We all want to watch our teenagers grow and develop into mentally and physically apt adults. Surrounded by strong and supportive friends, teenagers learn how to handle disappointments, navigate the stress from rigorous education, and establish their “place” in the classroom, the first “sub-culture” of society. Sports teams, competitive clubs, and various other after school activities teach our teens the values of teamwork, personal responsibility, and the benefits of working hard.
However, the current “unknowns” created by the recent isolation and quarantine have replaced the normal “day life” of raising teens. These unknowns have instead heightened the anxiety and concern in, not just teens, but in their parents as well.
For the past few months, I’ve read post after post on Facebook about parents concerned about their teens. Concerned about the mental and social effects of the quarantine and isolation on our teenagers, parents are looking for resources and assistance in handling the new challenges that these limitations have created. Many are left wondering, What is the lasting effect that this will have on my child? How do I help my teen fight depression and loneliness brought about by this situation? How can I provide a stable environment that will create fertile ground for their continual growth?
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ”Philippians 4:6-7
While praying with these concerns myself, I have developed ten ways that we can try and create a positive environment for growth and to help reduce our teens stress.
We cannot begin to understand the level of anxiety or struggle that these adolescents are undergoing if we have not taken the time to listen to them. After speaking recently with a therapist, I learned that the best way to talk with your teen is while driving. Teenagers need to be able to speak one-on-one with us without us staring at them. Driving creates a casual environment for them to bring up issues and share their heart. Utilizing the time in your car as you pick up takeout for dinner or run a few errands are great way pockets of opportunity.
I have personally found that teenagers do not always pick the most “opportune” times to discuss things. There have been plenty of nights that I have been exhausted from a long day to find a teen that has wandered into my bedroom to chat for a few minutes. These are the moments when we die to ourselves and honor this opportunity and space where they are willing to share. Ask questions and engage. Be willing to let them “vent,” even if it means listening to them critiquing your parenting and the rules you have set up. We have been able to address several discrepancies this way, and discuss house rules to explain why we have them. In listening, we have also compromised and adjusted rules, giving them leave-way to demonstrate they can be trusted and prove responsibility.
2. Making time in their schedule for fun/activity
As we help our teens develop a schedule for their school day amid all the current schooling changes, it is also important that we create time for fun. Encouraging them to take their siblings to the park or go bike riding is crucial for their development. Many of our teens whose sports events are cancelled remain without outlets for their energy and need to find time for physical activity and fun. Encouraging them to go for a run or develop a strength-training program is a great way to help stimulate their bodies and get them moving. As most of their day requires hours in front of a computer, encouraging them to take breaks throughout the day and be active is a skill they will utilize into adulthood.
3. Encouraging them to take quiet time in their day for themselves
A few years ago, we implemented a quiet hour in our house. Mostly to ensure a quieter house for my napping toddler, and to give me some quiet from a full day of homeschooling, this hour soon became essential. Moreover, I found that it greatly benefited my teens to have this imposed quiet in their schedule. Do not get me wrong–they would always complain about it. However, I often found them crashed across their bed, reading with a younger sibling, or finishing off a book from the library that they didn’t have time to get to.
With so many of our teens learning remotely, this is definitely an activity that we can schedule. In our house, we give an hour to complete quiet. Everyone in the house is to be by themselves in various rooms of the house. There are no electronics, phones, headphones, or music. Everyone is expected to quietly read, take a quick nap, or work independently on an activity.
Our brains need this opportunity to reboot. We need to “shut down” all the distractions and noise that pervade our minds. Teaching our teenagers and children the importance of this hour of quiet for their mental well-being can have lasting effects. We are showing them that they can facilitate their own inner quiet, in a noisy world.
4. Connecting them with friends/encouraging times to meet up and hang out
Similar to adults, our teenagers need socialization. If our current social situation limits large gatherings of their friends, we still need to ensure regular contact with a smaller group of friends. Friendships teach our children how to learn trust and share themselves with others. Friendships help us to strengthen our values and learn how to depend on others. Through our friendships, we learn how to relate to the world and find out who we are.
We can find ways to safely encourage our teens to chat with their friends, meet up, and prevent our teens from spending too much time alone. They need friends to help build their self-worth and identity.
Left alone for weeks or months, our teenagers can start to lose the battle over the self-deprecating thoughts that fill their minds. They begin to struggle with the lack of peer engagement and dependency. The friendships that our teens need encourage them to love themselves and see the beauty in who they are. These early friendships teach them the value of friendship and the need to surround themselves with those who love them and support them.
5. Helping them prioritize their schedule
For many of our teens, they have never had to construct their own schedule before. Without the time limitations placed by regular school attendance, many of our teenagers may not be able to figure out how to get everything done without help in creating a schedule. Sitting down with and showing them how to block out adequate times for homework, free time, and physical activity will give them an advantage in college as well.
We often forget that many of the skills that are necessary for adulthood have to be taught. We need to teach our children how to prioritize into their schedules 1) the work they need to do, such as schoolwork; 2) sports and clubs; and 3) caring for their physical bodies, like eating well and sleeping. With this practice, they will grow accustomed to utilizing the best hours of the day to be the most successful.
Most anxiety over school work comes from their inability to break down their large assignments into smaller assignments over days or weeks. Teaching this skill will not only decrease anxiety but will be invaluable as they later navigate a job and their home life.
6. Making one-on-one time to be with your teen
Getting to know our teens starts with spending time with them. I know we have already discussed having opportunities to listen, but I think we must also discuss creating time to be alone with them. Having a monthly “date night” with our teens is a great way to foster a closeness and intimacy as they grow.
As our teenagers struggle to “find themselves,” we can often feel like they are changing so much that we don’t really know who they are. Having opportunities to connect with our teens will keep us aware of their dreams, desires, and interests. Finding activities that they enjoy will only encourage them to share themselves and open up dialogue with you.
We want them to have great memories of their teenage years with us as well.
7. Doing thoughtful things for them (helping with laundry, cleaning their room, etc.)
As a mother who has encouraged my children to be extremely independent from a young age, I know that they appreciate any time that I do something to help them. Listening to what is important to our teens is a great way to learn how to best do something for them. Small acts of service that can free up their anxious minds are always beneficial. Coming home to a clean room, seeing laundry they started folded on their bed, or maybe finishing their chore of loading the dishwasher are all ways we can show them appreciation.
When I am running errands, I might grab a facial cleanser or product that I know they need or check their amazon “to buy later” items and order it. If a shirt reminds me of them, I will purchase it and toss it on their bed to await their reaction.
Sometimes I will randomly ask one of my teens to pick their choice for dinner one day that week, or if they have a particular dessert they have been craving.
These are all ways that with our actions, we say, “I see you and, it makes my heart happy to delight you.”
8. Encouraging self-care
It is important that we teach our teenagers how to take care of themselves. As we complain about their lack of showers or their dirty rooms, we must not neglect the importance of encouraging them to eat healthy, get plenty of sleep, and drink plenty of water. Teenagers are often the worst at taking care of themselves but the hardest critiques of themselves. Talking with them about their sleep schedule is a great start to deciphering what their true difficulties are. So many personality issues stem from a lack of sleep and pure exhaustion. Fighting with your teen about their attitude might be mitigated if you encourage them to get more sleep.
Listening to what concerns them about their appearance can also be a great way of opening up dialogue and promoting healthy alternatives to quick and unhealthy weight loss, or other ideas such as toning their bodies.
Self-care also involves teaching our teenagers to have a healthy relationship with the Lord. Creating quiet spaces in their bedrooms, and/or practicing daily times of prayer, and engaging with the Lord is essential for their spiritual growth. We cannot deny the importance of the soul when discussing self-care. Encouraging our teenagers to pursue a personal relationship with the Lord beyond Sunday Mass and what we do as a family demonstrates the importance of our faith on a practical level.
9. Foster a new hobby or interest
In our current situation, many of our teenagers may have more pockets of time than before. This is a great opportunity to challenge them to learn a new hobby or take on a new area of interest. As an adult, I see many friends having perfected a loaf of homemade bread through this time of isolation. Many have picked up activities or hobbies that time has not allowed them to engage in for years. The same can be true for our children. There are countless tutorials and videos on YouTube, teaching multiple skills. Sign language, playing the piano, or learning to sketch are a few great examples. Encouraging our teens to learn a new skill can also produce a deep sense of satisfaction and pride.
10. Minimize their social media time
As a homeschooling mom, I quickly realized how my teenagers lack the ability to ‘self-regulate’ their social media time. Similar to their lack of need for sleep, teenagers, given the opportunity, will use their phone for multiple hours a day. They will engage in this “unrealistic” social world of Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. They will “game” for hours with little regard for the amount of time they are losing a day.
Beginning in the morning, my teenagers have their phones charging in a docking station in my room until noon. There are exceptions to every situation. Still, for the most part, my teens cannot be trusted to tackle the demands of their online classes and the work before them when their friends are texting, or their Instagram is beckoning. In the evenings, we ask our teens to leave their phones so that we can share our day and enjoy time as a family during our family dinner without distractions. In the evenings, as they come in to say goodnight, their phones are docked in our room to ensure their restful sleep.
As we ponder these ten ways to reduce our teens stress, let us not question the impact that our regular attention and care for our teenagers will have on their mental and physical health. As we try and navigate this “new normal,” let us pray for the grace to give our teenagers everything they need. In the areas where we lack true direction, we can ask Our Lord to “fill in the gaps” of our parenting.