We live in a time of uncertainty. As the COVID-19 crisis spread across the United States, this spring was anything but normal – and the summer does not look like it will be a typical one, either. Most schools remain closed, so many teens won’t return to campus until next fall. And even though some states are reopening their economies and lifting stay-at-home orders, things aren’t quite returning to normal. For many American teenagers, the fact remains that cherished rites of passage, including proms, graduations, end-of-school parties, and summer camps, have been cancelled.
What does this mean for parents of adolescents?
Whether you plan ahead or leave things unscheduled until the last minute, your summer is probably not going to unfold as you had envisioned – for you or your teen. Faced with too much unstructured time, teens may give in to boredom, or spend the time sprawled on the couch watching television, texting friends, or playing video games. That’s not ideal for them, or for you.
But don’t despair – with a little strategizing, you can still plan a great, healthy summer for your teen.
Assess the Risks
In this digital age, we have a world of information at our fingertips. We have access to almost limitless sources of news and information. While that can be a good thing, it can also be too much. Even in the best of times, it’s challenging to separate fact from opinion – or outright fiction. And with an evolving crisis like the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s even more difficult, since the situation changes drastically from day to day.
As you plan ahead for your teen’s summer, however, you need to arm yourself with the facts. Choose a few reliable sources of information. The CDC website is a good place to start, as it offers a list of symptoms, a case tracker, and a guide to basic preventive measures you should take. Next, look for specific, fact-based advice about the situation in your area. Many state, county, or city governments post online guides to help with local information, such as which types of businesses can resume operation and when, what events are cancelled, and what laws govern social distancing and PPE.
Armed with this information, you can get outside and enjoy the summer weather, or take advantage of your time at home to cook special meals, document the things you’re grateful for with photos or words, work together on home projects, and above all, appreciate being together.
To put things in perspective, it can help to remember that we all take manageable risks. Driving, jogging, or even crossing the street all carry risks that we elect to accept when we engage in these everyday behaviors. We do so because we assess the risk and decide the rewards are worth it, or that we can minimize the risk with a common-sense amount of caution. That’s a healthy approach to the COVID-19 outbreak as well: we should all follow recommendations about protective face masks, handwashing, and social distancing.
Encourage your teens to check in with their friends: communication is one way that humans cope with anxiety. Let them know you’re there for them, too. One study suggested that just hearing your mom’s voice can be as comforting as a hug.
This may not turn out to be the summer you envisioned. Many parents look forward to the summers when teens are away at sleepaway camp as a time to reconnect, catch up on sleep and house projects, or take full control of the TV remote for the first time since last summer. If you had travel plans as a family that you cancelled or postponed, or you hoped to see your teen develop a new sense of responsibility and confidence (and earn a little spending money) through a summer a job, you’ve had recalibrate.
That’s not always easy, emotionally speaking.
Keep in mind that for your teens, the disappointment of cancelled summer plans will likely feel more intense. Teen angst may be a stereotype, but it does have some basis in reality. Due to a still-developing prefrontal cortex and limbic system, adolescents are more likely than adults to be swayed by emotion. And the developing adolescent brain also means teens are less adept than adults at envisioning the future. When teens behave as though something is the end of the world, it may be because it really does appear that way from their perspective.
Resetting expectations – for you and your teen alike – is the key to managing these intense emotional responses while still enjoying the summer.
Here’s a saying we like:
“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.”
If you can, take a moment to sit with your teenager and help them talk through their disappointment and frustration. If cancelled a family vacation or long-awaited trip, talk about the future and when you may be able to reschedule it. Be grateful for the slower pace of life now – and focus on optimism for the future.