1.Acknowledge their feelings on a frequent basis
Teenagers are at a funny crossroads when it comes to feelings. They have the verbal ability to share what they experience but at the same time they tend to think (especially boys!) that it is really lame to externalize what they go through emotionally. In times of crisis like the one we are facing now, it is fundamental to make sure you acknowledge your teenagers’ feelings.
So together with your teenager, map out all the different feelings he/she has experienced recently. Complement it with a tool called a “wheel of emotions”. I personally like to use the one created by Robert Plutchik’s (find it here on Wikipedia), but I’m sure you can find other ones. Print it (big format) and pin it somewhere in your house. Make a mental note to look at the wheel with your teenager on a frequent basis.
“It is fundamental to make sure you acknowledge your teenagers’ feelings”
2.Keep up with the routine.
There’s no denying that your teenager is unsettled by this “new norm” of being confined at home all the time. We are all experiencing it, but teenagers are more sensitive to this due to their discomfort at processing feelings. This is perfectly normal. Don’t worry if it takes a little for your teenager to adapt to confinement.
But in this time of deep uncertainty, it is even more important to give your teenager a sense of routine, with a daily schedule of recurring activities that happen at the same time each day. Waking up in the morning, doing school work, eating meals with the family, exercising, and going to bed: try to keep those as “normal” as you can. A healthy rhythm of life will help your teenager to gain motivation. Your parenting skills will obviously be tested (sorry about that!) and your teenager might fight back when you try to set boundaries and put a healthy routine in place. Don’t give up, and be positive in your approach. Discuss the matter with your teenager. Try to make a list of ten special “weekend treats” you could start implementing, that would certainly cheer him/her up!
3.More screen is not the answer
I’m reading more and more alarming studies coming from the US regarding screen time and teenagers. There is a huge rise in social media participation and gaming. Some would say this is perfectly normal because teenagers are at home all the time now. I say we should not fall for this easy solution and fight back. Since when does being at home mean being on our phones all the time?
“Since when does being at home mean being on our phones all the time?”
With the mass-spread of virtual schooling, and virtual youth activities, your teenager is already spending way too much time on a screen. There is absolutely no need to add to these many hours of necessary screen additional hours on the phone or gaming. As tempting and easy as it is, more screen is not the answer. You will end up with a grumpy, hyper, and passive teenager. What to offer instead? The answer is not easy and requires tapping into your teenagers’ creative heart. Together sit down on the couch and list all the activities your teenager would like to do. Painting? Reading? Writing? Learning? You name it. Make suggestions without imposing anything. Try to get your teenager to find something on his/her own. Do not ban gaming and social media completely. It’s good for your teenager to keep in touch with friends and it’s ok to game a bit, as long as it is done in the right setting. Have your “family tech rules” ready. Haven’t written these rules yet? Now is the best time to do it!
4.Help them stay connected
In our current environment, it is really easy to be overwhelmed with everything that is happening in the world and go back to “survival mode”, whatever form it may take. Your teenager will be exactly the same – if not more. For some teenagers “survival mode” literally means going into emotional hiding and waiting for things to get better. So it is really important for you, parents, to help your teenager stay connected with the outside world and avoid solitude.
The best way to do so is to map out the different social groups of your teenager and check which ones he/she is in contact with. Football friends, family members, church youth group, boy-scouts..? Do you know when and how often these groups meet in this new age of isolation? Don’t forget to include in your map the family members your teenager would like to get in touch with. You might find out – to your surprise! – that Uncle Bob emerges from the brainstorming. Organize a phone call with Uncle Bob straight away! One last note: remind your teenager that Snapchat (and other social media) is not the best way to authentically share with their friends. A phone call or a video chat is a much better platform to express their feelings.
5.Invest in their spiritual life
I was on the phone with my great-uncle this week. He was telling me about WW2 and how he still remembers the long queues to buy food. In times of crisis, we are stripped away from our jobs, health, wealth, comfort, food, social relationships and many more things. It awakens deep questions about the meaning of life. Covid-19, like WW2, is a historical moment that your teenager will remember forever. You might not notice it yet, but it will undeniably have a lasting impact on him/her. Your teenager is processing everything and has on his mind many existential questions.
“Your teenager is processing everything and has on his mind many existential questions.”
Start to listen to these questions. Don’t dismiss them because you’re too busy. Take them seriously. Help your youth to find answers to these questions. Now is perhaps the best opportunity you’ve ever experienced to share your own faith with your teenager. It might feel awkward at first, but your teenager craves to connect with you on a spiritual level. If you are yourself wondering about God in this turbulent time, that’s great! Why don’t you and your teenager explore what it means to be in relationship with God together? “Ask, and you will receive” said Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. We are going through tough times. Your teenager needs to spend time learning about God and be comforted by Him. You can make it happen!
Robert Plutchik’s wheel of emotions: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_emotions#/media/File:Plutchik-wheel.svg
Article from Glossy about social media participation:
Article from Polygon about gaming: https://www.polygon.com/2020/3/18/21185620/coronavirus-gaming-statistics-twitch-discord-xbox-live-nintendo-eshop-data