By Dana Spencer
As the parent of a high school junior, I am frequently hearing well-meaning adults suggest that our teens take full advantage of this time to learn a new hobby or start a project or some other grand idea that they can write about on their college applications. For some, this may be a welcome suggestion. My son told me to back off. He was right. Adapting to a global pandemic is a huge enough life event all on its own.
My 17-year-old is a pretty typical teenage boy. His reaction to the pandemic has been to stay in his room most of each day. He is attending to his schoolwork, playing video games with friends, listening to music, and video chatting with his girlfriend. I feel grateful that frequently throughout the day, I hear laughter and joy in his voice. He comes down for family dinner each night. Most days, he plays ping pong with his brother and checks in with our pets. He emerges when he needs food or needs to run something by me; usually, those two go together. None of his appearances with us are long.
He is doing his best to piece together one of the strangest ends of junior year experiences one could have imagined. Like 11th graders everywhere, he just finished the odd experience of taking at home AP exams. He is wondering if all the SAT prep he did in January and February will result in actually taking the SAT six months or more later.
He’s come to terms with the reality that there will be no junior prom, that his first Varsity tennis season is lost, and he likely will not see his senior friends graduate. It’s unclear if the summer job he was looking forward to will happen or if we will be able to make any college visits. He tries not to think about whether school will be open to begin his own senior year or if future waves of the virus may mean he will again miss the things he lost this year, maybe more, possibly his own graduation. It was tone-deaf for me to suggest he try something new — as if his entire world being backward and upside down isn’t enough of a challenge.
I shared these thoughts with a friend. Her response? ‘I want to tell everyone suggesting that adults should be taking advantage of this time to deep clean the house, organize closets, learn a new hobby, plant a garden…to back off. What happened to the joy of laying on the couch binge-watching shows?’ Exactly. We have a range of emotions that we’re dealing with every day in this new, strange normal. Some of us are cleaning out the attic, and many of us just feel sad and overwhelmed and uncertain. It’s taking all our energy to maintain a sense of normalcy and a connection to friends, family, and sanity. It’s the same with our teens.
And so I promise myself I will not assign better or worse to how he processes this crazy time. Keeping busy isn’t necessarily better. Gaming with friends isn’t necessarily bad. I will ignore the shoulds. There are no shoulds. This is uncharted territory, and we’re all figuring it out the best we can. I will continue to just love him, where he is and for who he is, and to trust him to continue making good choices for himself. And, out of an abundance of love, I will remember to back off and to find compassion for us both in this crazy, upside down situation.
All parents find it difficult, sometimes, to let go and, as Dana says, let your kid be themselves and love them for who they are. If you’re looking for new ways to engage with your kids, new ideas to end the cycle of arguing, negotiating, punishing, and dangling carrots, join us in the New Year when our Master Classes resume!
In the meantime, don’t miss Dr. Michael Bradley’s free talk, Motivating the Unmotivated Teen in COVID Times: Achieving the Unlikely with the Impossible.
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