Parenting Teens During a Pandemic

It comes down to compromise, cooperation, and compassion

Parenting Teens During a Pandemic

We know it’s tough sometimes to be the parent of a teenager. But being the parent of a teenager during a pandemic and quarantine situation is an undoubtedly unexpected challenge. And thus, you might relate with some of the most common concerns we’re hearing from parents right now: 

“How do I keep them focused on schoolwork?”
“How do I keep them off their phones?”
“How do I keep them from playing video games all day?”

In reality, we are all coming to terms with our “new normal” and trying to find a rhythm within that space.  As we do, there are responsibilities from a few weeks ago that continue to feel important and others that don’t.  There are also new responsibilities that are vying for our attention. The difficulties of balancing all of these duties are amplified by the lack of structure surrounding this situation. 

For teenagers—whose brains still lean toward impulsivity and away from planning, whose circadian rhythms push sleep to odd hours, and whose need for social interaction creates a nearly irresistible pull to technology—it is likely helpful to explicitly address the real challenges they are facing, and come up with a workable plan together.  The goal here is to engage your child in a process that leads them to recognize their current needs and supports them in taking action to see those needs met.   

Step 1: Check Your Expectations

Many norms that accompany the school day may not naturally continue while kids are working at home: wake-up times, dress codes, and screen usage come to mind.  Before talking with your child, ask yourself which norms are really important and why. Some element of regularity to sleep patterns is necessary for physical health, but ask yourself if there’s a reason that your teenager needs to be in bed at the regular time.  Taking the time to be clear on your thought process will allow you to insist on certain norms when you collaborate with your child and identify steps they will need to take in order to thrive during this strange period of their life.  

It may be the case that you need your child to contribute to the house in new ways or that you see this time as an opportunity to encourage them to develop basic life skills that they will need in college: cooking, laundry, and time management, for instance. All of these things are valid; simply be prepared to talk openly about why they are important to you.  

Step 2: Identify Their Needs 

This is more easily said than done as the expectations that both schools and parents place on students today is ever shifting. In the span of just two weeks, my local school district went from regular school days, to packet work, to checking into a Google classroom and—most recently—to daily live Google Hangouts classes plus Google classroom assignments. Right now, that old Greek adage has never been more true: Change is the only constant in life. 

To that end, ask your child what aspects of life before the Coronavirus were aiding in their success. Then, brainstorm ways to recreate those circumstances to the fullest extent possible.   For some students that may mean setting a daily schedule while for others it might be enough to say they should have a general plan of attack in place by a specified time in the morning.  Kids should also consider maintaining their paper planners or printing out assignments so they can use their usual organizational systems if those supports will help.  Basics such as diet, exercise and sleep routines should also be considered. Finding the right balance is extremely personal at this time especially because schools’ response to this crisis varies widely.  The key here is to be honest about what level of structure and support (and from whom!) will help your child be their best in the current situation.  

Step 3: Establish Regular Conversation with You and Others

It’s also true that the needs at home shift as our situations shift.  Restriction on our movement is changing week to week as are work schedules and our own levels of anxiety.  It’s okay if that means kids need to participate in a different way as well. Creating regular times for conversation can make it easier to help teenagers fully recognize how the changes in the world impact their responsibilities and needs.  

This also means that whatever plans our kids agree to today may not serve their needs a week from now—and that’s ok.  It’s therefore important to keep the lines of communication open and make clear that you are an additional—and constant—support through the shifts that kids are experiencing.  One way to do that is to encourage your child to share their experience with their teachers; we’re all working through this together, and many teachers are open to small adjustments in their approach if they know those changes will help their students.  Help your child view this as an opportunity to collaborate with their teachers.  

Step 4: Find Motivation

For many students, the school work that’s being offered online is less meaningful than the work they would otherwise be doing, and without clarity around grading policies or when they might see their friends, kids may be understandably unmotivated.  Hopefully some of the ideas outlined above will help bring meaning to what students are doing now. Still, you can take additional approaches as well.  

Engage your child in a conversation about how they might take advantage of this time.  Do they want to further develop a hobby? Is there a passion project they now have time for?  For juniors, can they jump-start their college search by researching? Once you identify an area for personal development, you can set up a system whereby your child earns supplies when they follow through on all of the responsibilities and norms you outlined above.  Teenagers have already lost a great deal of what’s important to them by being forced to stay in their homes; commit to positive reinforcement rather than punishment during this difficult time.  

Remember: no one has this all figured out yet. We’re adjusting to these new norms together—teenagers included. Stay patient, stay grounded, and stay open. You’ll get through this, but remember that we’re here to help, too. Contact us for more information and visit our resource page for more tips on homeschooling and parenting during a pandemic.

Chelsey Emmelhainz