This pandemic is a challenge to people in all stages of life, but it is also uniquely affecting adolescents. In a period of time where their developmental task is to extend their social connections to include peers, they are being asked to do this in very constricted ways (virtually, or in small groups at school). The adolescents I see in my office are leaning on their parents and families in ways they never expected to have to do. If you parent an adolescent, your role in their life is significant. Here are 3 ways to support your teen through the pandemic.
Listen with openness, empathy, and curiosity
I am continually amazed by the resilience that adolescents demonstrate. Only they will ever know what it’s like to be a teen in the 21st century, about to launch themselves into the world but then asked to “stay put” (so to speak) for an additional year or so. It is important that they do so (for the safety and sake of the world they will grow up to live in and lead in the future) but right now, it’s hard. They need to be heard, and to feel understood in their experience.
Questions you can ask your teen include:
- “What are the challenges you’re experiencing, socially, as a result of the pandemic?”
- “What do you miss? What losses have you experienced?”
- “What did you do today that made you feel good? What are you looking forward to this week?”
- “What are you grateful for?”
- “What could I be doing to support you in school right now?”
What is really important is how you ask these questions. Try to come to the conversation with openness to whatever they have to say. Reserve judgement, empathize with their unique experience, and remain curious about what this is like for them. Responses such as, “Is that right,” “Can you tell me more about that,” or “That’s interesting, I didn’t know that…” go a long way. Avoid the trap of “looking on the bright side,” dismissing what they share, or trying to compare what they’re experiencing to your own hardship. It may be tempting to downplay their concerns, but it’s essential that they have a place to speak openly. This really is as bad as they feel it is, even if it doesn’t feel the same way for you.
Spend meaningful time together
I speak with a lot of teens who tell me how they’re secretly enjoying getting more time with their parents. I have been surprised to hear of how a lunch date with Dad, or a cozy movie night with Mom made an adolescent’s week. They still need you, more than they let on. Your role is important in their life, even well into adolescence. So, don’t discredit yourself – connection with you counts as socialization too!
Why stop at 3 ways to support your teen through the pandemic? If you’re running out of things to do together, consider how you might provide opportunities to do something new. Here are a few ideas on how to create meaningful connection together:
- Try a new hiking or biking trail.
- Drive to a new city nearby that you haven’t explored together (even if it’s not an alluring destination, perhaps there’s a new cafe you can stumble upon together).
- Sign up for an online art class/project (I’ve heard these are fairly accessible in many areas). Buy supplies together, and make snacks to enjoy.
- Dress up (or design and make clothes?!) for a fashion show, and do a photo shoot. You can include things like hair, make up, accessories, and make it a production they work toward.
- Create a family recipe book. Invent new recipes to include.
- Cooking competitions (take turns being the judge, or give limited ingredients and see what they come up with, or make it an online competition with them and their friends.
- Help your teen reorganize, redesign, or redecorate their room.
- Do exercise or yoga videos together.
- Rent a karaoke machine! See if their friends want to do the same at their house and create a virtual karaoke night.
- Start a small business together.
- Have your teen teach you something they know a lot about.
Even if your time together is less elaborate, be present with them. Most teens are figuring out who they are, what they stand for, and what they want out of life, and you have the privilege of unfolding and exploring their inner world with them. Enjoy!
Check in on their mental health
See item #1: listening with openness, empathy and curiosity. Ask them questions about how they’re doing and really listen. See if you notice they’re exhibiting some of these signs:
- Increased irritability or tearfulness
- Changes in sleep or eating habits
- Increased isolation (especially over time)
- Lack of motivation, or not enjoying activities they normally would
If you do notice these things, seek mental health support, if they’re open to it. Remember that inquiring into their mental health does not intensify the problem, it only provides an opportunity to address what’s already happening.
I hope this has been helpful for you as you parent your teen in the middle of a very challenging situation. I know I said I’d give you 3 ways to support your teen through the pandemic and I may have overshot that a bit!
If you, or your teen, would like to talk to somebody about their mental health, we’re here for you. Contact us at Alongside You, and we’d be honoured to join you and your family as we journey through this pandemic together. You’ve got this!