2020 has been a challenging year for all of us, but I have particular sympathy for teens and their parents. I remember very well when my three kids were teenagers, and I can’t imagine having them all in the house with us 24/7 for ten months.  We all thrived due to the physical separation that school, friends, and activities provided. 

Since it looks like we have a few more months of isolation to go, here are some suggestions, based on what I’m hearing from families that are managing reasonably well with their teens through the pandemic:

Focus on your own well being first. 

If you haven’t managed your own stress, you won’t have the patience and perspective necessary to be mindful of others. So, practice your own stress reduction rituals every day. As they mature, your kids will model what they see in you. I know this now, observing my own adult children.  They were absorbing everything we modeled as parents.  I thought they weren’t paying attention and were completely self-absorbed at the time, but apparently not! They saw the self-care habits, eating habits, conflict style, and coping mechanisms we developed.  As adults, it seems they have either embraced similar habits and structures, or deliberately done the opposite.

Create family rituals. 

Think of simple kindness: Bring someone coffee or tea in the morning, or a smoothie in the afternoon.  Have dinner together and take turns cooking it.  Solicit everyone’s ideas for family fun night once a week: movies, card games, or projects.  Problem solve together to get chores done and keep order in the household. (This can be done through a weekly family meeting)  Remember, it’s progress you want, not perfection.

Connect before you correct. 

Validate and empathize with your children’s strong feelings, until you know they feel heard. You know the saying, “no one cares what you think, until they think that you care.”  This theory applies to teens at a higher level than any other group. They already have the mindset that “you just don’t care” or “think you know everything”. Your teen may act confident, but inside they are struggling with inferiority feelings.  If you doubt it, look at the images they see on social media that they compare themselves to, that seem so completely unrealistic. When children (or adults) feel heard, they are much more likely to cooperate.

Send them messages of encouragement and resilience. 

Focus of the positive: notice when they show creativity, patience, and small accomplishments, and tell them.  Solicit their ideas whenever you can and implement them if possible. Nothing is more encouraging for them than knowing they’ve made a significant contribution to something larger.  It can be for family, friends, or the community.  If they can volunteer their strengths or ideas to a cause, it’s a huge win-win.  Some ideas from teens:

  • Make masks and donate them to nursing homes
  • Write cards and letters to older family, friends, neighbors or nursing home residents who are isolated alone
  • Start a winter garden
  • Start a small business.  (My 14 year old niece joined two teens friends creating their own company: tiedyeforagoodcause.com) 

Don’t Get Pulled into a Power Struggle. 

Most of us feel the urge to fight when we hear snarky comments, or a teen resists doing what you’ve asked them to do.  Escalating the conflict only causes them to dig their heels in further.  Instead, ignore the comment and walk away in order to cool down and collect your thoughts.  Take a few breaths, and when you come back, speak to your teen calmly and with intention.  You can ask them to help you problem-solve around the concern, or offer them a choice with a related consequence.  You can only control your behavior, and they will learn what you model. If you raise your voice and punish, that’s how they are learning to handle conflict.

Our children challenge us and train us as parents, to be better people.  In order to raise healthy adults, we need to model what we want to see in our children when they are grown, including: flexibility, creativity, resilience, humility and patience.  If you can do these five things, I guarantee your quarantine will be a better experience and your family will grow stronger as a result.