The COVID-19 outbreak changed not only parent routines, but also those of tweens and teens. As parents worked from home, kids finished up their school year online. Teens also connected with their friends through social media and gaming apps.
Now that school is over — and despite the recent reopenings of businesses in the state — typical summer hotspots will be limited.
Parents, whether they are still working from home or heading back to work, have to help their tweens and teens transition into this new summer break routine — one that doesn’t include self-isolating in their room.
Dr. Ellen Rome, head of the center for adolescent medicine for Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital, says the pandemic has shifted norms for raising kids.
Rome says she is hearing that parents are concerned about depression in their teens and how their kids are sleeping all day or spend more of their time (at night) online.
“Connectivity online has been a blessing and a curse,” Rome says. “It’s OK for kids — and their parents — to unplug and take a break from social media.”
This is especially true in teens, who often can disappear into their rooms for hours. While it’s still important to connect with friends, parents need to create an environment that helps engage their kids in other ways.
“It’s a great time to start some healthy patterns,” Rome says. “This is a window of opportunity to force a slowdown. Parents and adolescents forget to attend to the basics (getting enough sleep, eating, turning off social media and setting boundaries).”
She adds, the family schedule should also incorporate family laughter — laughing together but never at a teen, tween or child. Family meals also can be a time where the family gets together, with laughter and with moments of serious discussion of life events where the parent gets to discover how their child thinks and what they believe in.
“You can learn a lot about your kids through simple dinner table conversation,” Rome says.
“Borrow a toddler, or at least a toddler’s lens. Help your older children and teens also find joy and wonder in each day,” she says.
Tweens and teens may have more on their minds, as they are more likely to be aware of what’s happening with world events. Also, the school year might have ended with milestones missed and other disappointments.
Rome says parents have to open a dialogue with their teens and acknowledge their disappointment in this rapidly changing world.
“Use the ‘Ask, Tell, Ask’ approach,” she says. “Ask, “How are you managing?” and express empathy. Ask for their thoughts on the dilemma of the day. Tell them what you believe in, and ask them for their ideas and opinions. Help the young person to be part of the solution.”
This year, more than ever, it’s important to recognize how this summer is different.
“The world is recognizing new public health crises such as COVID-19, but also old public health crises newly recognized, such as systemic racism,” Rome says. “Give youth the opportunity to discuss and think through these issues. At the same time, youth can simultaneously worry about major life issues and whether the local community pool will remain closed all summer, or how to get a job during a pandemic, or how to engage in virtual summer camp or other available activities. Let them know that you can be sad about milestones or opportunities missed and still be a good global citizen. And ask them for their thoughts on how they can accomplish this for themselves, letting them drive the conversation and generate solutions.
“Discuss with your kid what is their dream summer — what are the constraints and what could be something they want to master this summer?” Rome says, adding that it’s an opportunity to get creative, for example, by adhering to social distancing with friends by using pool noodles as a measuring stick.
Some tweens and teens may need extra help.
“My worries are the kids we are not seeing,” Rome says. “It could be hard for parents to recognize depression and anxiety when social isolation is a new norm.”
She says parents can look for signs, including irritability, change in appetite, extra sleep or too little sleep, expression of guilt or low self esteem, persistent sadness, insomnia or thoughts of self-harm. These include a child who is talking or writing about suicide, saying they “won’t be a problem for you much longer” or giving away their belongings.
In this case, Rome says to call your child’s pediatrician and/or the suicide hotline.
“Teach them to ask for help, then ask again, until the child feels he or she is visible, seen and heard,” she says. “Help them spend time with people who care about them.”
If you or someone in your family needs help. Reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or text the Crisis Text Line by texting “TALK” to 741741.