Lockdown is hard on adolescents. Here's how to navigate it while keeping the whole family (mostly) happy.
Lately, many people have been asking how to get through lockdown with teenagers, who may prefer to stay in their rooms all day instead of spending time with the rest of the family, and who may turn to the internet for information rather than their parents.
Adolescence is a complicated phase, full of physical changes, internal struggles, and inner conflicts partly due to the constant clash of hormones. But it’s important to remember that every adult was a teenager once, too.
The teen years have never been easy. In fact, perhaps we feel on guard when we speak to our teens because we remember our own experience.
We need to put ourselves in the shoes of our own adolescent children. That’s the only way we can help them deal with their feelings and meaningfully accompany them in this stage of life. Distance gives us some objectivity; it’s a tumultuous ride to be a teen, with all the overwhelming feelings and experiences that come with it.
If the teen years are already a complicated time, imagine how much more difficult they are to navigate when you’re suddenly thrust into the following circumstances:
- The central part of your life — social relationships — is temporarily limited to communication through screens
- Your need for physical activity, your need to move, is limited by four walls
- Your desire for privacy is restricted to the few moments when you can lock yourself in your room or bathroom to be alone and chat, or have a virtual “house party” with friends, or inspect the pimple that has erupted right on the tip of your nose and that makes you feel “ugly”
We must be near to give them security, so they don’t feel alone, so they know we’re there for them, and that we’re their primary reference point. To make that happen, we must show them that we are mature and safe adults.
Meanwhile, they need us to be far enough away for them to have the chance to grow in autonomy. They need freedom to develop and to become the person they are called to be. They aren’t exactly going to be receptive if we shout at them, constantly reprimand them, or look at them in a way that makes them feel disdained or rejected.
Now more than ever, our teens need to know they are important to us. They need to see that their ideas and desires interest us and that we want to listen to them, that we no longer tell them what to do all the time as we did when they were little, and that the things they do have real repercussions for which they are responsible.
For adolescents, one of their greatest priorities is their relationships with their friends and with the outside world. One way of expressing their rebellion is through non-communication with those who are closest to them: their own family.
This is not the time for lots of strict rules, but rather for a few very clear and concrete guidelines, especially related to food and sleep and a few minimal requirements for sharing time and space in the home. We should be ready to negotiate the details, listening and respecting what our adolescent children have to say to us, and dealing with them with love and affection, even if we can’t concede everything they want. Learning to negotiate, to compromise, and to get along with others in difficult circumstances are all skills that will serve them well in the future.
During this time, we need to be at their side as they experience their emotions, to teach them how to identify them and describe their feelings clearly but respectfully. When our children were younger, we guided their every step. Now that they are adolescents, we are their co-pilots, and increasingly they steer the ship of their own life. We’ll stay at their side, reading them the maps of the course to follow, but it’s time for them to take the controls, without overprotection but with high doses of patience and a lot of love from us.
It’s important to help them understand how to carefully manage their relationships through social networks, teaching them to maintain and cultivate closeness but with maturity and caution in order to avoid inappropriate or dangerous situations.
Feeling and living
If there’s one thing our adolescents need—I’ve said it already, but it bears repeating—it’s a lot of affection. They need to know that we aren’t judging them, that we understand them, and that we are firm in order to give them security.
They need to enjoy their roots, their values, and their family traditions. They need to feel and live. Teenagers are full of life, and in their development as a person, they are called to make our family better with their youthfulness, their ingenuity, and above all their idealistic outlook on life.
Let’s allow ourselves to be touched by their vitality and transmit ours to them as well, in this new stage of coexistence. Sometimes something as simple as spending time with them (cooking, letting them teach us the best way to exercise, or even telling them heart to heart how we were as teenagers, so they can see us as human beings) is better than shouting and imposing rules that put all of us in a bad mood.
This is a time of confinement, but it’s also a time of inner growth, as people, as a family. Each one of us is unique and unrepeatable, and each one of us in our family, in our own way, contributes something special. Do we realize this? Do we want to discover what each person’s unique contribution is?
Let’s take advantage of this moment to communicate with each other in a new and better way—perhaps beginning with the way we look at our adolescents.
Mercedes Honrubia García de la Noceda
Quarantined with teens: How to handle conflict
A letter for parents of a “difficult” teen