Around the country, schools are closed for the year, sports seasons are canceled, and forlorn teens everywhere are stuck at home without their usual outlets for fun and socialization.
This can be a recipe for tension even in the happiest of households.
But I’ve found this unusual season of quiet has actually opened the door to many beautiful moments of connecting with my teenage daughter, which is strengthening our relationship rather than putting us at odds. It does take some effort on my part—and hers—but overall I believe we will come out of this lockdown with a closer bond and plenty of precious memories.
Memories that might otherwise have gotten lost in the busyness of our “normal” days.
Here are five ways to connect with our teens during this unprecedented lockdown—and beyond it.
1. Validate your teen’s feelings. My daughter misses her friends terribly. At her age, peers are a vital part of the world around her, and being cut off from them has created a deep heartache. Trying to reason with her by telling her these people won’t matter to her in another five or ten years is NOT the most compassionate solution at the moment. Giving her permission to feel the feels, however, is. Let’s remember our children’s reality might be different from ours, but that doesn’t make it any less real. Sometimes a simple acknowledgment that, “Yeah, I know, this really stinks—it’s okay to feel sad right now” is the best way to build trust with our teens.
2. Support a new hobby. My kids have a little more time on their hands now that every single extracurricular activity is either canceled or living on Zoom. Encourage your teen to take up a new hobby or skill, then do what you can to support it. My daughter is suddenly on a mission to learn crochet. She came up with this idea all on her own (thanks, YouTube), and I’m totally on board to champion the new interest—which includes forking over cash to Hobby Lobby for needles and yarn, even though that wasn’t exactly part of our quarantine budget. I know not everybody can fund a new fascination, especially with an uncertain economy looming. But lets at least try to show enthusiasm for our teens’ personal development in whatever way we can. Who knows what kind of lifelong passion they might grab a hold of during this crazy season?
3. Teach your teen something new. Along the lines of taking up new hobbies, why not share your own passion for cooking or gardening or woodwork? Choose something YOU love to do, and teach your teen how it’s done. Last week my daughter and I made apple pies. She’d never rolled pie crust before, never crimped a pastry edge. We had a blast—and then we gave one of the pies to a friend as a special social distance treat. I guarantee you we made a whole lot more than pies that afternoon. We built some great memories, too.
4. Be available—on your child’s schedule. This one is hard for those of us who enjoy our sleep. But I’ve noticed that my teen—and many others, according to other parents I’ve talked to—opens up when she feels like it, which is often late into the evening after I’m already exhausted and ready for bed. But I make myself open my eyes and ears and engage in heart-to-heart conversations that we might not otherwise have any other hour of the day. Our teens need to know we’re available, not just in body but in heart and spirit, too. Let’s flex our own agendas in order to meet them where they are.
5. Give your teen space. These past few weeks, our house has felt increasingly crowded and loud as the days of quarantine grow, and escape is not an option. Four people, with different personalities and tolerance for noise, dwelling in one relatively small space for what has clearly become an unpredictable length of time—well, it can be stressful, to say the least, especially for a teen who needs her own space, to begin with.
So when I discovered my daughter one afternoon hiding in a dim corner of the basement on a bean bag chair, snuggled against pillows propped against a stack of storage bins, playing a game on her iPad in silence—I left her there. I know I said this was a post about connecting with our teens, but sometimes the best way to connect emotionally is to acknowledge their need for disconnecting from the rest of the family—and leave them be. Now my daughter knows that when she’s pushed to the edge of her nerves, she can retreat to her hiding place and nobody is going to try yanking her out of it. That alone can go a long way toward maintaining peace in the household—and in a teenage soul.
However you choose to connect with your teen right now, I pray you’re making your relationship a priority and finding plenty of opportunities to enjoy this lockdown more than you dread it. Together we’ll come out of this stronger, and perhaps with a generation of teens who know firsthand what “quality family time” really means.
Also check out 11 ways to help your teen use technology to connect instead of disengaging during COVID-19.