s difficult for you. And that you’ll come out on the other side together!