Tips for Parents with Teens Sheltering in Place

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My daughter’s senior prom night a few years ago when things were normal.

I’ve been thinking about how graduating seniors are feeling — stuck at home with mom and dad. Normally, teens are seeking independence from their parents and are ready to fly from the nest — which usually means college. But with COVID-19, some universities aren’t opening in the fall or they are offering classes online only. There may be no end in sight for these teens that they will ever leave the nest. Top that off with missing milestones like graduation and prom, and I wonder how the kids are surviving? They have been away from their peers for a couple months already. I remember how important friends were to me at this age — friends were my world.

In the Los Angeles Times, I read an article called Teens are feeling lonely and anxious in isolation. Here’s how parents can help by Lisa Boone. It offered advice from several mental health experts with tips of how parents can make their kids feel less anxiety during these crazy days of shelter in place. I suggest you read the entire article here.

When my son was a senior in high school, we really had a rough year. He was desperately wanting to be an adult, live his own life, and I was hanging on to motherhood and wanting him to be the child I had loved and known for 18 years. Of course we clashed. I can’t imagine what that year would have been like for us to be stuck at home with each other day and night!

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My son at the podium giving his graduation speech.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

As tens of millions of us continue to shelter in place, the most tractable of teens are feeling frustrated and anxious. They miss their former lives. They are uninterested in online classes and don’t want to follow quarantine guidelines anymore. And who can blame them?

Living in seclusion can produce quarantine fatigue, according to South Pasadena-based psychotherapist Noelle Wittliff, a licensed marriage and family therapist who works with children, families and adolescents. “Many of the teens at my practice are hitting a wall,” Wittliff said. “They are over it. They want to go outside and connect with their friends. The online connection is just not cutting it.”

Normally adolescence, a developmental period marked by impulsivity and feelings of invincibility, is a time in which teenagers separate from their parents and bond with their peers. Now that families are confined at home, parents are in a peculiar position in which they have to balance the seriousness of the novel coronavirus with their teen’s desire for social interaction.

“Many of our teens are experiencing tremendous loss, and grief is an appropriate response to loss,” Wittliff said. “Depending on the age and school year of the teen, these losses can include proms, graduation ceremonies, end-of-year sports events, dances, parties, school activities, yearbook signings and simple proximity to beloved friends, teachers or significant others. The school shutdowns happened so abruptly that many of the teens that I work with did not have the opportunity to gather belongings from their lockers or classrooms, let alone say meaningful goodbyes to teachers and classmates.

“As parents, it’s important to hold space for all of these feelings and to recognize that teens don’t always communicate sadness in expected ways,” she said. “Sadness is often masked by frustration, irritability, anger or disconnection. These are protective reactions that mask vulnerability. The goal isn’t to take these defense strategies away but rather to be curious about what other feelings might be hiding underneath.”

For teens struggling with maintaining distance from their friends, Wittliff encourages parents to validate those feelings with empathy while reminding them this quarantine is temporary. Also, as a parent or guardian, manage your teenager’s expectations and don’t make promises that won’t come true.

Wittliff offers this advice: “Tell them, ‘I hear you and I know how hard this is. I know how much you miss your boyfriend or girlfriend and your friends but this is what is going on. The entire world is going through this. We are all taking precautions to stay safe.’”

Among the advice offered by experts in this article is to establish a routine — that you let your teen help develop. Try to have a fun activity every day plus get exercise outside. There’s many more tips in the article that are so helpful like practicing mindfulness, cooking, drawing, etc.

Although my daughter has left her teen years behind, she came home to shelter in place and work remotely rather than being in a tiny apartment with two other people.  For the 60 plus days she’s been here, I’ve learned to give her space. I no longer walk into her room unannounced like I would have when she was a five-year-old. I let her come to me instead. Also, we’re enjoying an outdoor activity each day. She plays tennis with me a few mornings a week or we walk or play smashball in the backyard pool. She also rides bikes with her dad in the evening. More than that and she’d probably be sick of us

Structure and predictability will help with the passing of time and give teens something to look forward to. “Every day and week that they get through sheltering in place brings them that much closer to getting back to their lives,” Wittliff said. “This is hard, but our kids are resilient. And they will get through it.”

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My son’s senior prom. They had a catered dinner in our back yard before the dance.

How are you helping your kids with COVID-19 fears and isolation from friends?

 

Parent tips for the roller coaster ride of raising teens

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We’re past the roller coaster ride of the teen years. Onward to the quarter-life crisis.

Has any parent not witnessed the eye rolls, backtalk or even a door slam? Most of the time my kids were wonderful. But we had our moments. I especially remember a tough period with my son where I said things I would love to take back. I didn’t mean those words but I was frustrated beyond belief with his behavior. That’s not an excuse, but it’s a pretty accurate assessment that I felt out of control. I heard from one friend that when our kids get ready to leave the nest they work on pushing us away.

Today I read “3 Myths About Your Teen’s Bad Attitude” in Time Magazine by Alan Kazdin and learned that our kids are not acting out on purpose. “Alan Kazdin is Sterling Professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry at Yale University and director of the Yale Parenting Center; he is a former President of the American Psychological Association and teaches a course open to the public on Coursera: Everyday Parenting: The ABCs of Child Rearing.”

According to Kazdin, our young adults are going through development changes and are not in control of how they treat us. Of course, we’d all prefer civility and want our child back, but give it time and space and they will once again be the people we love to be around. In the article, he gives a few tips on how to make the situation better not worse. He says to focus on the positive things and don’t be heavy-handed with punishment. If we rely too much on punishment, our kids may resort to worse actions to escape punishment or pull further away from us. His third tip is to compromise. Find something that you previously said “absolutely not” to and give in. Kazdin also makes the point that the developmental changes take place at different ages with adolescents.

His tips may seem contrary to what you’d like to do, but he says they are effective. Our goal is to change the annoying and troubling behavior of our teens and bring them closer to us, not make it worse.

Here are some excerpts about three myths Kazdin brings up about our adolescents:

3 Myths about Teenage Attitude

1. Your teenager’s behavior is deliberate.

It may be of little consolation, but your teenage daughter has little control over the bad attitude. She is not manipulating you on purpose or spending all that time in her room scheming about new ways to annoy you. In fact, she too is a victim — of all sorts of biological and psychological changes over which she has little control. She is going through a rollercoaster of adolescence, and you are on the ride with her.

As an important example of what is going on, the brain changes are extensive: more rapid development of the brain areas and functions that increase impulsivity, risk-taking and being influenced by peers. Those areas of the brain structure and functioning that we wish would be well established, such as self-control, restraining oneself and making decisions rationally, are coming online more slowly and will not be more fully developed until later adolescence.

2. Reasoning with the teenager will help.

Reason rarely persuades anybody to do things we know we should do — such as exercising or avoiding fast foods. It is even less likely to work with your teenager, considering all those developmental changes.

However, it is wonderful to be reasonable with your teen. It demonstrates for them a way of thinking, handling conflict and solving problems, and it can have longer-lasting effects on how your eventual adult approaches life.

3. Punishment will change the behaviors and attitudes you want to get rid of.

Teenagers may simply isolate themselves even more and have even less time with the family and in the presence of a parent. That will decrease the chances of a positive influence.

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Hiking with my son this past summer. 

How do you handle it when your young adult is rude and no longer wants to hang out with the family?