Dear Sue. My teenager won’t stay at home. What can I do?

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Dear Sue. My teenager won’t stay at home. What can I do?

 Delroy Reid from Peckham, London

This is VERY IMPORTANT so you need to change your attitude, tone of voice and body language

This is about ‘Talking & Teaching’ & sitting down & making it feel serious – say ‘I need to speak to you about something very important to me – what time is good for you?’

This brings them into feeling they have a say in it the conversation as they can choose the time – they have ownership but you are making sure that you are going to have this important conversation.

No high-pitched yelling – make sure you use a low-pitched serious voice.

This is not about nagging; this is about a public health issue to save the NHS staff from suffering overload.

This is NOT the time to push boundaries – which is normal for teens who are drawn to more risk taking during these years.

Having teenagers confined to home during the coronavirus crisis may not be as labour-intensive as being locked down with small children, but it definitely has its challenges. While younger children may be delighted at the prospect of having your full parental attention 24/7, teenagers are likely to feel differently.

Cooped up with parents and younger brothers and sisters is challenging for independent teens who want to hang out all the time with their friends.

Here are some tips for parenting teenagers during this time:

Emphasise the importance social distancing.

The first challenge with teens and young adults may be getting them to comply with the guidelines for social distancing.

Teenagers tend to feel invincible and they are likely to be well aware that the new Coronavirus is not as problematic for their age range as it is for older people. Parents are telling me that they are experiencing  a lot of resistance when teens are told they can’t go out and get together with friends.  The problem is that data is actually is on their side, because Coronavirus is less severe for them, so that is a problem in terms of getting them to comply.  They want to see their friends, and don’t see why the social distancing should apply to them.

Parents are asking me what to tell them.

My answer is that exposure to this virus is a broader thing, and that it’s not really about them. It’s not really about the fact that they feel fine or the fact that Coronavirus doesn’t affect them as much. It’s the fact that they could be asymptomatic carriers and they could kill others, including their grandparents.

One thing to emphasise is: “You just don’t know if your friends are well and while you may be comfortable taking that risk, you’re also bringing that back in our house – this virus is indiscriminative – young and old, fit or unfit – it’s taking out all sorts of people – even the Prime Minister.

Understand their frustration over not seeing friends

For teenagers and young adults, friends are hugely important, and they are supposed to be — bonding with peers as that’s an essential development milestone of adolescence. If your teen is sulking, moody and unresponsive about being stuck at home with you and their brothers and sisters, have a ‘Family Talk Time and a direct conversation with them.

The best style of parenting during the teenage years is the ‘Coaching’ Approach –  as it’s not too authoritarian.  Acknowledge that you know it’s frustrating for them to be away from their friends indefinitely.  Listen to what they’re feeling, don’t negate it or try to undermine their emotions – just hold the space & validate those feelings and then be direct about how you can work together to make this situation bearable.

‘I know it’s frustrating that you can’t see Josh…..’

Relaxing rules about time their spent on social media, for instance, will help compensate for the socialising time lost with school closures and encourage them to be creative about new ways to interact with their friends socially.

We played Musical Bingo on Saturday Night and my daughter created a Family Quiz that we did online on Sunday evening together to liven up the weekend routine to make it feel different.

How about a ‘Game Night’ all together on the console or a ‘Board Game’ Night?

How about a ‘Cook – In’

Look for ways to engage and build positive memories of their teenage years with you despite the extraordinary circumstances.

Support online home schooling

Parents are reporting feeling pressured and confused about how to help their kids, regardless of their age, with online learning. With younger children, it’s more a matter of finding fun activities that can be educational. But with older students, keeping up with expectations from school can be challenging, especially for those with ADHD, learning disorders or organisational issues or kids whose exams have been cancelled.

You can help teenagers by creating a realistic timetable for getting work done in certain block periods, building in breaks and times for socialising, exercising, entertainment and relaxing. The key strategy of ‘Eat that Frog’ works well – do the hard thing you don’t like first thing in the morning, e.g.  do a session of work first, then reward yourself with something relaxing or fun.  Keep in mind that it’s not going to be as effective as school, it doesn’t have to be – perhaps this is an opportunity to broaden your teens learning, to help them to discover their interests and passions and become life long learners free from the constraints of League Tables and exams.

Encourage healthy habits

Teens will do better during this stressful time if they get adequate sleep, eat healthy meals and exercise regularly.

Keeping a consistent sleep routine, with regular times to wake up and go to bed, is especially important to maintaining a positive mood and their ability to get on with everyone!

Healthy habits are particularly important for young people who may be struggling with anxiety or depression. Losing the routines, they’ve come to rely on can be a huge source of stress, so I recommend establishing new routines.

Make sure they’re eating properly and sleeping and being social and engaging in fun activities, while also warning them that they should avoid sleeping too much when they’re housebound & locked in.  It’s easier to withdraw from the News, withdraw from the family and want to stay in their room hibernating or sleeping. While rest is important right now, they still need to be active.

‘Pause to Ponder’

Having family members around more often can feel overwhelming or create real strain & frustration for teenagers. So, be mindful and patient and see things from the shoes and socks of your teen ‘Press your ‘Pause Button’ and try and diffuse tension in your home. It’s about striking a balance between respecting their need for independence while encouraging structure.

Talk about the ‘We’ Team – we talk about being the ‘Atkins Family’ Team – we’re all in this together. Let’s support, encourage and nurture each other in these unusual times.

Validate their disappointment

For many the most painful part of the coronavirus crisis will be losing important experiences: school sports seasons, parties, school drama productions, graduations. And while we’re all missing out on very valued activities, it’s especially upsetting for teenagers who are wired in their brains to think about novelty and pleasure seeking and having fun with their friends and school mates.

Give them room to share their feelings and listen without judgment (or without reassuring them that everything will be fine).

Most teens are understandably wondering how this will affect their futures. Again, give them room to share how they are feeling and acknowledge the real stress they may be under. Then express confidence in your child’s ability to rebound.

Help them practice mindfulness

Mindfulness techniques can be very helpful in this kind of situation, where our routines are disrupted and we may feel overwhelmed by frustration and disappointment. Mindfulness teaches us to tune into our emotions in any given moment and experience them without judgment.

Learning to accept strong emotions and sit with them is a good way of coping. Tell your teen that it’s okay to feel anxious, scared, unsure, overwhelmed, frustrated at the moment but then it’s time to move on and say, ‘Right, so now what needs to be done to help me feel better?’  This is about taking ownership of their situation which will serve them in good stead for the rest of their lives.

Talk and teach and model that we always have a CHOICE about how we handle things!

Cultivating also an ‘Attitude of Gratitude’ in the morning & noticing what’s lovely in their lives can also help with keeping a positive mental attitude and strong mental health.

Asking themselves simply ‘What’s today going to be about?’ will help focus them on small things that structure their day.

I’ll be answering more teen questions in my regular Monday at 11 am Facebook Lives over at Sue Atkins The Parenting Expert


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