parenting teens

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Wow. It’s been a hot minute since I’ve written a blog post…a year to be exact. And holy crap, what a roller coaster ride that year has proved to be. So many changes for our family; the oldest graduated high school and started college, and the youngest is flourishing in her first year of high school, despite my fears that she would let anxiety get the best of her. I’ve published three more books and a novella. Hubby and I started our own podcast, called The Almost Home Alone Podcast, about parenting teens. Oh, and Covid has come out to play and wreck havoc on our everyday lives.

Covid-19, Coronovirus, The ‘Rona…whatever you call it, it’s a sneaky little bastard.

In less than a week’s time, the virus’s presence managed to upend our daily lives. No more date nights with Hubby, no more family dinners at our favorite restaurants. No more hanging out with my sis and her family around the firepit or just relaxing at the beach. Life as we knew it was dumped on its ass.

It’s ended my son’s freshman year of college and my daughter’s freshman year of high school. months prematurely. It’s cancelled their sports, their trips, and all of their socialization. Not only are they not at school and have to learn virtually, a concept that they’re having a difficult time adjusting to, but they are stuck at home with no one to hang out with except Mom and Dad. And boy, are we BORING.

Well, boring to the them anyway. At least after being completely together for 30 days now, due to Covid restrictions. They can’t see their friends, they can’t see their other family, and they can’t do ANYTHING fun. If it sucks for us adults, can you imagine how sucky this is for them??? And in turn, how stressful it is to be parenting a teen in the time of Covid?

Sure, it’s not as chaotic as having a house full of preschool kids asking for a snack every thirty seconds and flushing matchbox cars when you think they’re napping. It’s certainly not as bad as trying to console a kindergarten child who loves school more than life itself and doesn’t understand why she can’t just see her teacher and classmates one more time. And I’m sure it sucks big time to have to try to teach your fourth-grader long division as they sob that “that’s not the way we do it!!!!”.

But parenting teens in this uncertain time is no picnic, either.

Keeping them in the house, first off. Keeping an elementary school kid in the house is one thing…an “adult” child with a car is another. Trying to explain the seriousness, explain WHY they can’t have a sleepover or even just go visit their bestie, when you don’t want to make them even more anxious, is nerve wracking. We’ve had to lay down the law, because we can’t be wishy-washy with this. And it’s been hard.

Still, they know what’s going on, so in a way, that makes it easier. By the same token, it makes it more difficult too. With little kids you can shield them from what you want them to know. With big kids, they know what’s going on before you do because of their constant attachment to social media. You can’t protect them in the same ways you can with litter kids. And this is what leads me to what the most difficult part of this whole Covid Crisis has been.

What About Their Mental Health?

My first thought when I heard about the lock-down and no school was not about the educational effects this would have on my kids and other teens. I wasn’t concerned about how my son was going to pay for his car when he was now not working (okay, I was, but it was low on my list of priorities). I wasn’t worried that my daughter would never be able to get through Geometry. Nope. I was worried…hell, I was terrified of how this would affect their mental health.

What will 30 or 60 or God forbid, 90 days of quarantine do to these teens? How much depression and anxiety and pent-up frustration will they have as a result of Covid and the life it’s thrust upon us? And what in heaven’s name can I do as a parent to help mitigate these disastrous consequences?

Some people might not think this is very important. But I respectfully disagree. Sure there are people out of work and worried about paying rent. And there are essential workers exposed to the virus daily. And let’s not forget the fact that there are people dying. Still, the future mental health of this country is paramount in this situation I think aside from the economical impact that the Covid crisis will have on our country, the mental health crisis is in the forefront of its impact. And our teens ARE our future.

So What Can We Do as Parents?

I wish I had the magic answer. The words that would make this all make sense and give you step by step instructions on how to protect your teen’s mental health right now. But I don’t. All I can offer you is some advice…what’s working for our family and what seems to be keeping all of us sane right now. Will this continue to be the case? I certainly hope so. But unlike politicians promising end dates to this disaster that they can’t deliver, I won’t promise you anything but hope. Hope that can get us through Covid-19 and all its pitfalls.

Try to keep a routine

Yeah, trust me, I know trying to drag a reluctant teen out of bed is actually more painful that childbirth, but their mental health will thank you for it. And I’m not talking about getting them up at the butt crack of dawn. Hell no! I’m not up at the butt crack of dawn. Plus, they’re teenagers. They NEED more sleep than they’ve been getting when they’ve had to go to school.

When I say “routine”, I don’t mean maintain a rigid schedule. No way. I’m talking about putting a kabosh on the sleeping till noon bullshit or letting them lie in their room all day with the door closed because they’re bored and have no motivation. That’s a one way ticket to the big D…not Dallas…depression.

Get ’em up and doing something. Get them out for a walk, eating on a normal schedule, doing their school work on time. Believe me when I tell you that I understand how painful this may become. I’ve given up on trying to get my daughter to get dressed. As long as she’s taking the time to do her school work, shower, eat, and exercise every day, I’m going to have to allow “putting on pants” to go on the back burner.

Cut out the devices.

Okay this may be a suicide mission, but seriously, encourage the teens to put away the phones. At least for a little while. We all know that too much screen time isn’t good for ANY of us, especially not now. Try to cut down on everyone’s screen time. No phones at dinner. No phones in bed. Maybe make it a contest—who can have the lowest hours of screen time today? (If your kids are competitive, this may work.)

Yeah, I know they’re going to fight you on it, but hey, if they’re fighting you, they’re not on their phone, right?????

Encourage a hobby

By “encourage” I mean “finance” if necessary. At the beginning of this my daughter decided she was going to try diamond art painting (don’t ask) and start reading more, and my son was going to learn Spanish. Apparently four years of Spanish in school didn’t seem to do the trick. What did I have to do? Oh, hand over the credit card to make their dreams come true. Hopefully I won’t have to finance a trip to Spain for him to immerse himself in the language once these restrictions are relaxed.

Do something together.

The easiest thing is to play a game together. Board game, card game, video game…whatever. If you’re not into games, do a jigsaw puzzle or watch a movie. Get outside and take a bike ride together or a walk. They won’t care about friends catching them out with their parents. Their friends are trapped with their parents as well. Although neither of my kids seem to be embarrassed to be seen with us…I guess they’ve stopped being embarrassed of us, considering we talk about them on podcasts and in blogs.

Cook or bake together. Ask for their input with meal planning and preparing. Get them to help around the house more–go weed the garden together or teach them how to do laundry. They might seriously be bored enough to finally start pulling their weight. My kids were bored enough to clean their rooms. That’s a miracle as far as I’m concerned.

Let your teen talk about what they’re feeling.

Sure, you may hit some resistance at first, but once they realize there ain’t no one else to talk to, you may find they’re talking your ear off. Just listen. You don’t need to offer advice. This is unprecedented territory. Believe it or not, they are smart enough to know you don’t have the answers for this Covid crisis. Unlike little kids who think Mom and Dad know it all, teens know we don’t (and never fail to point it out, either).

You can give them advice about specific things (filing for unemployment, for example), but for Covid specific problems, they may just want you to listen or acknowledge that this sucks. Like maintaining a “long-distance” relationship with their girlfriend who literally lives a block away. Or how reading “Romeo and Juliet” on their own without the insight of an English teacher is the ultimate form of torture. (I’d like to take this as an opportunity to point out that they DEFINITELY do NOT want advice as I can still recite lines from Romeo and Juliet because my 9th grade English teacher dissected the play with the precision of an eye surgeon, yet my 14 year-old did not want to hear my insights.) Just let them vent. And don’t judge.

Maybe in the grand scheme of things, missing prom doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. Maybe you don’t think they should be crying because their softball season has been cancelled, or because their Friday nights hanging out with their friends has come to a screeching halt. But this is what’s important to them. This is what is important to their mental health. They are DISAPPOINTED in a big way.

Encouraging them to find new ways to fill their time and connect with their friends ultimately might be the difference between a depressed and anxious teen, and a well adjusted one.

(We let our teens vent by putting them on our podcast. Obviously I wouldn’t recommend this if you don’t have a podcast, but you can just talk at the dinner table. Just be open and available.)

Finally, try to relish this time.

We’re getting a gift in a way. This is time that we wouldn’t have with our teens. Normally they’d be in and out all day long, only stopping briefly for a shower and to raid the snack cabinet. They’ve got no choice but to hang out with us now. Try to understand them, look at this from their perspective, and be a safe place for them to voice their fears and anxieties…even if they sound trivial to you. And hopefully, they’ll view this time in the future as something to treasure, rather than just one big disappointment.

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