At first, lockdown was an interesting time for parents of teens, both stressful as we interpreted the new rules and adapted accordingly, and sometimes rather wonderful as we got the time to be available for our mostly monosyllabic teens. Unhindered by routine as we knew it, our relationship actually improved.
But that’s when we thought it was temporary. It’s been a while now.
So…given that teens are already experts of ‘Why should we bother, there’s no future’ mentality, what do we say to them now, when in some ways we’re inclined to agree? And how do we manage their mental health during what is a weird enough time of their lives, let alone a time when they need to manage their education and development during a pandemic? At a time when they should be spreading their wings and gaining independence, they are cooped up at home with people who can’t quite (and may never) stop treating them like children.
There is a lot of sleeping in my house. Anxiety levels are high and more than ever, I seem to be their only carer. A first I involved them in household tasks, but the novelty wore off. Still, here’s my plan for the next couple of dark cold months…
1) Try to encourage a recognisable sleep pattern. At New Year, I had four kids floating around the house thanks to our extremely valuable support bubble. The pre-teens still get up early and have a routine…the older ones get up at some point in the afternoon. It doesn’t really matter, but the teenagers get tea for breakfast. They will have to conform to a routine at some point, so as we get to the end of the Lockdown, I will start fostering this. In the meantime, I will relish the relative peace to work in the mornings.
“I've pretty much relaxed all rules. If he does what he's supposed to school wise. I don't give a hoot if he's on his pc for the afternoon playing with his mates” C Peters, parent.
2) The rules change swiftly and it is likely that you, as the adult, is the only one still paying attention, so you must relay and enforce the rules. It is important to tell them how unfair you feel that it is that they are kept in, and you wish it wasn’t the way, but this is an extraordinary time. And you appreciate them wearing masks and social distancing. And that their friends’ parents might really appreciate this too in the great scheme of things. We don’t know who’s shielding. None of us want this situation to carry on for much longer. You might have to tell them how bad things have got if they’re not aware (but out of earshot of younger children).
3) Eat as well as you can! At first, I enjoyed being able to home cook again. But as work has to be maintained, I have to cut corners. Still, I aim to chuck the teenagers one decent meal a day, even if it’s at their breakfast time. I did ask them to cook once, but that hasn’t been repeated as they forgot to feed me. Buy snacks – if you don’t, the thing you were saving for a family meal will disappear…
“…if my fridge door opens any more frequently, at least I’ll have a strobe light...!” J Brookes, parent.
4) Be lenient with their online conversations. We’re all communicating using this method and it’s a lifeline. This morning I was woken by a 5.45am conversation. I figured that the two people talking probably really needed the contact. A mild ‘you woke me’ was all that was needed to make the point that I’d prefer not to be woken again.
“Remember that teenager weeks can contain whole life episodes, being deprived of their 16th (or 15th, etc) summer isn't just about losing a part of their free time which they can make up for later, it is about losing something they can never get back.” C Williams, parent.
5) Reintroduce some family activities. It might be poker rather than snap and family film night is no longer 6pm on a Friday for your teenagers. Choose the time for your family. We’ve settled on 10pm on a Tuesday. It’s stuck really well. Sometimes we have an extra film night. It’s a way of saying ‘we need time out, we need each other’ without explicitly voicing it. Shared mealtimes may be more gratefully received, as may playing board games, or the occasional family walk.
6) Talk about the positives. They may have school work to do, but this is a great time for self-led learning and the internet will provide, as will books, podcasts, and practical activities. Encourage them to vary the mode of learning. They won’t have this sort of time in a few months, so make the most of it for self-development.
7) Remind them that the days are getting longer and make plans for the spring and summer. Last summer both my teens started cycling. This year, we want to grow more of our own food and set up an outdoor cinema so we can have people over as soon as it is allowed.
8) Listen to them. They will guide you to some degree. After all, they were getting independent before lockdown. It’s time to get to know each other in a slightly different way. Preferably one that involves them doing more washing up but we can’t have everything.
Useful sources of support
GCSE Revision Resources by Tiger Moon