Sharing tips for parenting in close quarters

Apr 16 2020

Sharing tips for parenting in close quarters

“The internet has been a boon and a curse for teenagers.”
JK Rowling

As we finish week four of distance learning, the quotation by JK Rowling may be more apt than even she envisioned. In our wildest dreams, we did not imagine the sheer number of children and college-age students who would be spending all day, everyday online. It’s not just that our Cobras are attending classes and doing school work via distance learning; they’re playing with friends virtually, watching movies from their computers, and spending much of their lives on electronic devices.

Dr. Lisa Damour

In turn because of the shelter in place orders, adults and adolescents are spending more time in close proximity with one another than they would ordinarily. Parents are working from their home office while children attend school at the dining room table. What are the potential side effects of all this togetherness and how is it affecting children?

When I want to learn from a nationally respected expert on child development, I often read or listen to Lisa Damour, a psychologist, school counselor, and author of Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood and Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls. Damour’s advice combines the latest in well-grounded research with an extraordinary degree of wisdom gained from working with many adolescents in schools and in individual and family counseling.

In a recent New York Times article called “Quaranteenagers: Strategies for Parenting in Close Quarters,” Damour points to the inherent complications when teenagers, who yearn for independence and separation from their parents, are forced to stay home. In a podcast on this topic, Damour also commiserates with college freshmen who were just discovering their newfound autonomy and are now forced to revert to a stage in life they gladly left behind

To help parents face these newfound challenges, she provides a number of tips:

Make Space for Disappointment and Sadness — Adults need to recognize that teens feel a sense of loss as momentous events like prom, drama and musical performances, and special Spring happenings disappear, Damour says. In our meetings with Middle and Upper school students, we hear their disappointment and sadness as they miss their clubs, their extracurricular activities, and the annual spring traditions.

Make Space for Relief and Joy —  While there is loss, there may also be in some cases, a sense of relief, Damour writes. Students are sleeping more, they do not have to deal with a peer that gives them headaches or a teacher who frustrates them. Just as the coronavirus is not their fault, we shouldn’t blame them if they see a temporary benefit. I have heard from some parents that this distance learning experiment is in some ways a blessing for introverts.

Expect Friction Regarding Their Social Lives — You might read this suggestion from Damour and feel like it is stating the obvious. Some parents may allow students to have friends over; others refuse. Ultimately, this is a parental decision; however, if you’re uncomfortable with your children not seeing their friends in person, Damour recommends considering relaxing rules on the amount of time children can spend online. This doesn’t mean throwing out all rules and anything goes; there should still be guidelines around sleep and safety online. However, there may need to be some leniency if this is the only way for children to connect with their peers.

As children and adults spend so much time in close quarters, parents should also understand the requirement for adolescents to have alone time. Children need to escape to their own spaces and we should honor that while here again reminding them that they still have commitments to their family.

If parents want children to have buy-in, they should bring their children in as “problem-solving partners.” Everyone is more likely to adhere to a plan when they have had a say in its development and creation. Young people need to feel a sense of empowerment and agency, particularly at a time when they feel like they have so little control in their own lives. Asking them to be a part of the solution enables adolescents to exercise their growing independence.

When asked in the podcast what is her primary recommendation for how to approach our new COVID-19 normal, Damour suggests “gentleness.” She explains that the medical and economic news has put everyone on edge; deep breaths, counting to ten, and not responding right away while trying to empathize with children and adolescents as they grapple with their varying emotions may be the most effective recipe for making it through this period.

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