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The COVID-19 Parent Trick: Act Naturally

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT

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It’s COVID-19 lockdown time.

Okay, maybe not complete lockdown.

But you’re at home like millions of other people around the country. You and your spouse work from home, your kids go to school online, and you spend your days doing your best to keep everyone healthy and happy.

Let’s say you have a big family with a mix of school age kids and teenagers. Your younger ones are totally on board for all the fun family stuff you plan for the non-school and non-work hours. They love the board games, they scream for charades, and they’ll spend hours at the dining room table working on a thousand-piece puzzle.

Your teenagers, though, aren’t interested.

Until they are.

Here’s a question we’re sure plenty of parents around the country want an answer to:

How do you get the too-cool-for-school teenagers interested in the wholesome family stuff?

It’s easy: just act naturally.

Proceed as Planned – Without Them

The trick here is not really a trick, at all.

You have great ideas for family activities. You know they’re winners, your spouse knows they’re winners, and your younger kids love them. You laugh, you joke, you eat too many sweets after dinner, and everyone enjoys the quality family time.

Your teenager, though, stays in their room.

At first, you made game night mandatory, and the teen did not like that. Then you made it optional, thinking that if you give them a choice, it might increase the chance they’ll join in. They didn’t bite, though, and they stay in their room doing whatever it is they do.

Mandatory didn’t work. Optional didn’t work. Here’s another choice: announce what’s happening and leave them be.

In other words, just act naturally.

Tell your teen the family activity starts at 8:00. Then go ahead and start at 8:00 without them. No reminders, no countdowns, no begging, no cajoling, no big deal. You and the family doing your thing together in the living room, your teen doing theirs, solo.

It’s not reverse psychology, like when Tom Sawyer challenges his friends to whitewash the fence as well as he can. Teenagers see right through ploys like that. What it allows is for your teen to do what it’s essential for teens to do: differentiate. They need to learn how to be who they are without you. Without your game ideas, without your supervision, and without you being around.

The thing is, though, they’re still kids – and they still want to be part of family game night. Even if that’s the very last thing they’ll ever admit.

Build it and They Will Come

Your teenager will probably keep saying they’re not interested.

But don’t be surprised when you see them lurking in the doorway, watching you. Don’t be shocked when they come into the living room and sit in the corner with their headphones on. And don’t bend over backwards to make space when they inch toward the Monopoly board and pretend not to watch your six-year-old crushing you with hotels on Boardwalk.

When they ask for a game piece and their share of play money from the bank – don’t overreact. Deal them in, and just act naturally.

See, differentiation is not only about them becoming their own person, it’s also about them being their own person and learning how that person fits in with their family. That’s why you need to give them the space to come to that decision themselves. It may take weeks for them to join family night, but it may only take days.

Each teenager is their own person. Becoming their own person. When you give them the space to do that – no pressure, no guilt-trips, no drama – the chances are they’ll get bored in their room, hear the laughter, then come join you.

When they do, you have to act like it’s no big deal.

One last thing: now that they’re old enough to handle it, you have permission to beat them at Monopoly.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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