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Helping teenagers through social distancing

I have been having a lot of Twitter chats this week about helping teenagers through social distancing. Firstly, how to convince teenagers to stay at home. Then, how to keep them entertained when they do stay at home. And now, how to manage the emotional fallout when teens are made to stay home.

The teenage years are all about breaking away from family and finding your feet in the social world. Mates, friends and peers (whether positive or negative) are at the centre a teen’s worldview. Many teenagers reject family activities and parental contact and withdraw to their own peer group or their own private space. Younger siblings are often rejected too (they symbolise the childishness that teenagers need to discard in order to become young adults). So having to stay cooped up inside with only their family to socialise with for an indefinite period of time goes against the grain of a teenager’s development. It’s a delicate situation for parents to manage.

When faced with any tricky parenting issue, it’s always a good idea to listen first and act second. When we stand in our children’s shoes and see the world from their point of view, it’s much easier to find a way to help them. Often, helping children isn’t about parents finding the ‘right’ solution. It’s about supporting children to find their own solution and solve their own problem. Helping teenagers through social distancing is no different.

But what if your teen won’t open up or engage in dialogue? Teenagers who are trying to break away from childhood will often aggressively shield their inner lives and thoughts from their parents as an assertion of independence and separateness. Luckily, I currently have a couple of teenagers in my house who have nowhere to run and not much to do. So I asked if they could give us some insights into being a teen during Covid-19 and some advice for parents helping teenagers through social distancing.

I can’t claim that their views are representative of all teens but I do offer them to you as one insight into the teenage mind.

What’s the most difficult thing for teenagers in lockdown?

“The most difficult thing is probably not being able to see people. So not being able to see my friends, my girlfriend, and not being able to socialise with people outside the house. I’m used to seeing them so much as well. And you kind of rely on them for having fun and going out and things like that. You kind of miss them and you miss hanging out with them.”

“And you also feel a bit trapped in the house.”

photo of teen looking out of window, supporting teenagers through social distancing article

Do you worry about the impact this might have on your friendships?

“Maybe a little. But I think it will all be fine afterwards. We’re staying in contact through Facetime and Snapchat and everything so I don’t think it will be an issue for me at least.”

“Some people might be quite worried about losing contact with people. I feel like if you’re more uncertain in your friendships then you might feel a bit worried that you’re missing out or that you might lose some of your friends. Or that you’re not in the group as much maybe. People might feel a bit isolated.”

Advice for other teenagers who are social distancing?

“The most helpful thing is having something to do during the day, so not having nothing. And also staying in contact with people. Facetime is quite good and group chats, talking to people. But having something to do during the day is probably the best thing. Don’t let yourself just wake up at three o’clock in the afternoon every day and go to bed way past midnight. You’ll feel so unproductive and like the days are just disappearing or merging into one huge time period.”

“People have got a lot of free time on their hands now. They can do whatever they want with that time. Looking at it more as an opportunity not as a restriction is quite helpful. Think about the time you have to do whatever you want now. You could learn something new.”

“And make the most of good weather because when it goes away you will actually be stuck inside.”

“I know playing games isn’t normally the thing you’d recommend but playing video games is probably one way of keeping busy at least part of the day. And you can also talk to your friends at the same time when you’re playing.”

“Teenagers will definitely be missing out on things they wanted to do but that’s just the case for everyone. And there are lots of people in worse situations than teenagers missing out on a prom, or even A Levels. I know it’s a big deal but there are always worse situations people are in because of this.  So being informed and understanding that this is a big thing in your life but this is a far larger challenge.”

And for parents helping teenagers through social distancing?

“Try and work with them to find something for them to do during the day, something they can fill their time with. It doesn’t have to be that productive, but something they are actually doing rather than just feeling like they have nothing to do all day.”

“Maybe interacting with them, talking to them but also knowing when they want to just do their thing. So it’s a balance. They’ll get isolated and bored on their own. They might not know when they want to be talking to people but they actually do want to be socialising. But then also leave them when they want to be on their own or they want to do something with their mates, like Facetime or something. It’s a balance.”

“If you weren’t getting on with your parents before, this would definitely make it a lot worse. Arguments will flare up more probably, there will be issues like that.”

Can you see any positives in the current situation?

“Maybe for wider society this shows that we can really do something when it needs to be done. Whenever they say there’s not enough funds for whatever, this shows there are enough, they’re just not allocating them to what needs to be done. The response is good for climate change. You could apply this response to that.”

So, to summarise. Cut them some slack, help them stay connected with their friends and nudge them to be productive and busy. These are the key principles for parents helping teenagers through social distancing. (Well, according to my particular teenagers, any way!).

advice for parents helping teenagers through social distancing

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