Families with teenagers confined to their homes during the coronavirus crisis face unique challenges. While some teens are coping reasonably well with the school closures and stay-at-home orders, others are struggling and are far more irritable, withdrawn, and unmotivated than they would normally be.
Teens who are prone to symptoms of anxiety or depression and those who already had tense relationships with their parents are among those struggling the most. Not surprisingly, parents of struggling teens are also struggling themselves. When a teenager is constantly irritable or frustrated, it affects the whole family – especially when the whole family is stuck at home.
While parents cannot directly change their teen’s mood or outlook on life right now, there are a few mental shifts that parents can make to help improve the situation for themselves, and hopefully for their teen as well.
Perspective is something that comes with age and experience. Most teens simply haven’t had enough life experience to grasp how our own behavior during this global crisis can affect the health and well-being of others (even many adults are struggling to understand this right now). The same applies to your expectations for their ability to self-motivate and complete the schoolwork they have been assigned, or voluntarily turn off their videos or videogames and do something active or help out around the house.
All teens, and especially teens with ADHD, are much less skilled at creating their own structure and motivation than adults. So, be patient and remember that while your teenager may look all grown up, they are in many ways still a child.
Comparative suffering may seem like a helpful and humble way to think about your situation, and usually, it’s coming from a good place. The problem is that it causes us to bottle up our feelings (which then inevitably seep out in unhealthy ways), and as Brené Brown notes, “comparative suffering corrodes compassion and connection.”
This is particularly true when you view your teenager’s situation through a comparative suffering lens. Take this typical example, “I’m so frustrated with my teen. He’s acting out and being selfish just because I won’t let him hang out with his friends. Doesn’t he really how lucky he is, or that there are people out there struggling with serious problems right now?” This type of comparative suffering mindset makes it extremely difficult for parents to connect with their teens and have compassion for their situation. The comparison comes much more easily when parents shift their thoughts and expectations to match their teen’s perspective, “My teen is really struggling right now. His friends are so important to him, and he had so many things he was looking forward to doing with them this spring. He doesn’t have enough experience to understand the big picture, and to him this must feel devastating.”
Lastly, if your teen is struggling with anxiety or depression (or other mental health difficulties), or you feel like you need additional support to parent your teen effectively during this crisis, reach out to a mental health professional (most are offering telehealth sessions). Your pediatrician can provide referrals to a provider in your area.
Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.
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