Supporting Teens and Young Adults
Being quarantined with teenagers may not be as much a hands-on job as managing toddlers, but that doesn’t mean that the mental strain or engagement is any less. You’re probably seeing a lot more of each other than either of you are used to. These tips for parenting teenagers and young adults suddenly home from college can help smooth some of the edges and help you to enjoy your time together.
Reiterate the importance of social distancing. Now that parts of the country are starting to open up, your already restless teen may be tempted to take a chance and hang with their friends. Teens lack the ability to understand the long term consequences of their actions. Dr. David Anderson, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, also notes that teens tend to see themselves as invincible and they may think that COVID-19 isn’t problematic for their age range as it is for older people. “They want to see their friends, and don’t see why the social distancing should apply to them. Our answer is that exposure to this virus is an exponential thing, and that it’s not really about them. It’s not really about the fact that they feel fine. It’s the fact that they could be asymptomatic carriers and they could kill others, including their grandparents.” He suggests you remind your teens that, “You just can’t know that your friends are well. And while you may be comfortable taking that risk, you’re also bringing that back in your house.”
Encourage healthy habits. It may be easier to explain string theory to a toddler than get your teen to maintain healthy sleep habits, but it’s worth the try. Just like the rest of us, being well-rested coupled with healthy eating habits and regular exercise goes a long way to boosting mental as well as physical health. Model the behavior you want to see – if you’re on the sofa, powering through a family size bag of Cheetos at 2 am, don’t expect your teen to take you too seriously.
Don’t over-parent. If you’re living with a college student that’s just moved home, remember you’re dealing with a young adult who has experienced life outside your home, out from under your authority, and has had autonomy over their own lift and decisions for some time. If you treat them the same way you’re treating your younger children, they’re likely to chafe against your rules. Be mindful of the fact that while you are still their parent, you’re speaking to an adult, not a child. Speaking to them respectfully while maintaining authority goes a lot further than making demands or doling out punishment.
Give them – and yourself a break. It’s all about balance. Yes, good sleep habits, a healthy diet, and exercise are important, but if sometimes they a second cookie, an extra episode of Adventure Time, or sleeping till noon translates to self-care, don’t sweat it. When the days seem endless and it sometimes feels like time no longer exists, be kind to them and indulge.
Validate their feelings. Think back to when you were a teenager and how much you relied on peers over parents for everything from advice to emotional support. When things are getting heated or you’re getting push back on the boundaries you’ve set, acknowledge that their feelings of frustration and isolation are valid. Studies have shown that teens still prefer face to face connections over social media, so it’s no wonder they’re struggling. If you’ve set boundaries on screen time or social media, this is a good time to sit down and have a conversation about the possibility of shifting those boundaries and finding creative ways for them to connect while still social distancing.
Look to the future. Don’t forget, many teens are missing out on milestones you enjoyed or may have taken for granted. Senior prom, graduation, bar mitzvahs, their quinceañera – these are once in a lifetime events. There’ll be other birthdays, other chances at a first-date, but be aware your child may be grieving the loss of what was supposed to be. Give them the grace they need and work together to find ways to make up or re-schedule the event if possible. By including them, you make them feel less helpless and take away some of the sting of the disappointment.
Help them practice mindfulness. Mindfulness techniques are powerful tools that will carry them through the challenges they face inside and outside quarantine. Mindfulness teaches us to stop, identify the feeling you’re experiencing, and free yourself of judgment.
Dr. Joanna Stern, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute calls it “radical acceptance.”
“You tell yourself it’s okay to feel anxious right now. It’s okay to feel scared. It’s okay to feel angry. You’re accepting the feelings you have and validating them because we’re all having those feelings. It’s really important that you accept them as they are rather than fighting them. We say to ourselves: ‘This sucks, and I’m going to be sad about it, and I’m going to be angry about it, and I’m going to feel anxious about it,’ or whatever it is. This then allows us to move on and say, ‘Okay, so now what needs to be done?’”
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.