The pandemic turned Tiffany Lee’s house into a battlefield.
Ms. Lee was due to illness and started taking precautionary measures as early as March 2020. She asked her 15-year-old son Bowen Deal, known as Bo, to practice social distancing. She insisted that he wear masks. But that didn’t suit him well because so many people in their rural town didn’t obey such rules, she said.
“He’d see all of his classmates throw pool parties and go bowling, and he’s mad at me for not letting him go,” she said of Bo, a freshman in high school in Metter, Georgia, just outside Savannah . “He thinks I’m the bad parent because mom is between me and my friends.”
Usually the teenage years are when children separate from their parents, but today’s teenagers have spent more time at home than ever before. Teens longing to ride in packs were locked in their bedrooms, chatting to the pixelated images on their screens.
“The most isolated group are 13 to 24 year olds,” said Harold S. Koplewicz, president and medical director of the Child Mind Institute in New York City. “You lose the ability to part. They have problems with their academic goals. Many of the things they worked for are gone. “
But as difficult as it is to be a teenager today, being a parent of one is exhausting. A national poll of parents of teenagers published in March by CS Mott Children’s Hospital found that parents are switching between different tactics trying to maintain their children’s mental health. About half of those surveyed said their teenagers’ mental health had changed or worsened as a result of the pandemic. In response, half of these parents tried to relax the family’s Covid-19 rules or social media rules. A third spoke to a teacher or school counselor about their child; Almost 30 percent said they sought formal mental health help.
“There was no preparation for it,” said Julie Lythcott-Haims, former dean of freshman students at Stanford University and author of “How to Raise an Adult: Break the Trap of Over-Parents and Prepare Your Child for Adulthood.”
“Most of us have never had anything like a pandemic,” she said, “so we had to thresh while at the same time playing the part of a parent that children can rely on for emotional support.”
“It is no wonder,” she said, “that we are at the end of our ropes.”
The availability of effective vaccines, while welcome, creates new uncertainties, she said. Will return normally? When will it come What is normal now at all?
“We’re only in a state of floating animation,” she said. “We are literally in limbo. That really creates some existential worries: am I okay? Will my family be okay? “
Trust your children.
Ms. Lee, 43, had a conflict with her son in January. Ms. Lee had just spent a vacation time dodging swear words thrown at her by customers who refused to wear masks in her fashion boutique. Meanwhile, Bo requested that he be allowed to return to school in person.
“I was at the end of my mind and couldn’t fight it anymore,” she said. She said she told him if he got Covid-19 and brought it home to the family, “It’s up to you. You get it, don’t you? “
Some degree of autonomy is important for teens, but they had very little in the pandemic, said Jennifer Kolari, author of Connected Parenting: How to Raise a Great Child and a San Diego-based therapist and educational counselor who runs it holds workshops on parenting. For some, during the pandemic, their own messy bedrooms could be the only place they feel in control, she said.
She suggests making an appointment with your teen later in the day or during the week to discuss what problem keeps getting the two of you in a fight.
“You can say, ‘We’ll have a seat later tonight and I want to hear your plan,” she said. “‘ I trust you have a plan, and if you could let me into that plan, I really would help.'”
Dealing with racism.
Amid racist tension and hate crimes, including the wave of anti-Asian violence this spring, many parents of color have tried to help their children come to terms with racism and civil unrest.
Thea Monyeé, a therapist in Los Angeles, watched her three black teenage daughters get into social media battles while she and her husband struggled to figure out how best to be supported. The couple “did not want to oversee this process,” she said. “You had to be angry for a while.” On the other hand, if any of the girls needed a place to vent their frustration or anger, “we had to provide that, and if they were sad or disappointed or hurt, we had to have those conversations.”
Meanwhile, Ms. Monyeé juggled her own work – including starting a business and hosting a podcast – with her daughters’ problems with distance learning while people close to her struggled with Covid-19 and lost income. She and her husband had to keep reminding each other “to make room for ourselves”.
Ragin Johnson says she is more afraid than ever of her 17-year-old son, a tall young black man with autism. “He’s a very kind kid,” said Ms. Johnson, 43, a fifth grade teacher in Columbia, SC, “and I don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression that they are being aggressive if only they are very playful . “
She is constantly worried about what could happen if her son goes out into the world alone. Between his impaired understanding of social interactions and his limited understanding of racial politics, “he doesn’t really understand what’s going on,” Ms. Johnson said. “I’m trying to make sure he doesn’t go anywhere without me, but I can’t go on.”
As she and other parents learned in the pandemic, there may not be one perfect solution to all of the challenges that have arisen. Even a simple question like “When will this be over?” can feel unanswerable. However, experts say there are ways to make this stressful time easier to cope with.
Create different connection paths.
If every conversation ends in a fight – or if your grumpy teen doesn’t even start a conversation with you – try a different tactic. Offer to take your child for a ride, but under certain conditions. “Let her be the DJ,” said Ms. Kolari. “And you, you zip it up. Don’t use this moment to teach them. Let your kids talk. “
If then or later they open, try not to fix their problems. “You listen and you listen carefully,” said Mr Koplewicz. “They confirm what they say. Then when they’re done, you say, “OK, what’s next?”
Ask for help.
If your child appears unusually blue or emotionally fragile, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Mr Koplewicz wasn’t a fan of teletherapy prepandemic, but the successes he’s seen with it over the past year made him a convert, he said. Ms. Lee found an online therapist at BetterHelp.com who helped her and Bo navigate this rocky time. “Over the past year,” she said, “therapy kept me from leaving the deep end.”
Therapy is not the only type of support, however. Ms. Johnson relied on a close group of friends. “As a society, we are trained to worry and try to control things,” said Patrick Possel, director of the Cardinal Success Program, which provides free mental health services to uninsured and underinsured people in Louisville, Kentucky. Many of the program’s clients face multiple crises, from insecurity about work and living to abuse and their own mental health problems. If a teen starts struggling in the house, parents can tell that they no longer have enough resources to address this problem. But Mr. Possel and his colleagues urge them to look around. You ask customers: “Is there a network, a friend, a professional who can help you?” he said.
Take care of yourself.
Liz Lindholm oversees the correspondence schooling of her 12-year-old twin girls and her 18-year-old son at her home in suburban Seattle, Federal Way, Washington while she works in the health administration.
What was most challenging this year, “is the work-life balance,” she said, “where work doesn’t end and school doesn’t really end and everything just kind of fits together.”
As a 41-year-old single mother, Ms. Lindholm doesn’t have much time for self-care or treats, but occasionally she steals a moment to pour herself a soda – ideally a Coke. It is a little balm, given the considerable strain on her life. But right now it’s the best she can do. Experts say she is not alone in this.
Ms. Monyeé was dependent on her “morning ritual” last year. She meditates for at least 30 minutes – or if she can, up to three hours – writes in her diary, practices yoga and even dances. “We’re not just mothers,” she said. “We are people who have dreams, who have needs, who have desires. It was important to give me permission to be a full person. “
When parents fall apart, says Mr Koplewicz, everyone suffers. “Self-care is child care,” he said. “Can you get to sleep seven or eight hours a night? Are you doing something spiritual “
Many parents who come to Cardinal Success lack both time and private space. But that doesn’t mean they lack all of the resources, said Possel. “We ask them, ‘What are you doing? What does not work? Where do you have the energy to try something new? ‘”
Trying something new – going back to school in January – turned out to be key for Ms. Lee and her son.
To Ms. Lee’s happy surprise, Bo is one of the few students who wears a mask when she picks him up from school. One day, on the way home in the car, he told her he was shocked to discover that his friends hadn’t understood how vaccines work. Since then, she has noticed a change in his group of friends, and she says the tension at home has noticeably eased.
“I think our relationship is stronger now, especially since I had to trust him to make his own decisions,” she said. “I’m not the bad mother he thought I was. And I get new respect for him. “