Parenting Teens in Lockdown

Teen stuck inside during lockdown

Parenting Teens in Lockdown

Dr Joanna Chu

Dr Joanna Chu is a Research Fellow at the National Institute for Health Innovation (NIHI) in the School of Population Health at the University of Auckland.

This article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views of the University of Auckland.


Thinking that we are failing as parents? Feeling the guilt with increase screen use? Don’t. Undermining ourselves as parents isn’t going to help. Even if you love hanging out with your kids, you can only take so much family time before you start to get stressed. None of us were given any skills in parenting through a pandemic. It’s challenging, and it’s important to acknowledge that. Here are some tips for parenting teenagers:

First and foremost, take care of yourself as a parent.

As a parent, self-care often slips to the bottom of the list. But right now, its more important than ever. Be realistic and lower your expectations for yourself. Focus on things that you can control and allow time for yourself. Perhaps a walk, a long hot shower, exercise, meditation, or read a book. Find one thing to feel positive or grateful about everyday. Remember that you are not alone and connect (virtually) with family and friends. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help and utilise the resources that are available.

Setting clear expectations for staying safe is critical.

Teenagers tends to feel invincible and may not recognise the importance of social distancing. This is not because they don’t care about others; it is because developmentally, socialisation and connection with peers is especially important. Help them to understand that their actions and safety measures not only protect them but also protect the people in their lives.

Rethink the household rules.

This is a good time to have a family discussion about what everyone needs for home to be a safe and happy place. Figure out expectations and how everyone can support each other (perhaps your teen can help with planning and cooking a family meal). Think about what to do if you start getting on each other’s nerves. Allow for family-time, and for alone-time. Teens will likely want their own space and privacy. Involve your teen in the discussion, let them take the lead on some, and agree together as a family.

Create a flexible but consistent daily routine.

Sit down with your teen and map out how the days will look. Set up time for schoolwork, chores, free time, mealtimes, and bedtime. Remote schooling might be overwhelming, break it up into sessions and build in breaks. Schools and teachers have provided amazing resources but focus on what works for your household and gradually build in the schoolwork. Importantly maintain healthy habits (e.g., physical activity, adequate sleep, healthy diet). Don’t let your teen turn into a night owl and avoid them from sleeping too much.

Spend time talking about emotions.

It’s important to talk and listen to your teen. They may be feeling the loss of social connections and missing out on life experiences (e.g., sports competition, class trips). Try not to jump in and solve their problems, but focus on showing compassion, validating their feelings, and let them know that you are there for them. Your teen (although they may act otherwise) needs you now more than ever. Be kind, be patient, and loving, and model healthy coping strategies.

Digital balance.

Balancing screen time and other activities are still important, but its understandable that under these circumstances, your teen’s screen time will likely increase. However, some rules should still apply, no devices during mealtime and bedtime (smartphones in bedrooms will affect
sleep quality). Work together to come up with a plan that includes both online and offline time. Involving your teen to be a part of planning can help them stick to it. Remember to be a good role model and set limits on your own screen use.

Navigating through boredom.

Your teen is likely to be bored. Boredom breeds creativity. Encourage your teen to be creative, find their own interest. Learn a new language, start a journal, create artwork, hands-on project, music, dances, poetry or TikTok videos. Or simply let them daydream.

Finally, embrace the time together.

This is a moment in time. What matters, in good times as well as bad, are our family and our community. Offer your teen opportunities to learn, create, and grow. Offer yourself the time to reflect, bond, and connect.

A note on mental health. During this time, teens may face increased loneliness, stress, and anxiety. Be on the lookout for signs of mental health issues. If you start to see prominent behaviour changes, reach out for help: changes in sleep, appetite, mood (feeling overwhelmed, upset, frustrated or angry), difficulty focusing, lack of motivation, feeling hopeless, or loss of pleasure.

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