Helping Teens Cope with Covid Stay-at-Home

Parent Q&A

Teenager not engaging in virtual schooling Sep 11, 2020 (4 responses below)
Social distancing tween boy birthday party Jun 30, 2020 (2 responses below)
Blended family teen pandemic hell Jun 15, 2020 (7 responses below)
Young adult wants to continue dating during pandemic May 25, 2020 (5 responses below)
  •  15 year old  sophomore is not engaging in virtual schooling. Since the beginning of the pandemic his academic performance declined, I receive calls from the school about his absence from all classes.  His mom and I addressed the importance of an education, and two weeks ago had a successful meeting with the counselor and principal.  He reports "virtual school is boring". He is not motivated to do any work and to engage in classes.   I have talk to him about the benefits of an education and always try to understand his feeling and approach to this new method of attending school.  Every time we address his lack of participation in school, he only listens but does not  make any effort to change. My 15 year old foster fantasies of having a job, opening his own business for auto shop.  He wants to have  a driver's license and save money to buy a car.  However, his dreams do not connect with the reality and the tasks he needs to complete in order to achieve the goals.   Sometimes I doubt my parenting skills.  When this pandemic is over I will consider independent studies, however because his lack of motivation in virtual education - independent might not be the solution - I don't know. 

    Is this a normal phase of teenagers at age 15?   How did other parents cope with similar situations? 

    thanks in advance for the advice and support.

    It sounds like your child is motivated, but has interests that lie outside of traditional high school education. He could take  the CHSPE (high school proficiency exam) when he is 16 and start a program to learn the skills he needs to succeed as a mechanic. Maybe if he has a goal that excites him, it will motivate him to finish out his brief time in high school. 

    I’m sorry I don’t have any suggestions for you but wanted to let you know my son , an 8th grader, is the same. He often misses classes or signs on but doesn’t participate or listen. He plays video games during class. He hasn’t turned in any school work, saying it is dumb and boring. I am concerned but more worried about his mental health during this time. 
    I’m hoping he will do school work but I can’t continue the daily morning battles to get him up and attending classes. 

    What you are describing in the range of normal.  You kid has ambitions and dreams of doing something with his life.  You should encourage him to pursue his dreams.  Our education system pre-covid just isn't designed or equipped to deal with students who have dreams other than going to college.  I'm a college instructor with 25 years teaching experience and I will be honest with you I just don't why teachers and school administrators think they can teach online classes in the same way face to face classes are taught.  From what I have seen just about all of the online instruction I have seen sucks.  It's no wonder your kid would rather be doing something else.  My partner teaches K-5 and agrees with me even after being trained how to teach online courses.  This is not to say I'm blaming the teachers, they were taught for years and were hired to teach face to face so it's unfair to blame them. I have taught online classes. The way I teach any online classes (same subject) online vs. face to face is completely different. 

    Back to your son.  I was like your son and my son at that age was the same.  Why not support you kid with his dreams?  Support what he wants to do instead of forcing him to do something he's not interested in.  You say he's interested it getting a job in the auto business.  He's 15, no reason he can't get a job.  I do something similar with my students, its called an internship.  Are there any auto places near you where you son could get a job?  Turn this into a research/business project for your son.

    Does your son "really" need to graduate from high school to be successful in life? High school graduation rates in our country are about 75% and as we have seen you do not have to have a college degree or high school diploma to be successful in life.  (But it can't hurt.)   Does the high school have a work-study program?  Why not see if your son would be interested in getting a part-time auto job and work on his GED?  He could take business classes at any of the community colleges in California.  

    Covid isn't going away anytime soon.  In the college world we were just told campus will be closed spring semester.  Make the best of the terrible situation we are in and support your son with his dreams.  Remember you don't need a high school diploma or SAT scores to go to college.  Should his dreams change he still he can always still go to college.

    Just my point of view as an educator and someone who can identify your son's actions. 

  • Social distancing tween boy birthday party

    (2 replies)

    I have a boy turning 12 this summer and we're trying to think of ideas for a birthday party in late August/early September. We may all be back in school and mingling by then, but we want to have some ideas if we or other parents aren't comfortable shucking social distancing yet. He wants to have a sleepover with 4 friends, but there's only so much distancing you can do with 5 tweens in one room. We'd like to have a list of options with a range of likely contact levels to pose to parents. So far, I have some outdoor activity ideas that lend well for distancing (kayaking, horseback riding, nerf battles, paintball, go karts), and some no contact with the help of Zoom (movie watch party, playing the same video game together, outdoor scavenger hunt). With the no contact ones we'd deliver maybe pizza and cake to each family so the boys can still eat "together". Can anyone else help with more ideas that a 12 year old would find cool enough? Typically we've been able to throw great and memorable parties for around a $100 budget, so nothing too grand, though we realize we may have to be more flexible this year.

    Hi, I also have a September boy turning 12. Definitely not contemplating a sleepover, although it would be his preference! I think we'll probably do something like an epic nerf battle outside, followed by socially distanced cake or other treat (maybe something you can eat faster?). All in all, maybe 90 minutes total, mostly masked and at a distance. Maybe cool masks would be the party favor? I wouldn't choose an activity that requires a reservation (because you lose flexibility if the virus keeps worsening) or touching outside equipment (like go karts or paintball). I don't think my boy would consider horseback riding cool, or kayaks fun. Thus... nerf FTW!

    Zoom sucks for tween birthday parties - saying this from experience. They are really boring :( Outdoor backyard sleepover where everyone is in their own tent? 

  • Blended family teen pandemic hell

    (7 replies)

    There are so many intertwining pieces of this that it's hard to describe it all. Mainly I guess I am seeking commiseration with others whose teens are not getting along with their stepparents during this pandemic. Things have gotten challenging enough that it is threatening my marriage. My spouse has been in my daughter's life for about a decade. My daughter is now 16. She spends 1/2 her time at her other parent's house. In general my spouse has, for those ten years, been more of the disciplinarian. For about the past year she and my daughter have had a lot of conflicts. I think it is natural that the person who is more of the disciplinarian will become more of the target. Now my daughter has decided that she doesn't want my spouse to be considered a parent at all anymore. She is "triangulating." What makes it more difficult is that I have looked to my spouse for support in laying down the law. Left to my own devices I would be a looser parent. So, my spouse and I also have conflicts in our parenting style. And, the pandemic makes it all SO much worse. My daughter told me last night that she has been absolutely miserable for 3 months. She says she is the only one of her friends who is this alone - because all of her other friends either get along with their parents or have siblings or both. She also said it was better at her other parent's house. Basically she said it is the pits with me and my spouse.

    My spouse and I are in therapy, thankfully. Our next session can't come soon enough! I am also thinking of getting my daughter into therapy. I guess bottom line I'm seeking advice from folks who faced a situation where the stepparent was more of the disciplinarian, and then the kid made the stepparent the target and started arguing "she's not my real parent." Also advice from people who have different parenting styles from their spouse.

    I am thinking the best thing to do is to tell my spouse to lay off parenting *completely* and to work on accepting my parenting style. Easier said than done. I just know that this method is not working. Thanks for any thoughts.

    I share your misery and am so sorry you are experiencing this strife.

    My situation is similar, but different. I have always been the disciplinarian of my two children. My spouse traveled a lot (sometimes up to 50% time) pre-COVID, and is highly conflict avoidant. To him, discipline equals conflict. Over the years we polarized deeply as one of my children (now a young adult) became expert at triangulating. Our complication is that this child also has mental health and substance use issues. My spouse and my inability to co-parent exacerbated the situation. We have spent years in individual, family, and marriage therapy.

    We all became miserable and our home life became intolerable (not to mention unsafe) to the point that we split into two households. I am working toward home as a sane and safe sanctuary. The 17-year old is now acting out against me, pushing hard against my boundaries, particularly as her father has virtually no boundaries around her brother's behavior. (I'm not a hard***, and she has noted that I have fewer house rules than her friend's parents.) Through individual therapy and a lot of reading and attending support groups, I'm learning to take care of myself first, and be loving, clear, firm, and calm in my interactions with my family members. My spouse is learning to respect to run my household as is best for me, and I greatly appreciate that.

    If I had it all to do over again, I would have gotten myself and my marriage in a healthier, more co-operative, more stable place first, rather than focusing on the problems with our child. Building my skills around boundary setting, positive communication, and conflict resolution are making a world of difference.

    I'd like to share two resources:

    "The Parent 20-Minute Guide" by the Center for Motivation and Change: While it's geared toward addressing substance use, the underlaying lessons apply to any situation requiring change. I've found it to be incredibly helpful. https://the20minuteguide.com

    "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work" by John Gottman: While this is helpful for marriage in general, specific chapters on addressing conflict, both solvable and unsolvable, would apply to your situation.

    Take care of yourself. Be strong and calm. Your daughter, and marriage, will be better for it.

    Sounds like a very challenging situation. And, as you say, everything is magnified during these pandemic times. I have a few thoughts which may or may not be helpful, based on my own experiences and what my kids tell me. 

    My teens go back and forth between my house and their dad's house. He has remarried and over time has allowed his wife to become more of the disciplinarian. I think this is so he can remain the 'good guy' and increase the chance that they enjoy being at his house, as historically they have complained about it. Also, it's easier for him. This puts a burden on his wife who has to enforce rules about chores, etc, and also tilts the bulk of the kids' interactions with their stepmother in a negative direction. Thus they don't have much affection for her. I think her view of the kids is also skewed-- not having grown up with them nor having kids of her own, she sees their behavior as unreasonable and personally directed at her, rather than just normal teenage thoughtlessness and/or self absorption. And there is not much of an underlying bond of shared experience and affection to help navigate those difficult moments. 

    It kind of sounds to me like your child wants more of YOU in their life. Like they are missing that connection. I think your idea of having your spouse back off a bit is a good one, while you get some support around being the best parent you can be. As imperfect as you may feel as a parent sometimes (as we all do.. it's a really hard job!), I think it matters a lot to our kids that they see we are in the game, doing our best, trying to do better.  And, in my experience, just showing up consistently with love goes a long way. 

    I read the book "hold on to your kids" several years ago and found that very helpful (there's a whole chapter on discipline).

    I know for my kids, having each other at their side as they go back and forth between households has been a really wonderful thing. Sometimes they can say things to each other which they can't express to any of their parents for fear of hurting them or being misunderstood. Since that's not possible for your child, I think getting her a therapist is a good idea. A place for her to freely and safely express herself and of course, hopefully get some sound adult guidance as well. 

    Good luck. You sound like a very caring parent. 

    Hi, I’m a therapist who works all the time with parenting situations like yours. I have a couple of suggestions to share with you. 

    1.  If you’re not already, focus your couples therapy sessions on parenting. It sounds like this needs to come first for a while. 

    2. Do not tell your partner to stop being the parent. It’s too late for that. She’s been the parent since your daughter was six. 

    3. Is it possible that your partner has been left with more of the childcare work in your house and so she/he had no choice but to be more of a disciplinarian? This would be especially true if in general you have always been more conflict-avoidant with your daughter. 

    3. It’s very important that you and your partner get on the same page as parents. You don’t have to have the same exact parenting styles but you do need to really listen to each other’s points of view and back each other up in front of your daughter. Have your disagreements about parenting out of earshot of her. Otherwise you will be dealing with endless splitting and triangulating. 

    4. Your daughter is the usual age for kids to start protesting about their parents. This can be much harder to go through as a step-parent and much much harder right now when you’re trapped in the house together for months. Remembering this doesn’t make living with it better but it might help you to be kind and patient with your partner. She/he is in a very difficult spot. 

  • Hello,

    Wondering if anyone has experienced trying to explain to a young adult (21) that dating (at least in person, unless in distanced, outdoor context) can't happen while the pandemic rages.  I've used science-based explanations, and told my daughter, who lives with us, that I am over 60, and her dad, over 65.  She has had front yard, distanced get togethers with her boyfriend over the last 2 months, but reaches the point where she wants him to spend the night, and screams that she can't take it anymore.  I tell her, I know, it's really hard.  We're all struggling with the restrictions, but until there is reliable, available, accurate testing and/or vaccine, intimacy is off the table.  This holds for a couple weeks until the next outburst, usually timed with a get together planned in the front yard with the boyfriend.  Either the boyfriend or she are pushing to be able to spend the night together (here); when I push back and insist that she respect that the "family bubble" needs to stay intact, and tell her the estimated timeline for a vaccine, she loses it, and screams.  From what I know about the boyfriend, he is not completely following the law (in other respects) and is not well educated, and doesn't listen to reasoned, evidence-based arguments. But up to this point, he seems to have respected the limits that she has set regarding social distancing.  But then again, I still think there is pressure coming from him.  I've sent her links to articles, asked her not to scream, or make me the enemy. She has a therapist, and takes low dose of Wellbutrin.  She is transferring from community college to a UC (deferring until classes are in person) and is well-directed, and a hard worker, but I'm afraid that eventually, he will sneak into our house at night.  Please help with any tips you can, knowing that I have set limits and shared information, and tried being a friend to my kid during this difficult time.  

    I heard an advice podcast recently (What's Your Drama) that had a similar question. Their answer was to invite the boyfriend to quarantine with your family for the duration, with the understanding of how that works for your family - following your county's health orders very strictly. If that doesn't work for him, perhaps your daughter can move in with him for the duration. Not kicking her out, but with the understanding that your household is strictly observing quarantine, and if that doesn't work for her, there is an alternative. (Is your husband on the same page as you?)

    However, you may have an underlying issue that will come to the forefront once the health orders are slightly lifted but the pandemic risk is still out there - it doesn't sound like you like her boyfriend. That's a tougher issue to resolve when she is an adult, and you may have a hard time justifying your household's "social distance" in a few weeks when small gatherings are allowed again (fingers crossed).

    Bottom line is of course you and your husband are allowed to set the rules for your house, but just ask yourself if you'd feel exactly the same if you loved her boyfriend and thought he was good for her. If your adult daughter doesn't like the rules (and come on, it would be VERY hard to go without physical contact with your significant other for months!!), she should find another place to stay for the duration, even if that means you can't have contact with her for the time being.

    I have a Masters in Public Health somI really understand where you are coming from and wanting to do extreme social distancing. And I also understand that telling young adults absolutely no will certainly lead to a blow out where they will just go on their own and make very bad decisions. I believe a harm reduction approach would be best. Especially if the boyfriend is taking social distancing seriously I think some flexibility along with guidelines could reduce the risks and still allow them to spend time. For example, they could get a hotel or air bnb nearby and isolate themselves in the room so they are not exposing anyone else. He could be allowed only in her room and she would wear a mask out of the room for an agreed upon time after the visit. They could set up a tent in the yard. These along with agreements of possible self quarantine, mask wearing in the house, lots of hand washing and good hygiene can really reduce the risks. What I dont see possible is a months long (maybe a year) imposition on their being to gether. We all know that abstinence only doesnt work.  

    We have a daughter and are in a similar situation.  Except add 80 year old grandmother with respiratory issues to the situation.
    Does she know just how deadly covid-19 is?  You might have her watch a couple of videos so she understands.
    https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/influenza/
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDY5COg2P2c&t=239s

    Or you might bring it home and have here learn what happened in Oakland, San Francisco during the previous pandemic.  
    https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/san-francisco-had-1918-flu-under-control-then-it-lifted-n1191141
    https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-04-19/coronavirus-lessons-from-great-1918-spanish-flu-pandemic

    If your daughter is like ours you will find love/sex is a force which is far more powerful than rational thinking at her age.

    Our daughter was given the choice of living with us or with her boyfriend or friends.  I should mention she is in a higher risk group for women her age.  She has chosen to live with her boyfriend.  She knows if things don't work out she's going to have to live with friends or isolate for 2 weeks before visiting or coming home.

    We are living in difficult times.  Not sure about you, but we are expecting a second and a third wave of covid-19 to hit the Bay Area with the way people are responding.

    Until this thing burns itself out, try and stay well.  Keep your mask on and keep you distance.

    Best of luck.