I am by no means an expert in parenting; I haven’t the faintest experience of parenting children myself. I can only draw on my 15 years’ experience of working with teenagers, from all sorts of backgrounds, for you to ponder on during this time of crisis.
COVID-19 has hit families hard across the world. As I only have a few hours to write this, I apologise for it not being a great literary piece of writing. My aim is to give you some tips and resources in a short space of time, in response to this unexpected crisis.
The resources and points I make in this article are by no means expert guidance, nor have I gone through every website in the list below and checked their suitability – that would be far too much fun. The crisis is now and you’re probably stuck at home reading this and pulling your hair out looking for quick answers. So on that note, I DON’T promise the websites, tips, and resources are effective, all free of cost, suitable for your children and teens, nor can I provide any confirmation that the websites are safe for your computer, you or your children. Please, check them out yourself first and make sure they’re suitable and age-appropriate.
Okay, now that the disclaimer is out of the way, I wanted to share a few thoughts I’ve been having. What I’ve noticed over the years is there’s no one magic trick to parenting teens, just a combination of possibilities requiring a lot of trial and error. And like you, I’ve never experienced a global crisis and lockdown so we don’t really have a good set of guidelines to follow, just those of common sense and human nature. However, the 5 points below have proven relatively successful for me when working with youngsters facing difficulties in their lives, and teens have hesitantly hinted to me they’re particularly helpful too.
Try to understand your child’s point of view
Your child is their own person; they’re hitting their teens and they realise they belong only to themselves. They’re desperately seeking out who they are, their identity and purpose and to put some independence into action. They’re trying to create themselves into who they think they want to be, which can be quite different from what their parents expected them to turn into. Rebellion can kick in at this point because of course, they’re always right, well in their eyes at least. And that’s my point. As frustrating as this is, the only way to fully understand this change and the conflict that can come with it, is to enter your child’s world, trying to see things as they do through their eyes and to find out what it is they truly value and believe. This is more relevant than ever as we learn to temporarily cohabit 24/7 for the first time in our lives. Under all that pressure with no escape, we can feel overwhelmed and easily jump to conflict and conclusions. As a woman without children, I can’t even begin to imagine how parents feel at home right now. I know teens can be tough, I’ve spent 15 years of my life working with them and as every person is unique this isn’t an easy task, but every challenge is an opportunity.
Many young people I’ve worked with struggle to open up to adults for fear of judgment, rejection, and retribution. “They won’t understand me” I’ve heard young people say or “they won’t listen”, “they don’t get me”, “they don’t care”. I’ve worked with quite a few parents in my time and I know that the majority of parents really do care, more than anything in the world. So, what does this tell us? Maybe that we need to find out more about what our young person is trying to say or do, and why, from their perspective and not ours, with a curious mind and a great listening ear. A fantastic start to breaking down this barrier is Unconditional Positive Regard. A term created by the humanist psychologist Carl Rogers. It means that we should accept and support someone for who they are and try to understand the world from their point of view. Here’s a great TED Talks video by Michelle Charfen on Unconditional Positive Regard and parenting, in which she talks about how it worked with her children:
TIP: Use open questions and explore your child’s thoughts, opinions and emotions in everyday conversations, with an aim to fully understand their point of view without sounding like you’re interviewing or worse, interrogating them. Be relaxed and fully present in the conversation.
Note: Maybe get ready for your children to pick up this excellent habit soon after. As they too start spreading the mutual benefits of unconditional positive regard. A great opportunity for you also to explain how you’re coping with staying in, working at home and home-schooling.
So what could you ask? Here’s a start:
- Why is that important to you?
- Could you explain that further to me?
- What’s upsetting you?
- What have you laughed at most this week?
- How can I help you to cope in this situation better?
- What should I know about how you’re feeling that may help me understand you better?
- How was your day?
- How could we make tomorrow easier?
- I’m curious, what’s your dream career – the thing you’d really love to do when you’re older?
- What are you worried about?
- What small successes have you achieved today?
- Who are you reaching out to for support?
- What are you struggling with?
- Tell me more.
- How’s home-schooling and what would make it better?
- Who and what do you miss?
- What have you learnt from the lockdown about yourself?
Be the parent or role model you wish you’d had as a teenager; their inspiration and guide, the person they learn from, look up to and mutually respect. Help your child to explore who they are to find their own values, not the beliefs imposed on them by others or society. Give them the confidence and skills to strive forward and to be able to truly understand others, like you are trying to do for them. This is a great skill they can take into adulthood and practise with the whole family moving forward. If you want to find out more, we’ll be talking about Unconditional Positive Regards, connection and conversations with children and young people, amongst other topics, in our up and coming parenting webinar series. You can keep track of the webinars here.
Clear Boundaries with Consequences
Young people have actually told me they want clear boundaries, not rules laid upon them, but mutually agreed boundaries. This is because boundaries help children to understand what’s expected of them and thereby enable them to feel safer. There’s a trick though! Make them believe they came up with the boundary; in fact, make them come up with its consequence too if broken and explore why this important. This helps a child or young person to take ownership of their boundaries and responsibility for them, plus the consequences if they’re broken. In my first class of the term, I’d always get the students to create their own boundaries and consequences before moving into a regular activity, we’d then discuss this around the table, sieve out the silly ones and agree on a final list with everyone present. Maybe, this could work with your family too. I usually prepare a list of pretty imperative boundaries I hope my students come up with though. I don’t impose these mandatory ones, I just slide them in a suggestion every now and then and hope for the best – it hasn’t failed yet.
When a boundary is broken you have to be consistent with the consequences.
It’s a powerful thing when a young person takes ownership of their own boundaries. A heavy punishment without an understanding of consequences can hit a child and teenager pretty hard and then the dreaded ‘rebellion’ kicks in. When anyone feels hard done by they don’t usually cope too well, especially not if you’re a teenager dealing with a hormonal overload. On that note, we must mirror what we expect to see in our children and apologise meaningfully when we’re wrong.
We all get things wrong and make mistakes, that’s the beauty of personal development. It’s taking responsibility for them that’s key.
Social Support & Belonging
People are social creatures who love to be around other people they resonate with, and for children and teenagers, that’s more than likely to be their peers at school. COVID-19 has taken that vital resource and support circle away. It’s just not the same having a conversation with our friends and having a conversation with our parents. A little light encouragement to socialise with friends through online video chat or even to watch a movie through Netflix party, for example, are great ways to keep up that valued social contact. Although, as a teen who couldn’t have cared less about my peers and who loved her own company and being alone, this would have been a horrid recommendation for me so it really depends on what your child thinks will make things better for them in this unusual situation. I would have loved to have watched anything to do with animals and nature, rather than socialising with humans, so a trip to a virtual Zoo like those virtual zoos in the list below would have been a lifeline to me.
No suggestion ever fits all, but we can strive to understand what fits an individual to make life a little easier for them.
Whilst teens around the world are stuck to their screens during the lockdown, they’re at a much higher risk of online abuse and bullying. Young people want to feel that they belong and to be with people that ‘get them’. It can be a risky stage in a teen’s life. Some are drawn to a sense of belonging with a gang or a group of troublemakers. Even the unthinkable, into the hands of adults looking to exploit the young person by giving them a false sense of love.
This confusing period in a teen’s life, when they’re trying to find out ‘who they are’, can be risky. However, as I mentioned briefly before in point 1, we don’t create children: they create themselves through our stability, curiosity, and support. Parents help their children fly and shine. When we have naturally woven, open and honest conversations in our everyday lives these unthinkable situations are less likely. If you’re worried about online safety I’ve provided a UK website in the list below. If this isn’t relevant to your location, try Googling a similar search for your local area, using my suggestions as a little inspiration
Delegating Chores & Tasks
If my mum told me to do the dishes, especially before school, that would be my cue to “kick-off”, feeling unjust and absolutely freaking out. Why? Because I was half asleep, I didn’t want to do anything except for my hair and makeup and why couldn’t it wait until I got home? That was my point of view. Mum’s reason, I now see, was to have a nice clean sink for the rest of the day. For me, it was a heavy burden for a sleepy teen. Maybe we could have negotiated instead. I love dusting, polishing and hoovering, I still do to this day. I would have happily done these chores after school. I would have even cleaned the bathroom, anything to avoid the dishes. But no, mum demanded they were done and I still hate washing the dishes today. The first thing I bought for my grown-up home – you guessed it, a dishwasher. When possible, if we’d negotiated the chores to fit in with our availability and the tasks we enjoyed then life may have been a little bit simpler back then. A rota would have helped with the least enjoyable necessities. This is a good watch covering areas such as raising children with unconditional love, self-efficacy and the importance of chores and how they may lead to success, amongst other interesting points:
Find out what chores and tasks your child would actually like to do and even make a competition out of it.
With my students, I always held a weekly check-in – What’s gone well? What hasn’t? Are you still happy with the way we’re doing things? What could we change? This approach could be mirrored in family time. Everyone loves a bit of variety, so maybe a few changes to the chores are required every now and then. Last but not least, a good old suggestions box works wonders. Drop an anonymous note into the box, which is read out by the weekly designated facilitator – chosen on rotation for fairness, of course, we don’t want any more “kick-offs”. The author of the note is not pressured to identify themselves to build trust in the system, but of course if they want to they can. I can’t promise there won’t be a few funny or silly notes in there to add a bit of humour to the day. As you may be home-schooling right now some of these ideas can be used to structure your day.
Creativity, the skill that costs very little and helps children to enjoy the small things, drawing them away from the materialistic world we live in.
Teens still love play and creativity and, in my experience, art is always a winner.
- A treasure hunt in the house with maps, hidden instructions, silly and funny consequences if you hit a booby trap like jumping on one leg whilst pretending to be an elephant, and of course the sought after treasure.
- The memory game – Person 1: I went to the shop and bought an apple, Person 2. I went to the shop and bought an apple and a hockey stick, Person 3. I went to the shop and bought an apple, a hockey stick, and a goldfish… and so on. Those who forget and break the shopping list are out. My youth group once got to 35 items, how many can you remember?
- Build a lockdown den. You may need to sacrifice some sheets for this one. If your children share a bedroom this could be especially helpful to give them some space and time away from each other. Being alone can be just as important as being together sometimes.
- Recreate famous paintings using objects in your home. I’ve not come up with this one, I saw it circulating on Facebook the other day and gave my dog a funny look, in reaction to which he ran away quickly knowing that I was about to make him the main prop of my famous painting recreation. Van Gogh’s sunflowers won in the end, my dog had a lucky escape.
- A family photography competition – “my life during COVID-19 lockdown”. The most inventive wins. I heard of one young person taking macro photographs of dust and cobwebs; possibly an avoidance technique for house cleaning, but highly unique and interesting.
- Find objects in the house beginning with the letters: C, Z, I, O, A, D, K, B & S for example. The first one to complete them all, without cheating, wins. Gets you running around for that daily exercise.
- Board games, cards, and puzzles… what more do I need to say?
- COVID-19 Time Capsule. Capture this unusual and challenging moment in a time capsule for future generations to find. Your contribution to history, cool eh? Your time capsule could include a bit about you and your family, photos, a journal, artwork, memories, what you’ve been doing to keep busy and words of encouragement. You could also include what you’ve learnt from this experience, what you’re grateful for, what other people you can see or hear out of your window are doing and include newspaper clippings and images. Even interview your friends online, or family and write what you’re planning to do when this is all over.
- It’s okay if your youngster just wants to play on the game console, rest, read or watch Netflix. It’s not like this is forever, but to ensure they can bounce back into “normality” once this is over; do remember that structure and boundaries are key.
- Have an indoor picnic with bird and nature sounds in the background. When it begins to “rain” you can all run and hide in the COVID-19 secret den that you built earlier. If you have a garden and it’s a sunny day have it outside. Even do some gardening or create an allotment.
- Tell stories from your past to your children. I wish I knew more about my grandparents and even parents, but no one seems to have time these days to tell their stories nor to listen. Now it’s your chance, get the album out or just talk. What would your child like to find out about you? They could even prepare some structured interview questions.
- And, finally check out the excessive list of websites I’ve collected over the years, especially over the past week, to help fill your precious time together as a family and those moments that everyone just needs on their own. As I said earlier, I can’t promise the content or safety of these websites so make sure you check them out first before sharing with your children and teens. As I’m from the UK I don’t have a list of global sites to share, but if you can’t access any of them due to your location I’m sure they’ll prompt you to do a local Google search.
- Plus, inside each and every one of us is a creative streak – explore yours.
I’d like to finish this article by asking you some very important questions!
If the COVID-19 crisis had happened when you were a child or teenager how would you have felt? What would you have wanted to happen? How hard would this have been? What would’ve helped? What would you have wished your parents had done for you?
I haven’t a clue who first wrote this quote so I can’t reference it, but it pretty much reflects the way I feel, as do many others at this weird moment in time: “you’re not stuck at home, you’re safe at home” so do try to enjoy every precious moment that you have together and develop and learn from and with each other. This strange moment in time could be an opportunity to bring us closer together and to show our strengths as individuals and as a family. Unconditional love, unconditional positive regard and empathy are essential to this. Have fun and embrace the moment, and remember it is okay to feel not okay, angry, anxious or sad and scared. You are only human and doing the best you can do. This is a new experience for everyone and everyone reacts differently. Be kind and caring to yourself and others, things will get better soon. If you have some recommendations, discussion points and examples of coping at home with family during this difficult time then please contact me to share these on our platform or at Coacharya webinars. We could all do with helping each other right now.
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Mental Health Support for Young People:
- www.youngminds.org.uk – UK mental health support for young people and parents
- https://youngminds.org.uk/find-help/get-urgent-help/youngminds-crisis-messenger/ – UK mental health support for young people and parents
https://www.autism.org.uk/services/helplines/coronavirus/resources/helpful-resources.aspx – Autism support and helpful resources for parents and their children
https://www.thinkuknow.co.uk/parents/ – Great UK resource for parents and young people worried about online safety
Physical Education, Exercise and Dance for The Whole Family:
- https://www.youtube.com/user/thebodycoach1 – There’s a lot of talk about these Physical Education classes in the UK
https://www.youtube.com/user/GoNoodleGames/featured – It seems to be for children!
Geography and Virtual Travel for The Whole Family:
https://www.geoguessr.com/ – Some teens love this and it can be played competitively with family and friends, plus it’s educational
Mindfulness and Relaxation for Children:
- https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/products/booklet/breathing-and-relaxation-guide/ – relaxation techniques for anxiety
- https://www.youtube.com/user/CosmicKidsYoga – yoga for children
DJ Stuff for Teens and Adults:
Audible Books for Children and Teens:
Books for All Ages (although many are for adults):
Virtual Galleries and Museums for All the Family:
- https://artsandculture.google.com/partner?tab=pop – partner collections
Nature & Virtual Zoo Trips:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOOi7JtIMDaYsaUjDBSTSIQ – Short animated films on Bugs
A Source of Information, Entertainment and Resources for Adults to do with Children, Teens and the Family, or alone:
Online Raves for Young Adults:
https://edm.com/news/tiktok-douyin-cloud-raves-covid-19 – An article with suggestions. As always parental guidance recommended.
Online TV, US only – It may be free, but I can’t see as I’m out of the US:
Film Making for Older Teens, Supervised Children and Parents:
Movie Scripts for Young People and Adults:
A Massive List for Parents and Older Children of Recommended Activities and Resources for People of All Ages
Indoor Activities for Children and Teens:
- https://www.schoolofspreadthehappiness.co.uk/product/100-things-to-do-indoors/ -currently available as a free download
Music for Older Teens and Parents (parental guidance recommended):
Crafts for All Ages:
Videos and Resources on Computing, Science, Engineering, and Technology for Girls:
Watch Party with your Friends Through Netflix:
Cards Against Humanity Family Addition for the Whole Family (apparently):
Solar System and Space Stuff for All Ages:
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Thanks for reading,