Dr. Adam Price is the author of He’s Not Lazy: Empowering Your Son to Believe in Himself. Since the unusual circumstances that we have found ourselves in have resulted in many of us being at home with our boys (and girls), we picked his brain about how to cope with this situation.
Q: How do we get our boys (and girls) to take what’s happening seriously?
Price: Teenagers and the college students that I have been talking to tend to minimize what’s going on and think that our reactions are just too strong and that we’re overdoing it because their lives have been so disrupted. It really is something that disrupts all our lives, but they feel it particularly intensely. I think it’s important that without freaking them out and overwhelming them, we help them to appreciate the severity of it, because that will help them to accept it. And if they can accept it, then they’ll be more cooperative and have safer behavior.
Q: What’s the way to do that? What if we tell them that we’re anxious and that they shouldn’t hang with friends and then they say, “I’m going out to meet a friend”?
Price: Start with empathy. And empathy is not just about understanding someone’s perspective. It’s about understanding how their perspective makes sense to them. Ask “What do you think about all this?” as a jumping off point and remember that validating someone’s feelings is not the same as agreeing with their position.
Once you know how they feel, don’t directly disagree with them because then they’re just going to shut down. I think it’s better to take an approach where you say, “You could be right. And I hope you’re right. I really do. But maybe we’d rather look back and say we did too much than look back and say we didn’t do enough.” Explain that in other places, things are worse. And everybody is predicting that things will get a lot worse.
Q: Now let’s talk about your specialty. What would you recommend in households with high school kids and middle school boys? How do you get the energy out, especially when we are all cooped up in smaller spaces and with nowhere to go?
Price: Hopefully, kids can still go outside to their backyards or front yards. They do need to get out and have some fresh air every day. If you’re living in a big urban city like where I live in New York City, that’s hard, but I think it’s still possible.
Also, kids need structure. Everybody needs structure. Human beings need structure. It gives us a sense of purpose. It gives us a sense of security. Online schooling will provide some of that structure. But I think we have to work with kids to decide what kind of structure they’re going to have. It’s particularly hard on teenagers because they’ve lost something that’s so important to them, which is their independence.
I’m worried the parents are going take the attitude, “Well, now I’m going to make this schedule and this is what we’re going do from nine to nine.” If they do, they’re going to get into a lot of battles. I’ve already seen that happen. It’s better to brainstorm with kids about different activities that they could do. And maybe now all that’s called for is to have a few activities to do. As time goes on, kids will get more bored, and then they may see the benefit of a more formal schedule.
We’ve been so worried about social media and video games. I think now we’re understanding the benefit of them, because for many kids, it’s their only social contact. I think parents should consider easing some of the limits they may impose on screen time. Don’t relax the rules for safe online behavior, but allow kids to connect that way socially. Playing video games online and things like Snapchat and Tik-Tok and Instagram all provide kids with an outlet.
Make sure that kids have space, especially teenagers. Everybody needs some time during the day just to be alone. And if you’re lucky enough and everybody in your family has their own room, your worry may be to get your teen out of there. But for other families or kids where there’s not as much public space, I think it’s important to make a schedule so that this is the time that one person can be in that room and then share it. And that’s true for adults, too. Otherwise, I think we can go bonkers.
Q: Should we should let our kids sleep in?
Price: While we might ease certain time limits on video games or social media, I think we need the capacity to toe the line at bedtime. With computers and phones, it’s so easy for kids to be sucked in and then to turn into night owls. And within just a couple days, your kids are going to be up all night and sleeping all day. Maybe a little bit of a later bedtime. But then make sure that the phone is being charged downstairs and the computers are out of the room so that they can get to sleep. It’s better to have that struggle than to try to rouse them in the morning. The more regularity that can have in their day, the better, including a nighttime routine where the family’s playing a game or watching something on TV.
Q: We’re all cooped up. Inevitably, we’re going get on each other’s nerves. What do we do when they’re driving us crazy?
Price: Parents have to really be careful about the battles they choose to fight right now. Again, it’s not the time to finally get them to take out the trash. As you know, bickering never leads to a solution but it always leads to bring everybody down. So I think the more that parents can be adults and do that, the better.
Parents also have to take care of themselves, because you’re going to be so focused on your kids and your family, especially moms. It’s really important right now not to neglect your own mental health and emotional needs. Learn the technology from your kids and have a happy hour or a coffee klatch with your friends. You know, go on a date with another couple and do it online. And then when things do melt down, get some space.
Q: What advice do you have for parents who have read your book and worry that their kid is lazy? How does that advice translate into our current situation?
Price: The book addressed the parents of kids who aren’t motivated at school – especially the kids who have ADHD where they need more movement and more engagement. Now, we’re looking at a screen all day. A teacher’s not going to be so engaging. The same principles apply, though. Kids really need autonomy. They need a sense of choice over their work. With kids and parents home all day, parents could go overboard making sure that they’re doing everything that they’re supposed to. That’s not a good road to go down.
When they’re online, they’re still in school and you’re not there. And when they’re doing their homework, they still need to be able to figure it out on their own. If a child isn’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing at school, then maybe they need that kind of feedback in order to be able to say, “You know, you need to kind of step it up.” If they’re spending too much time online or too much time outside, tell them that you’re going to limit that. It’s going to be challenging because there’s not a lot we want to take away or we should take away.
I think everybody gets a pass right now.
It’s also time to just breathe and not worry as much because it’s really scary out there and there are much bigger problems that we’re facing and contending with. I do want to say our kids are going to get through this and they’re going to be just as just as good next year if they missed a little bit of education this year.