Yesterday I watched the excitement and elation of five pre-teens and young teens as they heard the news that school was going to be out for the next few weeks at least. One of the first things they did was to download apps to make sure they could easily communicate as a group if they were not able to see each other. They then began writing their ‘No school bucket lists’, and top of all of them was the resolution to ‘make sure not to become distant from my friends’.
Even in extraordinary times, teenagers are still teenagers. And there is nothing more important to most teens than their friendships. Whilst as parents, we may look forward to being able to spend more time with our teenage children and to deepen our connection with them, no doubt their main concern will be how they are going to cope with being stuck at home with their parents. It is natural for a teenager to increasingly separate from their parents, to go out and find their own tribe. It’s a time when they need to explore their identity, and to find out who they are outside of their family. So, any enforced isolation is likely to jar with their deep drive and instinct to go outwards into the world.
|In Chinese medicine, adolescence is resonant with the Fire Element. The Fire Element governs how we manage our relationships with other people and ourselves. The qi of the Fire Element intensifies during adolescence, which is why children of this age tend to feel things very passionately! This intensity also drives teens to fulfil their developmental role of this time – ie. to make strong connections with others outside the family.|
Whilst those of you who regularly read my blog will know that I have written a lot about the potential negatives of screen time and social media, this is one time when the benefits of it will come into their own. If technology allows our teens to keep those connections with their new-found tribes, it will make this time of uncertainty and disruption a lot easier for them than it otherwise would have been.
At the same time, although teenagers would rather do just about anything than admit to needing their parents, they really do still need us! They are in a state of huge internal flux. Put that together with the enormous external changes they are currently experiencing, and it makes for a potentially anxious time. The more as parents we can work on managing our own anxieties and fears (which may be great at the moment), the more our teens will benefit. What they need from us at the moment, more than ever, is to feel that we are solid and stable. That is not to say we need to pretend that ‘everything is ok’ when it is patently not, but that we need to let them know that, despite all the difficulties, we as a family will come through it.
So, as well as recognising that over the next few weeks or months, our teens will have a strong need to connect with their peers, it might also be beneficial to ringfence some time each day to put away screens and to connect as a family.
Here are some other potential benefits for teens of an enforced, prolonged period out of school:
- Time to catch up on some sleep: teens are growing and changing so fast and good sleep is crucial for this process.
- Time to slow down and lean in to a more yin lifestyle: most teens have crazily chaotic lives with little downtime. Learning how to be still and have downtime at this age will serve them well for the rest of their lives. Have a look at this blog post – ‘How does a child get real downtime in the 21st century’ – for more thoughts on what actually constitutes ‘downtime’.
- Time to reframe what is important: there is a lot of talk about rising anxiety levels at the moment. But I believe, if dealt with appropriately, this time of crisis could actually help teens to reduce their level of anxiety. Through conversation, we can help them to see that a lot of things they may worry about, are actually of very little consequence. One teen, who is prone to huge amounts of anxiety, and who has just found out she won’t be able to take her A levels said to me ‘I was gutted at first but now I’m OK. It’s made me realise there are more important things in the world. We will get through this and I trust that my life will work out – maybe just differently to how I expected’.
William Arthur Ward wrote ‘The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.’ I wish you and your teens, and indeed all your loved ones, all good wishes in adjusting your sails over the coming weeks.