Being a parent to a teenager can be a challenging, worrying and sometimes distressing time under the best of circumstances, but what about at this extraordinary time with families across the UK spending more time together than ever before as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions?
With lockdown testing the resilience and unity of families up and down the country, the home can become a battleground with constant power battles and high emotion. Here, Cumbernauld Family Hub explores how mums, dads and kinship carers can best approach parenting teenagers during this difficult season.
Whilst parents with active toddlers and younger children are fighting to keep them entertained, those with teenagers and ‘grown-up’ children who have returned home are finding themselves navigating their own tricky circumstances during the extended period of staying at home.
Teenagers and adult children, particularly those at university or who have left home, are used to a far greater level of freedom than they can currently enjoy. Mary McNeil, Project Manager of Cumbernauld Family Hub, commented:
“For teenagers, the current government restrictions are a devastating blow, and for many their friends are everything to them.
“They’re also likely to be worried about what’s happening to the world around them, especially if they’ve been robbed of their exams and the parties afterwards.
“Add this into a swirling mix of hormones and desire to challenge authority and you have a difficult mix for parents trapped indoors with them.
“When teenagers are pushing against the system in their search for independence, as parents you can feel rejected, criticised and confused.”
So, what good strategies can parents adopt to ensure that they are supporting and guiding their teenagers in the right way as well as coping themselves with the daily challenges of being a parent during these trying circumstances? Cumbernauld Family Hub provides some advice and tips in the below section.
TIPS ON BEING A PARENT TO A TEENAGER DURING CORONAVIRUS RESTRICTIONS
Help Them Understand the Rules
First of all, it’s important to remember that no one likes being told what to do, but teenagers have a deep aversion to it. So rather than simply laying down the law, ‘or else’, try to help them understand why we need to take certain measures.
Encourage them to watch the news with you, and try to get them to see that we all need to rally together to protect the vulnerable and elderly at this time.
If you have elderly relatives or friends, you can even bring this home with personal examples. For example, what if you said ‘Wouldn’t you hate it if gran fell sick and died? We need to help protect her by staying in for a while.’?
It is a good idea to establish boundaries regarding a teenager’s behaviour. For example, you might want to consider discussing how much time they spend on their phone or alone in their room.
Any time alone should be balanced with time together as a family. Make clear that everyone will come together for meals, or spend time together in the evenings after dinner. Then there’s an expectation for the family to spend time together.
Consider exploring with the young person what’s individual, what’s family and what’s the interpersonal bit between you and them. It can be a fine balance to strike, but it can be done using all of your experience, wisdom and judgement of the situation and your teenager’s personality.
Try to set clear and consistent guidelines which also respect their boundaries to help them to foster their own sense of security whilst in inner turmoil. Be ready to discuss the rationale behind your behaviour and your rules. Remember that they’re learning from you how to be and think like an adult.
Building a Structure
Structure can often reduce anxiety as it provides consistency at a time when there are constant changes. University students, for instance, may have some guidance about what work they should be doing and so they can build a structure around this. Adult children may have things to work on if emails are coming in or they have pieces of work to do at home.
Operating to a healthy routine whilst at home a lot can be a calming and stable influence for teenagers when living through uncertain times. It can help them to keep learning and occupied, prevent them from over-worrying and build their capacity to cope through difficult circumstances. It will be beneficial to your teenager’s physical and mental health if their routine involves some exercise each day.
Building in a structure will also help you have time for your own way of life as a parent, where you’ve got time for work, connecting with friends, attending to the needs of your own parents and staying fit and active.
Give Them Options
Try to give your teenager options as much as possible, even if it’s an illusion of choice. This will give them a greater sense control over their situation and circumstances.
For example, you could ask ‘Would you like to go for a walk around the park with me this morning or this afternoon?’ And give them treats and things to look forward to as much as possible. If you can get their favourite food, do. If they have worked particularly hard at being mature and responsible, tell them how well they are doing and reward them.
Have Daily Check-Ins
Make sure at least one parent checks-in with your teenager every day. Taking time to ask about their day and how they are feeling gives them an opportunity to share any worries or concerns they might have.
It’s very easy by talking to friends to have a heightened tension. Whereas some friends will be saying this, some friends will be saying that. A daily check-in is beneficial for both sides as the adult knows what the young person is worried about and they know there’s an expectation to share worries every day.
Take particular notice if the young person is worried about information they are getting from the Internet or social media. There is a lot of misinformation and scaremongering about coronavirus being circulated which can cause anxiety amongst teenagers.
Contrary to how it may seem at times, your teenager does want to talk to you. But you need to let it be in their time and at their pace. Check-in with them in a way which works for both you and them.
Use ‘I’ Rather Than ‘You’ When Speaking
The language you use to communicate with a young person is really important as it sets the tone for the conversation. It can be beneficial, for example, to use ‘I’ statements instead of ‘you’ statements.
Instead of saying ‘you’re always on the phone, you never listen to us’, try saying ‘I’ve been worried about how you’re going to manage’.
It is imperative that you allow time to listen to what your son or daughter has to say. Ask healthy questions like ‘what do you think you need from us?’ and ‘what do you think you’re going to do to help the family in this situation?’, rather than saying ‘we need you to do this’ and ‘you’re not doing that’.
Encourage Contact with Friends
For many teenagers, modern technology and the digital communication means freely available today will alleviate the burden of isolation created by the present lockdown. Social media and mobile phones can be great tools if they are used in a positive and balanced way.
Parents should encourage their teenager to stay in contact with people who are important to them. It would also help parents to have their own group of friends who they can call and who can support them.
Recognising that everybody in the family needs their own support network is crucial. Remember and take into account that this might not be the same for each person, and it likely will be quite different for someone aged 14 than it is for a parent aged 44.
A lot of teenagers are scared by the feelings they’re experiencing and the new wave of responsibilities that they have to take on. They often need lots of reassurance that they’re not going mad and they will cope. Research confirms that both males and females have higher self esteem in early adolescence if they think that they have the approval and support of their families.
Being compassionate and understanding to what your teenager is feeling and experiencing will almost certainly bring them closer to you. Think back to how you as a teenager might have coped with a situation like the coronavirus emergency. Bear that in mind when interacting with your teenager today.
If they do get cross or lash out, use empathy to calm them down, rather than responding back with more anger. For example, you could say ‘I know you feel angry and frustrated that you can’t see your friends now. And it is unfair, I get it. It’s not the same I know, but why don’t you FaceTime them?’’
It can be helpful to try to separate the behaviour from the person. Remember your son or daughter’s qualities and try not to be overpowered by what you don’t like about their behaviour right now. Your teenager may be behaving badly but that doesn’t make them a bad person.
Forgiving and forgetting is an important asset as a parent. Although it’s not always easy, be prepared to manage the conflict and arguments, repair your relationship with them and move on. If you don’t find a way to let go of past resentments they won’t either. Small disagreements can soon build into huge arguments leaving you both wondering what happened.
Be Patient, Caring and Loving
Whilst teenagers are trying to find the right balance of behaviours and independence, they often swing too far in the opposite direction. But in time, the pendulum will swing back and settle in a more comfortable position. Patience in your role as a parent is a virtue.
Even though your teenager may act as though they’re indestructible, their emotions are still very fragile, so handle them with care. And remember that although they may seem to be pushing you away at times, they still need your love.
Sometimes you will feel stressed and emotional yourself. Don’t be afraid of letting your teenager know how you feel. Each time you do, you’re showing them that it’s okay not to be perfect and it’s okay not to have all the answers.
Keep believing in and always be there for your teenager, no matter how good or bad your relationship might seem at the moment. It is normal for young adults to drift away from and even reject their parents. But it’s also normal for them to come back and develop a meaningful relationship that will last the rest of your lives.
Further advice and guidance in relation to parenting teenagers during coronavirus restrictions can be obtained by visiting the Parent Club website at www.parentclub.scot. Cumbernauld parents finding it difficult to cope at this time can gain bespoke support by contacting the Cumbernauld CHaT (Community Help and Talk) Service on 07940 569527 (helpline is open every day between 9am and 9pm) or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, young people feeling overwhelmed or anxious about coronavirus can access an online platform hosted by Young Scot which includes easy-to-understand resources relating to virus prevention, handwashing tips, government advice, NHS support and mental health first aid.