How to Help our Teens Cope with Christmas in Quarantine
Following Saturday’s announcement about the Tier 4 lockdown over Christmas in many areas, it’s perfectly understandable that many of us will be feeling disappointed that our carefully made Christmas plans have been ruined. Instead of exchanging presents with my parents on Christmas Day as usual, amidst lots of warmth, hugs and laughter, I exchanged gifts with them last night at a chilly, rainy service station in The Midlands, standing 2 metres apart and wearing a pair of rubber gloves! I live in hope that we will look back on this and laugh but at the moment it’s a far cry from what we had planned. It might, however, be particularly difficult for teens to cope with Christmas in quarantine.
Why might Christmas in quarantine be particularly difficult for teens?
For us as adults, it is just one Christmas amongst the many we have already had over the years – a blip. For children and teens, however, this pandemic has eaten up almost a year of their relatively short lives. It may be less than easy for them to rationalise it in the same way and it is perfectly understandable that they might be feeling anger, frustration, loss, powerlessness, disappointment or grief.
When these feelings are mixed with too much sugar, lack of exercise, lack of human contact and too much screen time, our houses can quite quickly become a pressure cooker of emotions.
One of the reasons that Covid-19 has been so difficult for some teens is because they are at a crucial stage in the development of their brains and interacting face to face is a crucial part of this development. Adolescence is a time when they are practising for adulthood and it is natural for them to want to spend more time with their friends than with their family to develop their independence, yet they have been forced to be in the house with their parents 24/7. Many feel that their power and control has been stripped away from them.
Unfortunately for us as parents, this frustration may manifest itself as shouting, door slamming and moodiness and sometimes it is less than easy not to react in a similar way, particularly when we are dealing with our own anxiety and disappointment.
How can we help teens cope with Christmas in quarantine?
- We can show them empathy for how they are feeling. In his book, “The Whole Brain Child,” Dr Daniel Siegel writes about the connect and redirect approach. The left side of our brains are logical, verbal and rational whereas the right side is emotional, non-verbal and intuitive. He states that if a child is upset or angry (right side), they need to feel felt before they will respond to problem solving (left side). Therefore, it is important to “connect” with the right side of their brains first by empathising through touch, tone of voice or facial expression before we “redirect” with the left and begin problem solving.
- We can allow them opportunities to sleep in as much as they want. A teen’s body clock naturally shifts during puberty to make them feel tired later in the evening but early school starts do not enable them to sleep in the mornings. The Christmas holidays are a good time to catch up on sleep, which is essential for their development.
- We can show them what they can influence by asking them what they want to do each day and then allowing them to do it. Many parents worry about the amount of time their teens spend gaming. Gaming, however, is more important than ever for teens. It is one of the only ways in which they can connect with friends. They get a sense of achievement and social status when they do well. It provides them with escapism. Gaming is only really a problem if it has an obviously negative effect on mood.
- We can give them space. If a teen has completely lost their temper, it can take between 20 minutes and 2 hours for them to calm down again. Following them into their room is probably not the best plan. You could always send them a text in a few hours and ask if they want to watch a film or do something together.
- We can set a good example to them by being accepting of what we cannot change. This year has been living proof that the plans we make in life need to be flexible as there will always be elements that will be out of our control. Through this pandemic, we are teaching our teens that those who are flexible will exert the greatest influence. We are teaching them resilience. We are teaching them that they can choose how to respond to a situation.
The valuable lessons that we are teaching our teens right now will last a lifetime.