Just because our world has changed, doesn’t mean that the needs of our teenagers have changed. Teenagers still strive for independence and connection with their peers, and they still want to live in a world where they feel there is some kind of future for them. But, in the current situation, all of those needs are affected. As a result, we should be prepared for some strong emotions and unexpected behaviours from our teens.
Disappointment and sadness, but also joy and relief
Our teens can no longer do the things they might have been excited about, worked hard for, or simply viewed as a rite of passage towards their independence. School productions are cancelled, as are school balls, camps and sporting competitions. Long-anticipated OEs are postponed indefinitely. On the other hand, your teenager may also be quite relieved that certain things are no longer happening: maybe that they won’t have to see certain people or sit a particular test that they’ve been worrying about.
A stronger need than usual for social connection
Considering that connection with peers is so important, we can expect that there will be some friction around how our teenagers maintain their social lives. Teenagers don’t want to be at home 24/7 at the best of times and now they’re forced to do just that. So, expect some frustration and even anger here, especially if they have a peer group that are quite supportive of one another.
Worries and anxious feelings
Like most of us, teenagers will feel worried and anxious about the future. As adults, most of us have learned to weather the storms of life, but our teenagers haven’t had the opportunity to do this yet. It’s even more of a shock to their system, because teenagers have this mindset that they are invincible and, therefore, their futures are invincible. This is being challenged majorly at the moment, so it can make their worries and fears even more intense.
So, what do our teens need?
Our teenagers need loads of empathy and understanding. Now, more than ever, it is so important to listen with empathy to our teens. It’s also important to understand the difference between sympathy and empathy, as being sympathetic won’t cut it in this context. When we show someone sympathy, we’re saying: “I care about you and don’t like seeing you feeling this way. So, let me problem-solve so that I can get you out of whatever situation it is that is making you feel this way.” When we sympathise and problem-solve, we think we’re helping our teens but they experience it as “Your emotions are making me so uncomfortable that I can’t stand feeling this way so I need to fix things for you”. Empathy, on the other hand, sends the message that, actually, “I know you so well that I can put myself in your shoes and totally understand (and can handle) your feelings no matter how intense they are.” Empathy can therefore be really powerful to show another person that we really get who they are and how they feel. This means they can feel safe enough to express themselves, no matter how intensely. For our teens in those moments of intense emotion or behaviour, we can say something like: “It really sucks that this year is such a mess for you now. Even though you will get through this, I know that it is miserable and awful right now. I hate that you can’t do what you planned to do”.
The other thing our teenagers really need right now is privacy and time alone. Let your teen know that you welcome their company anytime, but you won’t take it personally if they don’t take up your invites to do gardening together or play a board game. Our teens still need their parents’ company though, so look out for those times when they subtly bring their laptop to the couch or they sit at the kitchen bench with their headphones on.
Of course, we can still set expectations that everyone will eat meals together or do the dishes together or be on the Skype call to Grandma together. Just keep in mind that teenagers do need their privacy.
Allow your teenagers their social time (within reason), and of course we’re talking online in the current climate! There will be a temptation to slacken the rules regarding screen time and social media and make it a free for all – especially if our teens get a bit hot under the collar about it. But use empathy and try and stick to whatever your family’s rules were before we went into lockdown. If you feel that there is a little wiggle room, you can use the power of negotiation and come to agreed times of increased online connection in return for doing an extra chore around the house. Make sure, however, that things like sleeping, eating, physical activity and face-to-face interactions with other family members stay a priority.
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Strategies for smoother sailing
Firstly, look after yourself. Self-care is of utmost importance as we care for our families. Make sure that you are doing the things that will support your own emotional well-being. Try to sleep well, eat well, get exercise, have your own downtime and take the time to think and reflect on your own emotions. If you feel stronger emotionally, it will be easier to be there for your teens.
Secondly, make use your teen’s amazing abilities! Teenagers are much more creative and competent than we give them credit for. This means that they’re actually an amazing resource for our families during this time. Let them help you problem-solve family situations and challenges. You can get them to teach you some new online skills so that you can better connect with your friends. You can involve them in decisions around the family schedules and routines for the next few weeks. And when things get really boring and bland in the household, let them come up with a creative idea of how to spice things up a bit. Warning: it will likely involve TikTok or some other online endeavour where parental dignity is a low priority.
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Looking for more personalised strategies and solutions for your family?
Our family coaches are still available during the lockdown and can meet with you online. We’ve also introduced a shorter 30-minute appointment type, to make things easier while you navigate family life with everyone at home.