Quaranteened: helping teenagers cope with lockdown
Being a teenager is a long, slow process of growing away from your family. Yet young people are suddenly being thrust back into the heart of their families, whether or not they want to be.
Social distancing and self-isolation bring challenges for everyone. But teens face a particularly hard time.
With schools closed, they’re going to be cut off from the people they care most about – their friends. The initial euphoria about dodging exams will be replaced by realisation of all the things they’re missing - the summer term, the sporting events, the performances, the parties, the gatherings, the end-of-exams fun, the flirtations.
On top of all that, they’re going to be forced to spend their entire time with their parents. At a time when they want more control over their lives, they’ve suddenly got less. So how can you help?
You’ll need some routine if you’re not going to drive each other mad. Talk to teens about the need to find new ways to arrange your days. What do they need to do (learning, exercise, friends-time, down-time) and what do you need to do to make that possible? More structure should, hopefully, mean less boredom.
There’s going to be much more focus on home. Get them to help with the practical things - the chores and cooking, keeping an eye on younger siblings, cleaning surfaces. Create an atmosphere of ‘all in it together’ which will help them take responsibility.
At the same time, encourage them to socialise. Screen-time rules may have to be relaxed. It’s vital for them to keep in touch with their friends. An app such as Houseparty will allow them to chat and play games.
No doubt they’ll be relying on digital tech more than ever before. This is fine - but you should still emphasise the need to get enough sleep, to learn new things, to respond to anything their teachers suggest, to be physically active and to have face-to-face time with the family.
Accept that there will be times when they want to get away into their private space, and try to make that possible. Talk to them about the virus - which should help them get perspective, and will also help them behave responsibly, even though they feel frustrated. Young people are generally less likely to be affected by the virus (though they certainly shouldn’t be complacent: what they do will affect others), so they’re well placed to be volunteers, for example delivering food to people who are self-isolating.
There’s nothing to stop teens meeting outside, in twos and threes, if they maintain social distancing (staying two metres apart and not touching). The advice may change slightly, so keep up to date with the latest guidance from the NHS.
Study after study finds that people who volunteer tend to be happier than those who don’t. Young people who are feeling their lives are out of control may find that doing something positive for other people helps.
Dealing with anxiety
It’s understandable that teens will be sad about what they’re missing and it’s important to acknowledge their losses - to show them you know that these are not trivial things, and you appreciate that it’s horrible to have to do without them.
They may find it hard to think about the future. Reassure them that this period will pass - and also that we may see things differently afterwards, so there could be opportunities to make the world better that they haven’t yet thought of.
Talk to them about their concerns about the virus. Are they getting their information from reputable sources? The NHS website, the UK government’s information, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) are all good places to start. The WHO has some excellent advice, including to avoid looking at the news constantly, perhaps rationing yourself to a couple of times a day.
Encourage teens to take control by structuring their days and setting themselves goals. Put yourself in their shoes and try to see things from their point of view. Model good behaviour - if you are calm and rational, they will be too.