Summer is upon us, and for many teens in this country, school’s already out. Now what? Typical and cherished summer activities like jobs, internships, and camps may be on hold. There is a general sense of uncertainty about what the coming months will bring, and higher levels of worry in cities and states that struggled with many cases of COVID-19. This is going to be a very different summer than usual for many teenagers and their families. As the weather heats up, here are four tips to guide parents in helping their teens plan for the months ahead.
Validate your teen’s reaction to current circumstances
Teens may be feeling disappointed, anxious, and/or sad about cancelled activities and events. They may have a sense of uncertainty about what is to come. They may also be missing friends and feeling socially isolated. While it can be tempting as a parent to jump into problem-solving mode when you see your teen in distress, first take some time to listen to their concerns. Express their worries back to them, letting them know that you hear what they are saying through your words, tone, and expression. It’s more important to help your teen feel heard and understood than to try to fix the problem in that moment.
Enlist your teen’s help in mapping out a daily structure
This could mean agreeing on rough times for meals, wake-up and bedtime, and incorporating physical activity into each day. (Accept that most teens like going to bed later and sleeping later than they did when they were younger.) Next, brainstorm together about how to fill the remaining time. Strike a balance between structure and down time, incorporating expectations for screens into the plan. Having a voice in these decisions and the opportunity to make adjustments as time goes by matter to teens. As you map out a plan together, keep in mind that boredom is not the enemy. While we, as a culture, have become less accustomed to down time and boredom in our daily lives, there are benefits to both.
Ask your teen which goals or hobbies they want to master or develop
Help teens decide on appropriate goals or hobbies to pursue over the course of the summer. Are they interested in learning to drive a car? Cook meals? Walk dogs or pet-sit? Maybe learn a language or take a course? Family resources need to factor into what’s possible, of course. Once they decide what they want to accomplish, help them sketch out a roadmap and action steps toward these goals. Determine how you, as a parent, can provide some scaffolding during this process while also supporting and celebrating your teen’s autonomy.
Set clear guidelines around socializing
The coronavirus hasn’t disappeared, so try to stay aware of how it’s affecting your community. Decide on guidelines and expectations for your family members in terms of social distancing and preventive measures, such as washing hands often and wearing face masks when distancing isn’t possible. Families may differ in their approaches, depending on how vulnerable family members might be to illness as well as other factors.
Talk to your teen about what these decisions will mean for various social interactions. Take stock of how secure or leaky your family bubble has been, in terms of the interactions you have had with people outside of the family over the past few months, and discuss any changes for the summer. Be explicit. What will this mean for your teen’s interactions with friends and extended family members? What about wearing masks, trips to stores, and joining in various indoor and outdoor activities? Be clear about which rules and expectations are non-negotiable and which are negotiable based on your family’s risk factors, state guidelines, and your own threshold for safety. Your teen will likely face challenges and obstacles in following these plans, so it can be helpful to anticipate these in advance and recruit your teen in problem-solving how to manage them.
It all boils down to listening to your teen and empowering them to take an active role in planning. While this likely isn’t going to be the summer they’d planned on, with luck it will still hold joyful moments and opportunities to develop resilience and a sense of autonomy.
For more information on coronavirus and COVID-19, see the Harvard Health Publishing Coronavirus Resource Center and our “Parenting in a Pandemic” webcast.