When adolescents can’t see their peers in person, it seems only fair to loosen the rules on how much time they spend connecting online. But all bets aren’t off. Now, as always, rules are still in order to keep digital technology from undermining essential elements of healthy development. Sleep, productive learning, physical activity and face-to-face interactions (even if only with family members for now) should not be crowded out by life online.
Allow Privacy and Time Alone
Of course, few adolescents will want to spend all of their new at-home time with their parents or guardians. Teenagers who are formally quarantined, under shelter-in-place orders, or simply practicing social distancing will need and deserve privacy and time alone.
Make it clear that you welcome your teenagers’ company, but don’t take it personally if they want you nearby but quiet (like a potted plant), or if they want to spend time holed up in their rooms or in some other private space in your home.
While you are free to request or require your teenager’s presence, think about approaching your teenager with an extra measure of consideration when making requests. For example, saying, “We’re going to need you to supervise your sister for a couple of hours, but we know that you have plans too. How should we do this?” might be a good place to start.
Treat Teenagers as Problem-Solving Partners
As we scramble to figure out new rules, systems and routines for daily living, let’s remember that adolescents are usually at least as creative as adults, and will appreciate being treated as such.
Don’t hesitate to recruit teenagers’ help. Instead of presenting them with a suggested daily program, we could say, “We’re all having to invent new ways to arrange our days. Can you show me what you have in mind so that I can get a feel for your regular schedule and make sure you’re covering all your bases?” Similarly, we might ask persistently grumpy teenagers how they themselves would like to balance their own right to be upset with our reasonable expectation that they not make life in close quarters miserable for everyone else.
There’s a lot we still don’t know about how the spring will unfold for our teenagers, but there are some truths about adolescents that can help us through this difficult time: they welcome empathy, they are resilient and adaptable, and they appreciate — and tend live up to — high expectations.