Lately my brain has felt more scattered than normal. I call it corona brain and point to the five-month summer we’ve had at home.
I have loved this extra time with my family, and being forced to slow down and simplify our lives has brought me closer to my four daughters. But now, I’m a little nervous as they start a new school year that looks different than anything they’ve done before.
My daughters are ready for school because they miss their friends, and I’m ready for school because I miss the structure. They’ll be juggling online learning, masks, social, distancing, and frequently changing plans. I know it’s going to be exhausting, both mentally and physically, and I want to support them through the challenges.
Supporting My Teens This School Year
Here are the ways I will stay connected with my teens:
1. Listen and be empathetic
Most students don’t like online learning because it’s hard to pay attention and learn, especially in subjects like math. While I’m thankful we have this option during a global pandemic, it’s important to let our children admit how they really feel.
I can offer a safe place for my kids to vent and process their thoughts and emotions. Sometimes just getting the truth out—and having someone who understands—makes a bad day better.
2. Surprise them with their favorite food
For most teenagers, including mine, food is one of their favorite things. Presenting their favorite snacks or meals when they’re tired or depleted can earn me an ear-to-ear grin. Whatever makes their young hearts sing—chips and queso, a smoothie, a Sonic Slush, a Greek salad, a ribeye steak or a BBQ sandwich—can be the perfect thing to make a stressful week or a difficult test a little easier.
3. Be patient and remember myself at their age
When considering my kids’ perspectives, it helps to remember my shortcomings as a teenager. I was friendly, but also self-centered and overly concerned with other people’s opinions of me.
The truth is, we are all a work-in-progress, and just as we needed adults during our awkward teenage years who loved us and encouraged us well, our kids need the same. Remembering myself at their age can soften my heart and give me the patience I need as I guide them through a challenging and stressful season.
4. Help them find creative outlets
Extra time at home has helped my teenagers tap into their creativity. I know teens who have built bookshelves, decks, and rock gardens; painted bathrooms; pulled out the sewing machine; and learned to play the ukulele.
One of my daughters started creating unbelievable cake art and another daughter talked me into letting her paint a geometric wall in her bedroom. I was amazed by how well it turned out.
Anxiety levels are high for our teens, and having healthy escapes can relieve stress and lead to creative endeavors that they do solely for the sake of fun.
5. Be strong, but realistic
After my mom died last February, my daughter overheard me send a voice text to a friend who had checked on me. I said it had been a hard day and I had cried, but I was doing better. Afterward my daughter told me, “Wow, you’re so honest!” I told her that I’d learned to be honest and let my friends in so they can help me when I need it. I encouraged her to do the same because no one should ever struggle alone.
I believe parents should be a source of strength and hope, yet I also believe in admitting our humanity. Few of us are living our best life right now, and while we clearly shouldn’t burden our teenagers with heavy adult problems, we can be real. We can admit when we feel anxious or sad and what’s helping us cope in healthy ways. Doing this encourages our teens to open up. It’s put us on the same team to help each other forward.
This school year won’t be normal or easy, but no matter what happens, we can connect with our teenagers in meaningful ways and set a positive stage for the seasons to come.