June 2020

Parenting Teens During Uncertain Times

BY NICOLE M. YOUNG, MSW

So much has happened – and not happened – in the last few months because of COVID-19. Schools and many child care facilities closed. Businesses closed or rapidly changed the way they serve customers. Parks and beaches closed, then reopened, then closed during peak hours of the day. Proms, graduations, birthday parties, and holiday gatherings were canceled, postponed, or changed to virtual gatherings. Many parents took on the additional job of overseeing distance learning, and many others lost their jobs and are struggling financially. Some days, the pace of change and level of stress caused by COVID-19 is dizzying and overwhelming. And although some parts of the community are starting to open up, the economic and emotional toll of COVID-19 is likely to last for a long time. Now, more than ever, is the time to take care of ourselves, our families, and our community.

This monthly article provides tips for families raising children, based on the world-renowned Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, available to families in Santa Cruz County. If you have a question or idea for a future column, please email [email protected]

Dear Nicole,
I’m a single dad with two teens. We’ve been sheltering in place and doing ok, but my kids stay in their rooms all day watching videos or playing video games. I’ve tried to have them follow a schedule, be active, and talk about their feelings, but they don’t like any of my suggestions. They say they’re fine and want to be left alone. The more I try to talk with them, the more they ignore me, and sometimes we end up arguing. What can I do?
– Raúl


Dear Raúl,
I’m sure many parents of teens can relate! COVID-19 has disrupted daily life beyond belief, and even “the experts” can’t accurately predict what will happen next. The uncertainty about this pandemic has left many children, teens, and adults feeling anxious, frustrated, lonely, scared, and even angry. Your teens are probably trying to make sense of the disruptions to their lives. This is a good time to provide support, even if it doesn’t seem like they want it. Here are some tips to try:
Take care of yourself. It’s like putting on your oxygen mask before helping others. Notice your own thoughts and feelings and take small breaks when you’re feeling stretched to your limits. Walk away from the stressful situation if you can. Take deep breaths, exercise, listen to music, or talk to someone supportive. Doing something you enjoy – even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time throughout the day – can help reduce your own stress and worries so that you the emotional energy to support your teens.

Let your teens know you’re there for them. Some kids want to ask questions or talk about their feelings, while others need more time or encouragement before they’re ready to talk. And still others would rather express themselves through art, music, writing, cooking, playing games, or physical activity instead of talking. Even if your teens don’t want to have a deep discussion, acknowledge that COVID-19 has turned life upside down and it’s natural to have many thoughts and feelings about it. Let them know you’re available if they ever have questions or want to talk, then follow their lead.

Have casual conversations about their interests. Ask what they want to eat, or ask them to tell you about a video they watched or the latest game they’re playing. This shows you value their opinions and interests – and most importantly, it keeps the lines of communication open.

Provide support when they’re ready. If your teens ask a question or want to talk, give them your full attention. Listen and ask open-ended questions to find out what they already know and how they feel about it (“What have you heard?” or “How do you feel about that?”). Acknowledge and normalize their feelings (“It’s natural to be worried. A lot of people feel the same way.”). Then give them praise and encouragement to keep sharing what’s on their minds (“That’s a good question. I’m glad you asked it.”).


FINAL THOUGHTS
The best thing we can do for our families is take care of our physical and emotional well-being and support each other. If your teens’ behaviors become more concerning (not sleeping or eating, more withdrawn or aggressive), reach out for additional support. Contact First 5 Santa Cruz at 465-2217 or [email protected] for Triple P parenting support or dial 211 (or text your zip code to 898-211) to find counseling and other resources.

Nicole Young is the mother of two children, ages 16 and 20, who also manages Santa Cruz County’s Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, the world’s leading positive parenting program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is made available locally by First 5 Santa Cruz County, the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency (Mental Health Services Act) and the Santa Cruz County Human Services Department. To find a Triple P parenting class or practitioner, visit triplep.first5scc.org, facebook.com/triplepscc or contact First 5 Santa Cruz County at 465-2217 or [email protected].

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