COVID-19 Pandemic: Parents, Your Teen Needs You More Than Ever

How to enforce social distancing without hurting your relationship with your teen.

Parents are getting serious push back from teens about social distancing. While our perception might be that they’re on their phones all the time anyway, the fact is, they’re still craving connection – just like us. So, what can we do?

As in most any tough situation, it helps to think first, then act. If your teen is like most, you may have wondered what they were thinking more than once in the past already, but jokes aside, now’s a great time to get curious.

When your teen expresses resentment and disagrees with your choices, it can be hard to enforce the rules and offer the support they need while keeping your relationship intact. We hear you! Heck, some of us are you.

Here’s what you can do:

Show Understanding

View their anger and sadness as understandable. Teens are hardwired to protest when their belonging and exploration needs aren’t met, so don’t take it personally if your teen tries to make you out to be the bad guy. Instead, maintain a steady, compassionate stance in the face of your teen’s protests. Then you can…

Offer compassion and empathy about their unmet needs.  It’s normal for teens to be shifting from parents to peers as their source of support and when they can’t spend time face-to-face with friends they may feel alone, isolated, and left out – like they have nowhere to belong. A simple “this really sucks” can go a long way with our teens.

Create Connection

Normalize their need to be with friends outside of the house. Teens have a developmental need to be independent, autonomous, and out exploring so we can communicate that their desire to leave the house makes sense. We also want to get out, so we get it. Expressing your own frustration in a healthy way can model for them that they are not alone. And then…

Find ways to help your teen connect. Help your teen brainstorm ways to stay in touch with friends while sticking to social distancing rules. While it may seem like they are connected all the time via social media, they’re missing their friends faces too. Trust us. This is a great opportunity to give extra time and attention to your teen to make up for some of what they are missing with friends (learn how to play their favorite video game, have them help you make their favorite meal or dessert, sit close while you watch a movie, etc.). Check out more ideas for spending time with your teen. Remember: Don’t force it. Make the offer and let them opt in – they’re feeling out of control enough that mandates for family time won’t help.

Build Trust

Don’t criticize them for not taking the pandemic seriously enough. It’s normal for teens to be focused on themselves, so our role is to provide them with age-appropriate information to help them understand the reasons for social distancing rules. We love the explanations in this video. Set your expectations about them really getting it low, and be sure to…

Hold to your rules about social distancing.  Your teen is likely to beg you to relax the rules, but they need you to bear the burden of making the hard choices. Along these lines, make every effort to fully participate in social distancing rules yourself so that your teens have an example to follow.

When you lose it or they lose it, be the one who invites reconnection. Yes, we said “when” because these blow-ups are bound to happen, if not by them, by you. We’re all under immense pressure right now, so expect your teen to push away even though they need to feel your support. Let them know with your words and nonverbals that you can handle their feelings and love them even if they are being prickly. Ruptures are a part of every relationship, especially during stressful times. It’s consistent efforts to repair that make a strong relationship.

In times of high-stress families actually can grow together and come out the other side still liking each other. As the parent, you have the opportunity to set the tone for your home. Taking a few minutes to remember what it’s like to be a teenager can help us better understand how uncertain this time is for them. It is for all of us, so ensuring that we’re acknowledging our own feelings and getting creative about how to meet our own needs will help keep the tone in our homes reasonable given these extreme circumstances. Bottom line: Show understanding, create connection and build trust with your teen by validating their feelings, finding ways to meet their needs, and leading by example.

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