Here we are again, lockdown land after several weeks of uncertainty and changing goalposts. It is hard for us all, but as a mentor and therapist for teens throughout the pandemic, I am particularly concerned about this generation and the impact this continued disruption on their lives is having on them.
If you are a parent of an older teenager or a teen of any age then please stay with me, you are not alone in wondering why, with resuming online schooling, you may have noticed that your child’s mojo may be missing.
I worked with many teenagers of varying ages during and beyond our first lockdown, agreeing to come and see me after concerned parents contacted me about their teen’s lack of motivation to complete schoolwork and the worry that their work demands were piling up and causing them stress. I sat with these young people and during the course of these discussions I realised something, we are placing far too many expectations on our teens to behave in the way we want them to behave.
What on earth do I mean by that?
Well firstly, teenagers, of any age, are not adults, they are not even mini adults. They may physically look bigger, stronger and more developed and may be mistaken for being older than they are, but they do not have the brain maturity to manage, process and cope with everything in the way us adults do.
During this pandemic, as adults, with fully mature brains, we have struggled at times to cope with all the changes, demands and restrictions placed on ourselves and our lives.
Some of us have seen our stress and anxiety levels rise, others have felt withdrawn and de-motivated.
And yet, whilst we acknowledge this is happening for us adults, we (as a society) still expect our teens to ‘carry on’ with school, remain motivated and focused despite the ever-shifting sands.
Bottom line is, that for some this is just not going to happen, no matter how much we will, cajole or try to compromise our way through it.
Because during the teen years the brain goes under a period of rapid, intense development, and that perspective and rational thought which we have, to take a step back and look at the bigger picture and the reasons things are happening the way they are does not exist in the way it does in a fully matured, adult brain.
Teenagers are reactive beings, they see it, they do and respond in whatever way they are feeling in that moment, and motivation, focus and concentration is strongly linked to their other brain chemicals. They need these other positive chemical in abundance to help them feel that the school work they are expected to achieve in a very different environment is worth doing, and will give them a feeling of reward and accomplishment.
So ongoing issues such as not being able to see their friends, participate in activities they enjoy and spending less time doing any kind of physical activity are all going to impact on their motivation.
So, with this understanding, what can we, as parents do about it?
- Stop focusing on the work they need to do and worrying about it piling up. We cannot and should not expect our young people to function in the same way they would do without a pandemic. One of the things which has worked best with my teenage clients is getting them to talk to me about the subjects which motivate and interest them and what work they have to complete and their thinking around it’s completion. Talking about what they want to do rather than what they must do will help them start to think positively about schoolwork rather than one long list of lessons which must be attended and completed every day.
- Get creative with the outlets they can have. There is so much temptation to just let our teens move from a whole day on screens being educated to their ‘downtime’ on screens, especially if this is the way they are remaining connected with their friends. It can be helpful to talk through with our teenagers (when they are in the mood to talk of course) about something they enjoy doing which doesn’t involve staring at a screen. It may be doing something with you, and as a parent explaining the need for balance and ignoring the inevitable protestations. Walking outside together, cooking, even playing a game might not seem like the most exciting thing in the world for our teenagers but all of the above provide a much-needed outlet for them to down tools for a bit and focus on something non electronic. Even a 30-minute break can make all the difference, reduce those stress hormones and calm the mind.
- Give them this explanation about why their mojo may be missing. Very often I speak to teens who are so hard on themselves because they feel like they are falling behind but they don’t know what they can do about it. Helping them see what they have achieved, rather than what they haven’t, and finding a strategy which works for them can help them understand that we don’t all fit into the same educational box and this is the opportunity to create a work schedule which supports them and where they are right now.
And finally….parenting in a pandemic is one of the hardest things to do with teenagers. They are taking their first tentative steps into independence, and this ongoing situation has snatched it away from them. Some are more definitely managing better than others but know that if this is drawing on all of our resources, it is likely to be having a massive impact on them too. You are doing the best you can and asking for outside help and support can really help navigate these unprecedented times.
If you want to learn more about how understanding the teenage brain can help you support your teenager and navigate these tricky years then book onto my 5 day online programme ‘Tools for Teens’ more details here.