Advice to parents with teenagers
Written by Dr Sara Bahadori (Child Psychiatrist)
Due to the current situation, you are confined with your teenager at home and you are concerned that it might become challenging. How can you deal with a teenager when they have their own interests and need for independency in mind? Here are some guidelines to help you during the lockdown.
First of all, if your child takes medication it is very important that they keep taking it. Out-of-date prescriptions can be renewed and dispensed by your pharmacist. Also, their doctor can provide an online consultation and send you prescriptions by email. If your child has a psychological follow-up, contact their psychologist to see if sessions can be provided online too.
During confinement, 3 goals are to be achieved:
1. Prevent anxiety
2. Keep a stable rhythm of life, get busy and organize physical exercise
3. Avoid relational tensions
Here are 5 guidelines to help you achieve these goals:
1 - Avoid stress due to TV and media:
Avoid as much as possible TV channels that provide 24/7 news: you will not learn anything more than what you will know after watching the evening news. This will make you vulnerable to stress, and will generate useless anxiety. For those interested, you could take a look at reliable official pages such as government websites or “Agence France Presse”, maximum twice a day. Otherwise, it is better to watch enjoyable programming such as films or series.
2 - How to create a routine
Create a timetable for the family that includes getting-up times, bed times, meal times…, and outings (groceries, dog walking, etc.). It is not about making a military organization, stay flexible! Every child should also have their own weekly timetable, as clear as possible. You can use pictograms, colors etc. to make it easy to understand. Write down work/school time, sports time, going out time when possible. If you have to go out, be extremely careful and respect the rules of social distancing.
Avoid inequity sentiment (e.g. fight over the TV remote control). In normal times, everyone manage to share screen as peacefully as possible, even though it is usually precarious. During lockdown, screens can be considered as “valuable resource” and become the object of a “fight to get the power”. It is very important to establish rules such as: who decide and when. These rules have to be clearly written down to avoid as many conflicts as possible. It is also possible to create a schedule for each screen. Finally, introduce everyone to this new way of functioning during a pleasant group time (family dessert, etc.).
School at home. It is important that your child have school times at home. If it is important to stay rather strict on the schedule, you can be flexible on the modalities: no need to replicate a school class and to stay 4 hours on a chair! Your child can learn from online lessons, scientific programs, general knowledge programs. They can listen to audiobooks, work on a board rather than on notebooks. They can learn while doing activities such as making recipes or designing electric circuits following tutorials. You can have them learn the lessons orally. You can turn the philosophy lesson into a topic discussion. Do not try to make them work hard on their Spanish or mathematics lesson to compensate their latest marks. The most important is that they keep a rhythm and learn with pleasure.
Optimize your time. Now that you are locked down at home, it could be a good time to do tasks you usually don’t have the time for: tidy up clothes and shoes, tidy up the pharmacy box, get rid of magazines you don’t read anymore, try new activities like watercolour … If you are lucky to have outdoor space, you can do some gardening. All of these activities can be shared with your children. It is a good opportunity for them to show their strength and their ability of taking initiatives. For siblings, it can be interesting to give responsibilities to each of them. You can praise them for what they have accomplished.
Sleep. It is common for teenagers to follow a different sleep pattern: they naturally go to bed late and wake up late. This can be increased by confinement and the loss of routines. To avoid a complete change of rhythm, it is important to limit exposure to screens at bedtime. It is possible to set up a curfew around 9 or 10 pm, given the circumstances. It allows your child to have time to chat with their friends while respecting his privacy. You can let them get up later than usual: no math lessons or lawn mowing at 8 am! Your child need to sleep later in the morning: they will be more relaxed, will get better organized and less impulsive. It is important to find a compromise between your child’s needs and the family organization.
3 - All in good time
Share quality time with all the people living in your house: karaoke, dance, watching a film, board games or card games etc. Maybe not every day, several times in the week should be enough!
However, it is important that your child has time for themselves. Just like you, they need space and time for themselves, to relax, contact his friends. Discuss with them when they would like to be by themselves and write it down on the timetable. Once this settled, you have to respect their solitude time: do not enter in their room, do not ask them to do something…. These moments are very important to relax. They are needed at least 2 hours per day.
Do not expect to spend all your time together. For example, you can let your child have two evening when they do not have dinner with you so they can eat on their own or share time online with their friends.
4 - Discipline, but not strictly
Teenagers have special needs and specific behaviours that increase in stressful periods. To manage them, especially in an unprecedented context, you fave to understand their “functioning”. For instance, they have a need for peer-socialization. They also tend to defy authority and to settle their own territory. What is more, they struggle controlling impulsivity and getting out of conflicts. They are still very sensitive to affection and congratulation, although they might not show it. Here are some guidelines that take into accounts teenagers’ specificity.
- Do not expect them to be perfect. Let them be angry or moody, as long as they do not confront you directly, there is nothing wrong. However, be strict on things that really matters and that will have negative consequence.
- Praise and congratulate them. It is very important to point out their efforts, although it appears to you “natural”. Nothing is natural when you are locked down.
- Dedicated time to keep in touch with friends. The lost of their social life can be extremely difficult to handle and can create anger and stress. Give them time to catch up with their friends via social media, phones ….
- Be interested in them, but do not expect to be warmly welcomed! Teenagers’ brain is torn between a need for independency and the wish of staying their parents’ loved child. When offering to share their activity with them, you show them that they count to you as your child and that is what makes them happy. By saying no, they are proving to themselves that they can be independent. Do not be upset about that, be happy because you have reached the goal of making them feel better.
- In case of explosive conflicts: cool things down. Usually, at the peak of a conflict, teenagers often say “doesn’t matter”, which can be very annoying for parents who reply “yes it matters!”. In fact, by saying this, your child is asking you to let him go in his bed to cool things down. They are offering a truce, take it! Once everyone is calm, you can discuss about the matter in a quieter way. During this time, you can do something else. Once everyone is calm, offer reconciliation: it is not an act of weakness but it shows a mature control of the conflict.
- Take time for yourself: meditation, controlled-breathing exercises etc., ideally 5 minutes twice a day. Try to do some physical exercises every day. Internet provides lots of short sports program. You can also try to do something you have never done before: when we work we often complain no to have time for anything else, now it is the perfect opportunity to do other things!
Translated by Dr Cassandre Landel (psychiatry resident), and W. Lapworth