Life With Quarenteenagers

There are always good reasons to say that we live in uncertain times. Headline issues regarding economic, political, social, international, technological, sexual, familial and other important things dominate the 24-hour news cycle and social media. The Coronavirus pandemic has blanketed us all with a whole new level of strange and scary.

According to the New York Times this morning, May 3, 2020, more than 1,140,100 people in the United States have been infected with Coronavirus. At least 66,400 have died nationwide. More than 1,000 additional deaths have been announced every day since April 2. New York is the hardest hit state. And within New York, the hardest hit county is Nassau. So, as fate would have it, that is where my family and I happen to live – Nassau County, NY.

Everything in the state is closed except for essential services, which are businesses such as supermarkets and drug stores, and restaurants that are only allowed to offer delivery or curbside pickup. Post offices and banks are open with extremely limited access. Schools have been closed since March 13.

As a result of the school closures  every parent with a child of student age has had to become a homeschool parent. And just a few days ago we learned officially that school buildings will not re-open at all for the remainder of this school year. Given the ongoing situation, I certainly did not find that surprising.

If you are a parent, you have been faced with being isolated with your children, in the same building, for months. And you probably will be for more months. Being locked up with your own offspring for such a considerable length of time is a bit daunting. Okay, terrifying. My personal inmate population are ages 15, 16 and 19, so I am mostly addressing the teenager related issues in this post.

I will diplomatically preface this by declaring unequivocally that I love my kids wholeheartedly. Yes, they reflect the best of my late husband and me. But they also represent the Worst parts of us. All of us so-called adults are struggling to adapt to the changes, so of course for our teens this is even more bizarre.

We as parents find ourselves is the unique situation of working out what is best and how we should respond to a completely new set of variables in real-time, while our teenagers are watching us closely (without showing it) to get some ideas on how they should process dramatic current events. We have to do this while locked up in our personal family version of some twisted reality show where your big prize is staying healthy, or at least Coronavirus -free.

I think we have all had to accept this as truth:

During this surreal time, no one will win a Parent of The Year Award. Don’t feel bad –  the ceremony would be cancelled anyway, and the trophy lobbed against your front door via no contact delivery by someone in hazmat gear. If you have a 2020 planner just use it as a doorstop or to level a wobbly table leg, depending on the planner style you bought.

When everybody is masked and looking like they are about to rob a train, and birthday celebrations have turned into coordinated drive-by events, it’s a good time to lower some parental expectations for a while. Cut yourself some slack. Cut your kids some slack. Have mercy on all of you.

It’s really okay if the usage of Chromebooks, Netflix, Hulu, iPads, Kindle Fire and various gaming consoles increases for a while. I am not saying we should cede 24 hour a day unfettered access to electronics.  Our teenagers have to use them in some form for school, though, and since we cannot have after school sports or extracurricular activities, technology offers them a chance for peer interaction. “Social distancing” is probably more horrible for teenagers then for anybody else (yes, I know there are exceptions to that, but I think it’s pretty accurate).

On the surface it seems like not being allowed to go to school, without being suspended or at least having detention, is what dreams are made of. The reality is that school is also the primary source of many other things for teens. Along with no classes there are sports, no clubs, no concerts, no field trips, no school dances, no junior prom or prom,  no hallway chatter, no catching up on the school bus, no boyfriends or girlfriends or dating. No summer camp or vacation plans. No parties or movies, no meeting at a diner or mall or TGIFridays. No graduation and no college tours. It all just came to a screeching halt.

One of my teenagers says that Snapchat keeps her in touch with her friends the most. My other two teens prefer Instagram. None of them have to catch buses at 7 AM now, or make it to an 8 AM class at college.  So, in my opinion it’s okay if teenagers are off their usual schedules, going to sleep later and getting up later, spending more time on social media. As long as they hand in their work online, on time, is it really a problem?

The crazy times we are contending with are not easy on any of us. It gets ugly sometimes, especially since there is no end in sight. A couple of things which have lessened the level of snark around here:

Remind them that they can still go outside

Even in New York where you are supposed to stay 6 feet away from anybody you don’t live with, and you’re supposed to wear a mask outside, you can certainly still go outside. Go for a drive, remind them that the world is still out there. We don’t know when social distancing will end, but at some point it will end. It can’t hurt for kids to have a visual reminder that the world is still out there and everybody in the area is contending with it.

Give them space to be alone sometimes.

This can definitely be complicated depending on your living situation, but everybody needs alone time. I don’t mean just for homework or sleeping.  We can’t micromanage and schedule every moment that they’re awake. It isn’t fair to anybody to do that. As parents we have to worry about them becoming dangerously depressed, but we have to give them space to breathe and process things on their own.

 Don’t have unreasonable expectations

None of my teenagers are going use the time on quarantine to read the complete works of William Shakespeare, teach themselves a foreign language, or learn how to hand-embroider or crochet tablecloths on YouTube. If your teens want to have ambitious goals like that, that’s great, but don’t force it. They still need to make their own choices for their downtime.

Don’t take it personally.

My teenagers have been handling all of this pretty well. But the arguments and snarky incidents have been increasing in number and sometimes in volume. I get it, I really do. Teenage years are already tough to navigate under the best of circumstances. Missing out on their regular activities and their social lives, and having all their plans cancelled, is incredibly aggravating. Add to that the forced entrapment with immediate family and it’s a powder keg situation. A parent is the easiest and safest target for the resulting stress. Meanwhile, we parents are dealing with all the same things and more because we have to pay the bills. I confess I have yelled more in the past 6 weeks than I have in the last 6 years. We’re all only human. I tried to be sure I apologize appropriately when I am I unreasonable. Adulting is definitely not easy.

Listen when they talk.

I think as a general rule I have a pretty good relationship with my teenagers.  They know they can talk to me about anything, and they frequently do. For a variety of reasons that don’t matter for this post, my workloads and deadlines have increased lately. Sometimes one of my kids will want to talk and I really want to put it off so I can finish something I’m doing. When I get the urge to do that, I mentally slap myself. They are dealing with so much in terms of disappointment, anger, frustration, worry. I can’t fix most of the problems, but I can definitely empathize and listen, and try to help them have perspective without minimizing how they feel.

We can all only do the best that we can do. And we can be there for one another in any way possible. That’s a lesson our teenagers are learning from quarantine.


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