Parenting Expert Alyson Schafer’s Best Tips on Living with Teens During COVID-19

We’re all in this crazy COVID-19 era together and for those of us with tweens and teens, it can be especially hard. Fights over time spent on devices and arguments over the importance of social distancing can be on the daily. Our teens are staying up late and sleeping till noon and it’s driving us crazy! Take a deep breath, parents. This is a crazy time for us all —especially for tweens and teens who may not understand or appreciate the seriousness of this virus. That’s why we chatted with parenting expert, Alyson Schafer, to get her best advice on living with teens during this time of social distancing and quarantine.

How can we motivate our teens to get off their devices and do something — anything! —without having to nag them all the time and start an argument?

  • Coach don’t manage:

Teens do not respond well to orders or directives.  Instead, you want to have a discussion about how they would like to see the next few weeks and months unfolding.  What makes a good day? What do they want to accomplish? How do they want to feel? What does a balanced day mean to them? These are curiosity questions that make them think.  Then you could ask them what they might do to accomplish this? Ask them if they need any help from you.  At the end of the day/week, you can review how the day went and how they felt about it. Ask what would they would like to do tomorrow to move closer to their goals?

Let them know what your expectations are for them, that may include some chores to help out, their presence at mealtimes and some time spent on a family activity (bike ride/card game).

  • Keep inviting (not nagging) your teen to join you when you are doing an activity and let them know you enjoy their company whenever they do show up and participate.
  • Brainstorm with your teen over things they enjoyed doing on the last family holiday together.

Do you have any suggestions for activities to keep tweens/teens busy throughout the day, while still social distancing?

Every teen has their own unique interests; your job as a parent is to look for those interests and talents and then assist and inspire them to elevate it to the next level.  If they like cooking, can they do an online cooking course? Or create a YouTube “Cooking for Teens” series.  If they like music, can you get them set up with a garage band? If they like building, could it be time to download the blueprints for a skateboard and set up a workbench just for them in the garage?  If they like aesthetics, could they bring their eye to helping re-arrange the furniture in the house, room by room, and freshen it up with just the things on hand?  If they like to write, maybe start a teen novel about surviving the coronavirus.  Use the iPad to create a family documentary on your struggles.  THINK BIG.

Should we be picking our battles during this crazy COVID-19 time? Like, sure, they might be playing video games for hours on end. Is that ok? (Even though, it’s normally not.)

I agree, pick your battles.  I have spoken to adults who had health issues that required them to stay isolated and gaming saved their mental health.  The right games are very social.  Be sure they still hold up their other responsibilities, but if they want to use gaming as their leisure time, that is fine.  Would you be as worried if they read Harry Potter all day? Or wanted to play chess all day?  We have to stop having such a negative bias about gaming as a hobby.

Nothing is “normal” these days. Should we try to stick to a routine (i.e. same bedtimes, wake times, mealtimes? Is there a benefit to this or should we all just go with the flow?

We have to create a “new” normal for the moment.  The human brain is a pattern recognition machine and it likes learning patterns. When life is predictable, we feel safer.  So, you can have some flexibility, yes, but have a basic schedule that you can deviate from.  Have your kids help you create a generic schedule for the week.  Start with the most regular: waking/bedtimes and mealtime.  Add in some time for cleanup and family fun.  If you schedule “physical activity” every day after lunch, you can decide on the day if you want to go for a walk or shoot basketball hoops in the driveway.

One of my sons is an introvert and is happy to sit in his room and play video games all day. How do I get him out to join the family for a dog walk or movie night? He’s very sensitive normally, but uber-sensitive these days, and it often leads to arguments that I would rather avoid. Help!

I would let him know that he is a member of the family and you feel you are drifting apart because you don’t get to spend any time together anymore. Ask him what he would like to do as a family.  Or, ask him what he thinks is a reasonable amount of time they could count on him to be a part of the family and give him some room to decide. Maybe watching two movies a week and two dog walks is a commitment he could agree to and then let him pick which days.  If he doesn’t agree even to this, I would try to find out why he doesn’t want family time.  Is he privately upset with the family?  It might be time for some professional help.

On the flip side, my other son is an extrovert and he is driving me crazy because he keeps asking if he can go out and be with his friends. How do I explain social distancing to him in a way that will make sense but also not lead to meltdowns!

I find it helpful to have our kids hear information from an uninterested third party.  Just like it’s easier when the dentist tells kids why they need to brush their teeth. Have your kids read the information posted on the Health Canada website. It’s not about YOUR rules, it’s about obeying the law now.  It is okay if they get upset. We are all upset.  Feel empathetic, normalize their feelings and stick to your guns!

Now that there is no school, my teen tends to stay up late and then sleep in late, but it puts our family dynamic off. How do I get her to sleep earlier?

I think a lot of teens are finding their own privacy by being awake when everyone else is sleeping.  I would put the problem out to the whole family as a situation that needs a solution that works for everyone.   “How do we honour different people’s timetables and still work together as a family?”  You’ll be surprised at the solutions that are generated when we frame it as a problem needing a solution rather than a child/ teen who needs to be corrected.

Alyson Schafer is a family counsellor, TV personality, columnist, spokesperson, educator and consultant. She is one of Canada’s most notable parenting experts, and often appears on national outlets, including HuffPost ParentsThe Marilyn Denis ShowCTV News Channel and Global’s The Morning Show. She is the bestselling author of Breaking The Good Mom Myth and Honey, I Wrecked The Kids and her latest, Ain’t Misbehavin’.

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