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Navigating the “New Normal” With Teens

One month ago, the initial novelty of having an “extended” spring break brought joy to our teen-aged son. However, the excitement quickly wore off as the days turned into weeks, then turned into the new normal of shelter-in-place, social distancing, and finally, having to finish the school year through distance learning.

His younger sisters (8 & 11 years old) haven’t been as affected by the current circumstances in the same way as our 14-year-old. There are many ideas for engaging in activities with younger kids. However, it’s definitely been a challenge knowing how to navigate all of this as a mama of a teenager. Thankfully, I have found reassurance and ideas within my friends and social media networks. A friend invited me to join a private group for moms who are now helping their middle-schoolers with distance learning. Another mama friend recently posted her concerns about how her young teens were spending their days in the absence of her and her husband who both work full time. Through the feedback offered from my real life and social media communities I’ve compiled some ways to navigate this “new normal” with teens.

Validate their feelings.

When the shelter-in-place directive was first announced, we told our teen-aged son that it’s understandable and okay to be upset about all of the losses: turning 14 years old two weeks ago with no option for a birthday gathering with friends; not getting to play basketball after making the cut for his spring/summer league; having his final junior high band concert cancelled. Listen to your teen when they vent and offer to help them process those feelings. It’s worth noting that with limitations in outside interaction teens may have increased feelings of isolation, frustration, and loss. Be on the lookout for signs of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety and seek out help for them if needed.

Allow some freedom to make decisions.

When so much seems out of his control, I try to find ways to give our son opportunities to be in control. He can set his schedule for completing his distance learning modules for school. He can pick where we order dinner. He can choose the movie we will watch as a family.

Make screen time meaningful.

It’s easy for kids (and us adults, admittedly) to mindlessly engage in looking at a screen when there is “nothing else to do”—does my kid not notice the mountain of dishes in the sink? Connecting with friends through screens (text, Instagram, Snapchat, Tik Tok, online gaming, etc) is understandable as a means of social interaction for teens. However, there are additional ways to use screen time: video chat with distant family, make a movie, try out some educational apps/resources that are now more readily accessible, or take virtual tours of local and international sites.

Encourage them to pursue a new hobby or interest.

This is a great time to learn something new: a new language, design a video game or app, learn how to bake. Websites like Youtube and Pinterest offer ideas and tutorials on a wide range of interests: learn how to play a musical instrument, learn to dance, or learn a new crafting technique.

Help them gain valuable life skills.

As your teen is approaching young adulthood, what better time is there than now to learn some life skills that will help them in the future? Personal finance skills such as how to create and manage a budget, how to write a check, manage a debit card and general financial literacy are critical skills for teens to learn before they become adults. Other skills include how to cook meals, basic car maintenance, typing, writing thank you notes, mending clothing, writing a college application personal statement, time management, basic home improvement projects, gardening…the list is endless.

Help them find ways to focus on others.

It’s hard to be down when you are helping others. Our son has been mowing the lawns of neighbors (without payment) as an act of service. He’s been “paid” in words of gratitude and homemade treats. Your teen could do a video chat with a grandparent and offer to help them understand how to use their smartphone. Got a crafty teen? They can make masks for family members.

What are some ways you are helping your teen(s) right now?

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