The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the entire world, including the U.S. The majority of schools around the country, including in Los Angeles, have closed their doors. In California, there is a strict shelter-in-place policy. Public health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have issued social distancing guidelines that ban gatherings of over ten people and recommend people stay six feet from one another other at all times.
All of this means that millions of teenagers – more than 41 million students, in fact – are now stuck at home with nothing to do. While high school students may rejoice at the unexpected vacation for the first few days, by day three or four the novelty may have worn off. Add the fact that there are no movie theaters, amusement parks, restaurants, bowling alleys, or sports events to go to – and you get bored teenagers.
Really, really, bored teenagers.
Here ways you can keep your teen – and yourself – sane for the next couple of weeks (or months):
COVID-19 Stay-Home Checklist
- Devices. Set limits on screen and device time. Without the social contact that comes with going to school every day, teens may turn to their electronic devices to keep them company. Though more screen time is inevitable, and for many teens, messaging with their friends may ease their sense of isolation, do your best to set limits, especially at night. Excessive TV or movie watching is neither productive nor healthy. Too much social media use can also create problems. If your teen doesn’t cooperate, institute simple, clear outcomes for their choices – i.e. consequences – and follow through on them every time.
- Academics. Although brick-and-mortar schools are closed due to COVID-19-related public health and safety measures, it’s important for your teen to keep on doing schoolwork. Most school districts across the country will provide virtual school or in-home school programs. You don’t have to become the teacher, but you do need to ensure your teen keeps up with all assignments, tests, quizzes, and coursework. If your school district has not created virtual/online school options, ask your school administrators and teachers for guidance.
- Personal enrichment. Learn to play an instrument. With all those extra hours at home, now is a great time to learn how to play piano, guitar, drums, or whatever other musical instrument interests your teen. It may be difficult to find a music teacher who can give your adolescent lessons at home, but you can find lots of free, web-based instruction classes for beginners. Also, many music teachers offer virtual one-on-one instruction via video conference.
- The home team. Chances are, you’re home from work as well, which means you get to work on all those home-improvement projects you put off. Now is a great time to clear out your garage or office, repaint the spare bedroom, build that garden shed, fix that broken piece of furniture, or finally dismantle that rusty old swing set from the ‘90s. Get your teen to help you with these projects. Not only will they feel useful and productive, but they’ll be pleased you trust them enough to ask for help or advice.
- New skills. Study a trade. Has your teen always been interested in art? Graphics? Computers, coding, or app development? Hairstyling or makeup? Stock trading or business? Baking or pastry design? Embroidery or weaving? Encourage them to dip their feet into learning whatever interests them – especially if they’re not particularly interested in typical academics. Many sites (including universities) have free trials so your teen can see if they enjoy the class before committing to it. You can also find free, informal videos and tutorials on these topics on YouTube. Who knows? Maybe your teen will find a lifelong hobby, passion, or start a new business – simply from self-instruction!
- Exercise. Gyms are closed – but your teen can still exercise. Whether it’s shooting hoops in the driveway, kicking a ball in the backyard, running on the treadmill, or doing basic calisthenics anywhere they choose, there are endless ways to stay active while under a stay-at-home order. Not only does exercise release endorphins and keeps your teen healthy, but evidence shows it also keeps depression and anxiety at bay. If your teen is an athlete, keep in mind that they may be immensely disappointed that their usual field/track/rink/pool isn’t open or that games and practices have been temporarily suspended. This may discourage them from keeping up the sport altogether – but it doesn’t have to. Validate their feelings. Don’t push them to practice right away – they’ll come back around when ready.
- Food, glorious food. Cook and eat meals together. If you’re at home, too, use this time to cook or bake together. And did we say eat together, too? Yes! Now’s the chance to let your teen try their hand at their favorite recipes, even if they have a million ingredients and way too many steps. Yes, the kitchen may look like a tornado hit it afterward, but look at the bright side: you get a homecooked meal. Take the time to praise them for their hard work and talent. And then, dig in. Studies show that eating meals together with family helps prevent mental health issues and promotes emotional and psychological wellbeing for the whole family.
- Make a schedule and stick to it. Set regular bedtimes, wake-up times, and mealtimes. Discourage your teens from staying up until the wee hours of the morning. And don’t let them sleep till noon. Just because school is out doesn’t mean you should let your teen succumb to the strong urge to turn into a night owl. Wake them up at a reasonable time in the morning and make sure lights are out and screens are off by midnight. Model healthy sleeping patterns, too: if you’re up on your phone or tablet half the night, they’ll probably feel justified in doing the same thing.
A Note About Mental Health Symptoms
Bored adolescents are not happy adolescents. With limited opportunities for leaving the home, and their typical social gatherings canceled, teens may face increased isolation, loneliness, and anxiety. During this time, be on the lookout for signs of mental health issues. Teens with pre-existing depression may face more severe symptoms, while for some the increased time alone may lead to a bout of major depressive disorder. If your teen struggles with day-to-day functioning (e.g. sleeping for most of the day, not eating, persistent sadness, irritability), call an adolescent mental health treatment center for support. Many mental health treatment centers for adolescents offer clinical evaluations over the phone or via Skype.
NOTE: As healthcare providers, mental health treatment centers are considered essential businesses and will remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you or a parent you know is struggling, Evolve offers free virtual support groups for parents of teens seeking practical guidance and emotional support. Choose from our parent support groups on Tuesdays at 7pm PST or Thursdays at 10am PST.