2020 has been quite the year so far. COVID-19 has changed our world and way of life immensely in these past few months. People have lost jobs, schools have closed and then reopened for online learning, leaving parents to motivate children and teens to engage with school, and it seems that just as we are getting used to our new “normal”, it shifts again (read my post about having a positive pandemic here!)
Other than being a mom to an amazingly stubborn 5 year old, I am also a Child and Youth Care Worker at a local high school. Prior to the pandemic I spent much of my work day with teens in grades 8 to 12 talking about their lives, families, friends, and mental health. Now, working from home, the connections are much different, relying on telephone calls, texting and zoom meetings.
Just as our lives have been turned upside down, so have the lives of the teens in our lives. With the move to online learning, children and teenagers have been forced to stay home. They have been separated from their peer group and are not receiving that face to face instruction that many of them rely on. Many teens are at home by themselves as their parents may be back working outside the home.
Typically teens are faced with such pressures as:
- Maintaining social connections with peers and fitting in
- Doing well in school
- Being a contributing part of their family
- Playing / excelling in sports or the arts
- Maintaining a part time job
Being a teen is hard. They are at that time in their lives where they are gaining independence and looking for places where they fit in. They are focused more on social connections and less on mom and dad. Now, these kids are stuck at home without their friends and perhaps their support system.
I have read through mom groups on social media and have seen many posts of disgruntled moms upset when they see a group of teens outside together not practicing social distancing. I mean, I get it, we all want this pandemic to be over with and seeing a group of kids not following the rules can be upsetting, but let’s look at it from their perspective: just like us, they have been disconnected from the life/routine that they know. They are trying their best to get accustomed to this new normal.
So, how can we as adults/parents support our teens emotionally throughout this time and their teenage years?
- It is important to meet the teenagers where they are at: You can’t force anyone to open up and talk about their feelings, wants or needs. I find sometimes the most healing is done in silence. I know, silence can be uncomfortable, but sometimes I find just sitting with a student lets them know that I am there for them.
- Use positive language: It is so important to encourage and praise children and teens. Let them know that you are proud of them, praise what you love about them rather than only talking about what they are doing wrong. Focus on what they are doing right. This will help build self-confidence and self-worth. Maybe they are at a point that they don’t see that they are special, we need to be that voice for them.
- Listen to them without judgement: When we are able to listen to children without passing judgement we create a space of trust. We need to offer them a safe place for them to vent or talk about their feelings without the fear of judgement, punishment or discipline. I would rather feel uncomfortable in a conversation, than not know that is going on in their lives. Open and honest conversation is the goal.
- Love them unconditionally: Let them know that whatever they have done, or are doing, that you love them and will always love them and that their actions can’t change that.
- Teach resilience: We need to make sure our children and teenagers are resilient. Stress, time management, problem solving and how to learn from their mistakes are all important skills to have in life.
- Remove the stigma surrounding mental health: the teenage years are hard. Many students I work with struggle with anxiety and depression. It is important to know that mental health struggles are not something to be embarrassed about and that there are supports out there for teens who need it.
- Encourage your child to make and foster social connections: Right now this may be more difficult depending on where in the world you live. In some parts of the world it may be okay for teens to hang out together outside the home, practicing social distancing of course, others may need to connect over social media, or video chat.
Now, I know that these times are different and there is a lot of stress on students and parents surrounding schooling. Just know that this will pass. When it comes to school work, providing positive motivation is key. Some days will be hard and you have to decide if getting school work done that day is worth the struggle. I mean, I can assure you that there are days your kid is at school that they get absolutely nothing done, and that is ok. It is also ok at home, especially during these times.
I know that in times of struggle it is human nature to focus on the negatives, and I mean, there are a lot of negatives right now. But, as parents we have also been handed this amazing opportunity to spend extra time with our kids and teens getting to know who they are right now. Open that dialogue, get to know their wants, needs and aspirations, figure out what makes them tick, find a hobby to do as a family, and most importantly let them know you love them.