A teacher asked me recently, “What’s your top tip for supporting teenagers in this pandemic?” I don’t have a top tip – they’re all important! But I do love a list as much as anyone so here’s a list of five top tips and at the end you’ll find a downloadable list of ten. Don’t say I’m not good to you!
Actually, I lie: I have a top tip. Come to my webinar, Teenagers in a Pandemic on Feb 25th! But hurry – not many places left. (I have two other webinars, though, as you’ll see on that link.)
Another tip would be to buy Be Resilient, but it’s not out till the summer so that would be unfair. It was written in direct response to the pandemic, though, and is a template for building a mind that can get through this and whatever else life might throw up.
Here are my five tips for today
1. Understand teenage minds, brains and stage of life
We are all humans and also all individuals. But we are also affected by our stage of life and, for young people, stage of development. You’ll find parenting and supporting them easier if, for example, you understand how anxiety affects teenagers differently or how online learning may be affected by adolescent self-consciousness – and how that has both a biological and a social dimension. You will learn this and more in the Teenagers in a Pandemic webinar. And you’ll learn even more about adolescence in general in Understanding Teenagers on March 4th.
2. Use the three conditions for counselling
As a parent or teacher you are not a Counsellor and yet you will often find yourself needing to take on such a role. It’s then very helpful and empowering if you know something of the mindset that Counsellors use when trying to listen constructively and with advanced empathy. We need to listen with:
- Acceptance – Accepting that what the person says they feel is what they feel, even if you think they shouldn’t feel this and you don’t want them to. Their emotion is real to them and therefore real.
- Genuineness – You genuinely want to help. If you don’t, you can’t.
- Understanding – Proper, deep, informed understanding. Understanding that “This type of feeling is common because / happens because / can come from / is typical in / can be triggered by / makes sense because / creates a sense of…” This gives you the foundation of what you will say to them to help them manage their thoughts and feelings better.
It is that understanding that I focus on most in my talks. People come wanting strategies, of course. My aim is that by giving them understanding they can construct their own strategies. I do offer some, too! But for strategies to work they need to be tailored to your family, your teenagers, whom I don’t know but you do so you are best placed for this, once you properly understand. You will understand.
Did I hear you laughing?! When you’re suffering yourself, “calm, structured and strong” is hard. And busy is probably something you’re trying to reduce, not increase. I know. Honestly, I know. There are so many incredibly difficult situations you might be in and I won’t even begin to list them for fear of leaving someone out. But everything you can do towards this end will help: small actions can have big effects.
Let me throw a few thoughts your way. Ignore anything that is irrelevant for you.
- This is not just for your teens but for all of you – you will benefit and they will benefit from your benefit.
- You could find – if you give them the chance – that your teenagers would enjoy some responsibility: “How can we all make this household better for us all to live in? What ideas do you have? What would you like us to do? What would make our lives better, healthier, more enjoyable? What would you like to take responsibility for?” Teenagers are absolutely not powerless: they have a tremendous energy to be harnessed.
- It does not mean that every part of the day has to be structured: it could just be one meal where you all come together and there are some rules about it. Then one meal can become two, or you could add a family game, silent reading or cooking session, DIY or gardening. Whatever would work for your family. Again, you know them and I don’t.
- Everyone could create their own routine. Pictured left is one created by Lauren in Y12. It’s perfect, though I’d like her to have a bit more sleep… (That’s the topic for my third webinar, The Power of Sleep, on March 18th.)
- Give lots of options and ideas and let family members choose the ones they want and add some of their own. Exercise, social time, games, school work, quiet time, and meals and snacks all need to feature.
- Routine really helps sleep, too
4. Have a weekly meeting – how did it go and what will we change?
Routine is all very well and important but we don’t want to feel that every week is the same. At your weekly meeting, each person gets to say what they liked and what they didn’t like, what they’d like to do differently. Any challenges and goals for the next week? Don’t make this just about the young people – this is for you equally. Perhaps each family member could take turns chairing the meeting?
If necessary, discuss rules about listening to each other. Follow an agenda. They’re learning important lessons about how meetings should work.
Another way of ringing the changes in a structured way is to look ahead to special days, whether that’s pancake day or a birthday or holiday. Also think about campaign days such as World Sleep Day (March 19th this year, as it happens – and my sleep webinar is part of that!) so that you can plan school work around it. Give your teenager the task of selecting these special days and deciding how the family should mark them. There are benefits to education and empathy in doing this.
5. Understand the mechanics of anxiety
I’ll be talking in detail about this in Teenagers in a Pandemic but in short:
- It’s biological, a survival response – the instant stress response to a perceived threat.
- It happens more often in today’s world than it was evolved for.
- While adrenaline disappears quickly, cortisol builds up and causes many problems with focus, mood, health, sleep.
- Worries are linked to each other – if you’re a worrier and anxiety comes along, it triggers your other anxieties. I call this the worry chain.
- You can’t prevent anxiety but you can learn ways to keep it under control.
You’ll find MORE useful tips in this sheet, AnxietyTips, which I created especially for Teenagers in a Pandemic, because I know you want strategies, even though what I want to give you is UNDERSTANDING.
Let’s help our young people come through this and be resilient. We can do this. More importantly, they can do this.
Please do scoop up the last remaining tickets to Teenagers in a Pandemic or, if you’re too late, come to Understanding Teenagers or The Power of Sleep. Or come to all three! If you come to the first, you get £5 off either or both the others and if you come to the second you get £5 off the third.
Didn’t I say I was good to you?
BOOK NOW – I might not do this again!