How coronavirus lockdowns can help us create healthier environments for our teens
For better and for worse, coronavirus lockdowns have been a massive disruption to the way we live our lives. Most of us, myself included, can’t wait to get back to the way things were before.
But like any disruption, where you’re unexpectedly stopped in your tracks, the lockdown has offered us new perspectives. We’ve been forced to examine and evaluate our pre-pandemic existence — whether a renewed appreciation for our commute, a spotlight on how frenetic our schedules had been, or even gratitude for the daily informal interactions with our favorite barista. Who knew?!
And like us, our teens have been offered (forced?!) to take a step away and engage in a similar evaluation- the good, the bad, and the ugly! The grief, anxiety, and for some… Relief! The very nature of lockdown flies in the face of the teens’ developmental needs (independence, identity formation, exploration, and experiences outside of their families). Yet this imposed structure has also allowed many adolescents to… Thrive. To experience themselves, their relationships, and their lives in a way that they would never have been able to before. During this “forced isolation” Many teens that I know and treat have made surprising and beneficial discoveries and insights about themselves that they intend to carry with them and integrate into their post-pandemic lives.
As we angle for a better and bright future in the hopefully not too distant post-covid-world it would be a shame if we just went back to the way things were without trying to incorporate some of the unexpected perks that the coronavirus lockdown has handed us.
In this article, I’m going to explore 4 unexpected perks your teen might be experiencing during the coronavirus lockdown.
If you’ve noticed a levity in your teens’ step and a lightness in their mood during Covid then take heed to what I’m about to tell you. If you’re a parent, teacher, or someone who works with teens. How might you incorporate some of the following into your post-covid world?
Quick disclaimer. This article is not claiming that the Coronavirus has been a net-positive experience. Nor am I trying to minimize the trauma most of us have experienced over the last year. I’m merely pointing out that there have been positive shifts for some people and asking how we can carry those positive shifts with us into the post-corona world.
Covid is not all good, nor is it all bad. Thinking that it’s one or the other is actually a great example of black and white thinking. If you’d like to learn more about black and white thinking check out this great article on Cognitive Distortions by Teen Brain Trust. I encourage you to see the shades of grey.
Finally, I’d like to acknowledge that the examples I’ll be giving in this article will not apply to everyone. We all have different circumstances and all of us are processing the trauma of Covid differently. The things I’ve seen and noticed from the comfort of my private psychology practice in New York are very different from the experience of our front-line essential workers, for example. Regardless of whether or not you can relate to the specific examples that I give in this article, I encourage you to look for the places in your teen’s life that have had positive shifts. How do the things I’m saying apply to you and your teen’s specific circumstances? If you’d like to share a specific example that isn’t included in this article please tweet me @drdanadorfman
Unexpected Perk #1: Relief from Social Pressures
While teens are innately social beings, even more so than adults, that doesn’t mean that every teen is a social butterfly or yearns to be one. Often teens feel a ”pressure” to socialize, let alone fit in and keep up with the ever-changing trends and norms. Many teens enjoy some social interaction but perceive an undue expectation that they attend the latest party, go out with peers and overextend or deplete their social bandwidth/internal resources.
Many teens would prefer to socialize in small or one on one interactions and NOT in large groups and gatherings. However, they feel compelled, forced, or underperforming if they heeded these tendencies. The pandemic restrictions allow them to exhale, indulge their more solitary side and relieve them of the sometimes debilitatingly exhaustive social pressures. It’s hard to have FOMO when less is happening! Many teens are naturally shy or introverted. For many of them, covid lockdowns and learning from home have been a tremendous relief.
Let’s look at the life of Teen X. Before the pandemic, Teen X was struggling in school. Not because they struggled academically, but because they struggled socially. While they weren’t bullied, they felt an ever-present pressure to conform to the social standards of their classmates. There was always pressure to go to social or sporting events. To know what everyone else was talking about. Teens can be harsh judges of appearance and social bearing. Teen X had incredible anxiety about what to wear and how to act when they were in school. They were in constant fear of being judged by their peers.
Now during Covid, Teen X actually has an easier time socializing. With the screen barrier, they’re taking a more active role in class discussions, even taking the lead in some group projects. They’re also thriving academically. Instead of being stressed and anxious about how they’re performing socially, they now spend the school day focused on the topics that interest them.
Teen X has gained a new level of self-confidence in the pandemic. One that will most-likely translate to an in-person environment once schools reopen.
Unexpected Perk #2: Some Learning Styles are More Conducive to Home Learning
The more we learn about learning the more we understand that everyone learns differently. So it stands to reason that while some students are struggling with the new world of online learning, others are thriving.
Our entire educational system has taken a massive hit, but a major trend in online learning has been a transition to more asynchronous learning. In other words, students are required to take on more of a leadership role when it comes to their own education.
For many teens, who are already biologically motivated to explore and expand their independence, gaining a greater level of ownership over their own learning has been a blessing in disguise.
All of a sudden they have more free rein to learn in the style that suits them best.
Teen X is socially sensitive. They have an acute attunement to people around them, a classmates’ frequent movements, loud breathing, and interruptions are more distracting and disruptive to them.
Large assignments and tests are also free of social contagion. “Did you study? Is it gonna be hard? How much did you study?” These questions are common around lunch tables and in the hallway but without social gathering areas at school, a lot of these questions and conversations have simply evaporated.
Teen Y is a self-conscious, slower-paced student. While learning at home they can comfortably work at their own speed without awareness of the speed reader typically sitting beside them in the classroom. At home, students can experiment and fine-tune their work environments to suit their individual needs and styles.
Additionally, Teen Y feels more at ease to ask questions they would otherwise keep to themselves.
With most communication with the teacher taking place digitally, it’s easier for Teen Y to connect with their teachers one-on-one. Instead of raising their hand in the classroom to say out loud ‘I don’t understand’ they can simply send a private message.
In short, many classroom elements that are actually barriers to academic performance have been removed, simply by removing the classroom.
Unexpected Perk #3: Fewer Expectations
We expect a lot of teens, plain and simple. One area of expectation that’s steadily grown over the last few decades is when it comes to extracurricular activities.
Academic excellence is no longer just a matter of achieving good grades and demonstrating exceptional scholastic performance.
Oftentimes to appeal to the perceived expectations/desires of college admissions departments or to “keep up” with the ideals of demonstrating a well-rounded portfolio, teens are encouraged and/or pressured to engage in demanding extracurriculars. Not to mention many teachers encourage it and it’s what all their friends are doing. But the demands and requisite commitments of many teen sports leagues and school clubs can exceed that of some full-time job training, practices, travel, and financial strains.
In the modern educational system, teens are rewarded for doing as much as possible, but this often results in overburdened and stressed-out teens. In a nutshell, this pressure to perform is baked into the world our teens inhabit.
At least, it was until last year. While many teens thrive, or learn to thrive, in a life that keeps them constantly busy, others need a break. For them, covid has provided some much-needed relief from the pressures of needing to perform at a high level, all of the time.
Unexpected Perk #4: Closer Family Ties
Whether you like it or not, your kids learning from home has likely necessitated that you spend more time together.
This is especially true if you’re also working from home. Think about the difference in time spent if you’re working from home versus if you’re out of the house at the office from 7:30 or so every day.
Plainly said, there are a lot more opportunities for parents and teens to connect in Covid.
There’s also increased opportunity for you to model the kind of behavior you’d like your kids to inhabit, more opportunities for re-parenting, more opportunities to go back and correct mistakes made in previous conversations, more opportunities, in general, for increased dialogue.
It’s still best to let your teens take the lead in seeking out opportunities to bond, but we as parents can make ourselves much more available.
Personally, I’ve noticed a huge increase in the number of private jokes I now share with my teens. While this may seem like a small thing it’s a great indicator of how much more time we’ve spent together in the last year.
If you don’t work from home yourself don’t feel like you’ve been missing out on this additional benefit.
A friend of mine is an essential worker, and they’ve shared with me how their kids have become much closer. Their teen has taken a leading role in helping their younger child with their at-home learning and it’s brought them closer in a new way. It’s also likely provided their teen with some valuable leadership skills that they wouldn’t otherwise have developed.
Most parents feel really bad that their teens’ lives are so massively disrupted because of Covid. It feels in a way that they’re getting their adolescence “stolen” from them and that so much of this period really flies in the face of what teens need developmentally.
- Exploring the world outside of the family unit/home
- Being out and about with friends
- They ought to be able to be independent and/or experiment with independence in a variety of ways, many of which are antithetical to quarantine
Naturally, we all feel stifled by this but we need to acknowledge how this is developmentally different for teens.
What we’re striving to do in this post is show how even though this all sucks, there are simultaneous upsides. It would be a shame if as we race toward normalcy, we ignore all of the ways in which Covid lockdowns have benefited us and our teens.
There are too many positive experiences that parents are noting about their teens to be ignored. Again, this is all based on what I’m hearing as an expert and therapist in NYC, but from my point of view at least, there is a definite trend.
It seems cheesy to say, but as we build back our normal lives, we should strive to incorporate these lessons and build back better.
If you’d like to read some of my other articles on teen development, you can see some of my other work at Teen Brain Trust.