Our teenagers, like the rest of us, are struggling. They’ve been stuck at home, having lost the ability to socialise with their friends in person in any sort of normal way — right at the time when their relationships outside of the home have become so important to them. What they’ve lost during these many months is significant, but it can be hard for a parent to know how to help them if they’re feeling anxious, sad or lonely.
Psychologist and columnist Lisa Damour reminds us on Twitter that although we can’t take away the coronavirus and reinstate our teenagers’ pre-pandemic social lives, there are a few basic things we can do right now to remind them they’re not as alone as they feel. She starts with: a hug.
Parents of teens, GO HUG YOUR TEENAGER. I am hearing how much they long for physical contact (usually accomplished by flopping all over their friends). Unsure how this will land? A quick rub on the back or side hug will give you a read. Don't be weird about it. Just do it. 1/3— Lisa Damour, PhD (@LDamour) October 9, 2020
Everyone needs physical human contact, and she is so right that teenagers often get this by playfully knocking each other around, swinging an arm around a friend’s neck, jumping on a buddy’s back in the hallway, and yanking on each others’ backpacks. They probably can’t even vocalize that they miss this aspect of it, but they definitely need a hug. I like Damour’s suggestions for easing into the hug so they’re not like, “Parent, stop it, you’re being weird right now.”
But beyond the physical contact, Damour says they also need to be reminded (just like we do) that they’re doing a good job.
Last, if you're at odds with a teen who wants to socialize, start with, "I am so sorry that getting to see your friends is something we now have to negotiate. That is NOT how it should be." Discuss safe options, but only after empathizing with their awful "new normal." 3/3— Lisa Damour, PhD (@LDamour) October 9, 2020
We all need this type of validation right now — but because your teenager might have chosen to spend much of the pandemic in bedroom hibernation, they may not be getting much by the way of positive reinforcement. I love the idea of “showering open admiration.” They may thank you for it, they may roll their eyes at it, but they will hear it and internalise it either way.
And finally, as Damour says, we need to empathise with what they’re going through — even if that doesn’t mean being able to fix it. We’ve got some additional thoughts on how to get your teenager to take the pandemic seriously and be safe during this time, but starting from a place of “this totally sucks for you,” is excellent advice.