Usually school holidays are seen by our teenagers as a break from the ‘norm’, from the monotony of everyday school life, a chance to do the things they don’t get the opportunity to do during term time. As we all know, right now we are not in those times, and things which have been regular outlets for our teens are things they can’t currently do.
I appreciate that the teen years are not necessarily a time when they want to be ‘doing stuff’ especially with parents, I get it, I have two teen boys myself!
I also recognise the need for our teens to relax and recharge during their much-needed time away from remote learning, and hours spent on screens, most following their normal timetables.
However, the temptation for our young people is to use this time to do more of what they have already been spending so much time doing, sitting on screens while ‘resting’. The biggest issue with this is that it is not truly resting, and their brains are not stopping and recalibrating, just swapping one online demand for another.
Rest for our teens and young adults highlights the importance of ‘analogue rest’ without digital distractions, which is vitally important for our teens. Need for connection is high, but so is the deregulation of the high intensity brain activity and short, easy dopamine hits they get from being online. Teens find it very hard to regulate their own boundaries around this, think how often we are attached to our phones and devices and how hard it is to disconnect?
Structure, routine and activity is vitally important for mental health and maintaining good sleep which supports mood and helps our teens recharge properly.
Bottom line? We can’t expect our teens mood to improve without a level of proactivity. They might reject everything in it’s entirety. However, sometimes drip feeding suggestions when they are in the mood to listen or providing places they can go to research themselves can be a way forward.
With this in mind, I have brought together a collection of well thought out businesses and other parents sharing successful attempts at engaging their teens. These suggestions are ways we can truly help and support their mind and mood at a time when they are having a much needed break. The irony is that this type of ‘doing’ can often be a positive way to improve the relaxation and recharging.
Activities which focus on a positive future.
Right now there is an emphasis for all of us on what we can’t do, and nowhere is this more significant than with our teens.
They can’t go out and see their friends, do the activities they are used to doing and just generally exercise their natural and emerging need to grow independently as emerging adults.
This focus on ‘can’t’ increases feelings of stress and not being in control of our lives, and teens in particular struggle to understand and make sense of these feelings and emotions due to the ways their brains are developing.
One thing which we can do right now which massively helps those positive brain chemicals of serotonin and dopamine is to focus on future plans and ideas. The brain can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality. Therefore, just by thinking and creating an image or feeling in the mind, in conversation or on paper of what they would like to be doing more of can be helpful in generating more these uplifting brain chemicals. It doesn’t mean that they are going to engage in a downward spiral, it can actually give a sense of well-being and remind them that there is a future to look forward to, with lots of good stuff in it. Teenagers very much engage in ‘all or nothing’ thinking, it is how their brain develops during these years so activities to help to channel this thought process can be massively beneficial.
Some practical ideas include Bullet Journaling which is a creative way to record our day-to-day activities, ‘to dos’ and thoughts and reflections. It is contained in a journal which we design ourselves, allowing us to express our creative side too. The creation side is the true value of bullet journaling, there are no rules, you decide what goes into the journal and it can serve as a very powerful tool for reflection and collection of memories to look back on when things feel tough. Many of my teen clients use these journals to express their creativity in a variety of ways, and find them really supportive to their mood.
Building on Bullet Journaling, creating vision boards are a great way to channel positive feelings about the future, and then having something which you can see every day. This can be done by drawing, cutting out pictures images or quotes which are meaningful to them and sticking them together to create this visual representation.
This is a great activity to do alongside your teens too, mindful activities which you can do together can generate unexpected conversations where your teen isn’t being directly asked about how they feel or if they are okay, it might just reveal some things which your teen would like to do which you hadn’t realised. Other creative ideas can be found on this website too… www.craftsy.com.
Learn a New Skill
You may not think this is the right time for your Teenager to learn something new, after all, isn’t that what they have been doing all day at school? Thing is, part of building resilience and uplifting mood is engaging in activities which may interest or inspire them. Learning a new skill can give them the ‘feel good’ chemicals flowing round their brain including endorphins and dopamine. Achieving something we try or experiment with enhances feeling of accomplishment which in turn, lifts mood.
Engaging in new activities can help the brain slow down and empty, we have to exercise control and focus when learning something which interests us and it is a much calmer activity than fast paced online gaming or the ongoing dramas on social media. They also don’t have to do this alone, learning something alongside their friends can be a positive connection time online and a way to support and encourage each other.
During the teen years, their brains are laying down new neural pathways which then strengthen as they move towards adulthood. It is why teenagers find it so easy to learn new things, and to consolidate new or existing skills. I have had teen clients teach themselves musical instruments, sign language and even to crochet during the pandemic, and discussing and displaying their accomplishments is massively beneficial to their mind, and their mood.
To give you some signposting about where to start with these kind of ideas, here are some small businesses who offer free or low cost learning accessible to young people. I have not actively used any of these services myself, but they came on recommendation from other parents when I was doing the research for this post;
Beginners knitting videos (yes, young people knit), this repetitive activity can be incredibly calming for the mind as it allows you to tune out of repetitive thoughts.
Online photography courses for camera and smart phones, part of the Duke of Edinburgh Award suggestions so suitable for teens.
Stop Motion apps to allow them to create their own films and creative pieces, and arranging ‘viewings’ for the whole family to watch was another really good suggestion from a parent.
Also, if you have an entrepreneurial minded young person this might be worth exploring… https://www.bizkidz.co.uk/
Do something for others
One of the easiest, and best way to boost our happy brain chemical, serotonin in the brain is to actually think about an activity which teens can do which benefits someone else as well as them. It is well known that when we think about helping someone else feel happier we are creating quick happiness wins for ourselves too.
Even just thinking about what we can do for someone else gives us a sense of purpose, reduces feelings of loneliness and gives us the accurately termed ‘helpers high’.
Helper’s high is another name for the uplifting feeling that people experience after doing a good deed or act of kindness. This high is rooted in natural instincts to help our fellow humans. Click here for ideas.
Doing something for someone else could include your teen planning and cooking a family meal or baking for their family. There is a real sense of accomplishment felt when thinking through, planning and executing a meal or something we know will be appreciated by others. One idea from my research of parent’s ideas and contributions was that maybe your teen could cook a Valentines meal for you. This does require some thought and planning (and maybe a few hints!) but gives an activity to focus on with a positive outcome.
Other ideas include setting up contact with older people maybe in care homes or their own homes who may be experiencing loneliness. There are initiatives out there which help make these connections between the younger and older generations including Postcards of Kindness or Adopt a Grandparent. There is also an initiative for young children seriously ill or having to live in hospital to allow people to send letters and small gifts to them to brighten their day. More information on Post Pals can be found by clicking here.
This is only a small selection of opportunities, and you may find your teen is not fired up by the thoughts of writing a letter for someone they don’t even know. I get that, so that is why the explanations from you are important, let it filter and see what happens. A lot of teens will go off and do their own research and then maybe get on with it, but understanding how it can help them is also a good education in itself.
Get engaged in connections
I know, for a lot of teenagers, the only way they are able to remain in contact with their friends is online, and this has given them the reason to spend long periods of time on screens with them. I completely appreciate how much our young people are missing their friends, (I’m missing mine!) and the good news is that connecting with them online can be beneficial to them and help to lift mood. However, like with anything, there is a balance between how beneficial this can be with the impact screens can have on their minds and consequent ability to focus and concentrate.
So, finding a friend to walk with outside if possible can be of benefit, or even arranging activities which they can do together with their friends online. I organised a virtual ‘Mocktail Making’ party for my son’s birthday last month with But First Cocktails and this went down well. From a group of 15-year-old boys awkward on the screen together to them enjoying the activity, relaxing and really enjoying it as they weren’t expected to communicate in a linear, ‘conversational’ way.
Other ideas which have not been tried or tested by me and could be family activities as well as friendship group ones include the following. Virtual Escape Rooms, online Murder Mystery Parties for Teens, online Spa sessions with friends or at home with family, or the good old quiz using software such as Cahoot. A Virtual Gallery Tour can also be a way of learning something whilst engaging in something online, something which could be a family activity.
Family Movie nights have also been a popular choice. We have also arranged to live stream a new performance of Romeo and Juliet over half term which not only is a way of learning more about the play, but also supports our theatre companies and actors.
And finally…..we all know the benefits of being outside and getting exercise, but after nearly 6 weeks of ‘walks’ it can become a challenge to motivate our teens to get active. Ideas such as Geochaching, Fitness Challenges including Virtual Challenges like these ones can help to set achievable goals and obtain a sense of achievement when moving towards those goals. I know some families who have set their own fitness challenges to compete together, that can help with motivation and keeping connected with each other.
Times are tough for us all, and motivation at an all time low. However, just engaging your teen with even one of these suggestions will help to break the cycle of monotony which is currently in their lives. Explaining why it will help gives them an understanding, and control back and a real sense of achievement (those positive brain chemicals) after they have completed it.
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