Because of coronavirus, teenagers are missing out on major rites of passage. Offering compassion paves their way toward feeling better.
All normally developing teenagers strive for independence, yearn to be with their peers and look ahead to the future. Given this, how do we care for young people whose wings have been clipped, who aren’t supposed to hang out with their friends and whose plans have been upended by coronavirus? Here are some strategies that might help to address these unforeseen parenting challenges, especially at a time when many adults are struggling to hold it all together and may not have easy access to their usual reserves.
Make Space for Disappointment and Sadness
While schools and teachers scramble heroically to get coursework online, gone are the clubs, teams, hallway flirtations and other interactions that leaven most students’ days. The nourishment of school may be continuing in some form, but kids could rightly feel that it’s long on vegetables and short on dessert.
Though we can’t replace what’s been lost, adults should not underestimate the power of offering outright empathy to disheartened adolescents.
Make Space for Relief and Joy
The same teenagers who feel deeply upset about missing school and their peers in one moment may express delight and deliverance in the next. As much as they are grieving their losses, they may also be relieved at getting out of some commitments they never wanted to keep, or being spared ongoing daily interaction with classmates, teachers or coaches they dislike.
Allow Privacy and Time Alone
Of course, few adolescents will want to spend all of their new at-home time with their parents or guardians. Teenagers who are formally quarantined, under shelter-in-place orders, or simply practicing social distancing will need and deserve privacy and time alone.
Treat Teenagers as Problem-Solving Partners
As we scramble to figure out new rules, systems and routines for daily living, let’s remember that adolescents are usually at least as creative as adults, and will appreciate being treated as such.
Don’t hesitate to recruit teenagers’ help. Instead of presenting them with a suggested daily program, we could say, “We’re all having to invent new ways to arrange our days. Can you show me what you have in mind so that I can get a feel for your regular schedule and make sure you’re covering all your bases?” Similarly, we might ask persistently grumpy teenagers how they themselves would like to balance their own right to be upset with our reasonable expectation that they not make life in close quarters miserable for everyone else.