It’s a guaranteed rainy day outside. Everyone, including the pets, is inside. No one wants to stay inside, but outside isn’t beckoning (or necessarily safe) right now either. The house is feeling smaller with each day of the COVID-19 crisis. And the households with teens are getting more cramped by the day. How are we to survive this?
First and foremost for parents of teenagers, let your first choice be to not take it personally. Flashes of anger and frustration are going to take over the best of us, but this time is particularly hard for teenagers.
Remember that developmentally the major task of adolescents is to be finding their identities separate and apart from their families. So right now we are asking our kids to do the exact opposite of what they are biologically wired to do. We are saying you have to spend more time with your family and less time with your peers.
None of this is going to feel good to most of them. They are going to bristle at family time suggestions. They are going to be living through FOMO (fear of missing out) in major ways, even when there’s no real missing out going on. They are going to be more likely to take our heads off with a glare, a tone, or a flash of anger. We are not going to want to be around them any more than they want to be around us.
How do we survive this love in the time of COVID-19? A few things come to mind. For these purposes, let’s explore Boundaries. Establish them and negotiate them. Give them room to establish their own boundaries. (Watch for more thoughts coming soon.)
- Help them to find privacy that most teenagers need, and make sure that they respect yours. When I was growing up in small apartments with lots of siblings, I would hide in the bathtub to get away from everyone and just read my book. Even small spaces can be divided to provide private getaways. (Let them build forts!)
- Discuss standards regarding any school lessons that they might have, but negotiate after a few days. Accessing self-discipline may be hard right now so help them see where they are struggling, and share with them your struggles as well. If it’s not going well, see the next suggestions on creativity.
- Determine together what is reasonable for you all to do as a family. Is it meals? Is it binge-watching, is it walking the dog? Establish the expectation and stick to the commitment.
- Explore how much gaming (if any) is going to be tolerated during this period. Gaming is designed to be addictive. Talk about that and ask how they plan to limit their time to explore other interests.
- Make sure that you don’t tolerate intolerable behavior. Even if all of this is understandable, don’t let them take it out on you in disprespectful ways. Their friends wouldn’t tolerate it so why should you? Remain calm and clear about what you will live with, and what you won’t is good practice for them for the future. And when you can’t remain calm and clear, do your best to walk away.
- Don’t let them hide from you. One of the big risks for kids right now is depression. Make sure that you are seeing them and talking to them. Boys, in particular, can really hide their feelings behind sullen silence. Give them room, but don’t tolerate isolation. It’s risky behavior.
Brené Brown tells us that boundaries are the cornerstone of loving relationships. She tells us that boundaries are simply “What’s okay, and what’s not okay.” Here’s a 6-minute video to help think about this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5U3VcgUzqiI