Two months into quarantine, it’s a safe bet to say it’s been tough on everyone — especially teenagers. Routines that used to exist and provide predictability, if not comfort, have been replaced. Suddenly, they’re homeschoolers, with “teachers” (that’d be us parents) who are inept at calculus and conjugating verbs in foreign languages. They’re stuck mostly indoors and forbidden to see friends IRL. And they’re missing out on basically every fun end-of-school-year milestone that exists. Prom? Canceled. Graduation? Moved — like pretty much everything else they’re doing these days — online.
Is it any wonder teens are feeling bad? Feeling, perhaps, like they somehow got cheated?
We asked our group of Hatch teens what they’re missing out on during quarantine and how they feel about it, and their answers were frank and, frankly, a little heartbreaking. Senior prom. A class trip to Israel. Summer jobs and summer camps that have already been canceled. And sports. Boy, do our kids — my own baseball playing 8th grader included — miss their sports.
“There are a lot of things I was looking forward to that quarantine has taken away from me,” says high school senior Liam, 18. “The most devastating thing is definitely losing my senior lacrosse season. I just feel terrible for all the high school and college seniors that are going through the same thing that I’m going through right now. Being a senior captain, I was really looking forward to having a great season and leading my team.”
Henry, 15, has missed all of his track meets for the entire year, “which really sucks,” he says.
And Emma, 15, basically sums it up when she says, “It’d be kind of a shorter list to say what I wasn’t missing.”
So yes, teens are feeling the sting of all that they’re missing out on. And as parents, it’s our job to help them deal with it, which is why we asked experts for advice on guiding our kids through the very specific — and real — disappointments they’re facing thanks to quarantine. (Short version: Empathize, don’t minimize — but keep reading!)
Connect with your own feelings…
“One of the things I tell parents right off the bat is that it’s really helpful to get in touch with how you feel about it yourself,” Jill Emanuele, PhD, Senior Director of the Mood Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute, tells SheKnows. Parents are also experiencing disappointments and stress right now, from canceled vacations to lost jobs, so connecting with your own disappointments can help you understand and empathize with your kid.
Consider what kind of “coper” your kid is
For many kids, this stuff is a capital-B-capital-D Big Deal — but check in with your kid to see where they’re at, and think about what kind of coping skills they typically use to manage to stress, says Dr. Emanuele. “There are lots of different kinds of kids out there, so parents are the best ones at knowing their kids.”
Don’t avoid talk of disappointing things; delve into them. Over a device-free dinner, in the car, whenever… actually ask your teen how they’re feeling about [fill in the blank]. And when they’re talking? “Don’t interrupt,” says Reena B. Patel, a parenting expert and licensed educational psychologist. “It’s tempting to dive in and react to a piece of what your teen just said, but remember to ask and don’t tell. Be present and allow for any emotions they’re feeling.”
Speaking of don’t tell: Your experience isn’t their experience
This one can be hard, but here goes: It’s not about you. “Refrain from trying to relate with your own experiences,” says Patel. ”Remember, your teen would like to separate themselves from comparisons to their parents. Don’t take this personally!”
Plus, your thoughts on missing prom or a class trip might be very different from your teen’s. Bottom line: “It doesn’t matter what your experience was,” says Dr. Emanuele. “Your child is a different person [with] a different life path.”
Don’t invalidate their feelings
As parents, we want to soothe away our kids’ unhappiness, and that’s understandable. But be mindful of your own desire to offer advice, problem-solve the situation, or bright-side your teen by saying things like, “I know it’s going to be okay” or “Don’t worry about it.”
“It’s much more effective to try and help your child to deal with the uncertainty of the situation,” says Dr. Emanuele. So instead of minimizing, listen and reflect what they’re telling you. Say, ‘I can imagine that’s really hard to not have your graduation” or ‘I can imagine that’s really hard to have your whole baseball season canceled.’
Of course, with the perspective that time brings — and especially if you’re struggling with your own pandemic-related problems — it can be tempting to tell your kid to just stop thinking about it, or to, well, get over it. Don’t do that! Yep, as parents we can get frustrated, but it’s important to keep empathy as much as possible. One surprising way to do that: Take care of yourself so you that you can have that empathy for your teen, advises Dr. Emanuele. (Note: If your teen is truly struggling, you may want to consider online therapy to help them be able to better cope.)
Remind them that it’s OK to feel bad
Do other people — other teens, even — have it worse than your teen does? Yes. Are there bigger problems in the world than a canceled prom? Yep. Your teen might be aware of this and feel bad about…feeling bad. So make sure you’re also sending the message that no matter what, feeling sad is OK. “Your emotions are your emotions, and your emotions are valid,” says Dr. Emanuele. “It is disappointing. It is sad. It is frustrating and angering. And as parents, the more we can model that for our kids, the more kids will view it [that way].”
“Where does disappointment come from? It comes from our expectations not being met,” says Dr. Emanuele. “So it’s important to understand what your child’s expectations were about the situation — and then help them manage those expectations.”
Part of that is helping them come to terms with the reality of the situation — even if that’s nothing more than uncertainty and no answers. Then, offer some hope and guidance. “Figure out, okay, well, what can we do instead? What is the possibility? And don’t lose sight of that possibility,” Dr. Emanuele says. “There’s always hope.”
Prepare to deal with it again
So you’ve asked your teen how they’re feeling. You’ve listened. You’ve empathized. You’ve both moved on… not so fast. Don’t be surprised if the same feelings of disappointment come up again, says Dr. Emanuele. “People have to accept things in stages and rarely just accept things all at once. They spin back into their old ways of thinking about it.” So remember that, and practice patience and empathy.