March 9, 2022

Teenage Life after COVID…..

When COVID switches from pandemic to endemic.

When it’s like the flu.

Normal will feel like a walk in the Garden of Eden. But what about the teenagers? What will happen to them after COVID? Are they going to need to bust out big time, to play their Get-Out-of-Jail card like it’s the last card they’ll ever be dealt?

Do we need to worry about our teens abusing drugs and alcohol, becoming hormonally crazed, dramatic and sexually over-active,  and making impulsive decisions? That all sounds like pretty normal teen behaviour.

The difference with the COVID cohort of teens is how much they’ve  missed out on at such a crucial time developmentally. Let’s neither belabour the past nor whine about COVID. That’s so 2021. Instead, what can parents of teens do to cushion their landing in the land of normal?

First off, start talking about it with your teen. Yesterday. Actually I don’t mean talk. I mean listen. Intently. It will be hard not to lecture them on the minefields that await them out there in the world. But zip it. Sit on your hands. The more you talk, the less they will. Just ask them what will be hard or weird, and then sit quietly and listen some more.

Why is this  commitment to  listening more important than ever? Because for all teens, their teen DNA drives them towards separation from their parents – towards independence. But for the COVID teen cohort, because they’ve lost two years of practicing independence, their drive to separate is going to be more…..  More what? More everything. More urgent. More dramatic. More excessive. More confused.  And more challenging for parents. Which makes our listening more urgent – because we have no other weapons in the fight to maintain communication.

Every engagement with a teen is fertile ground for their incessantly triggered feelings of disempowerment. I often feel, when listening intently to teens, that they’re looking to play the blame game, to catch me disempowering them. Which makes 100% emotional sense in teenworld. If they can catch us disempowering them, they can then get mad at us, and SHAZAM, that anger, to them, is an act of separation. Their most pressing developmental task.

With the post-COVID teen, this is bound to happen. And not be pretty. With March Break looming, we need to be ready for….. the unknown but the partially predictable.

It’s normal for teens to vacillate wildly between their baby self and their adult self.

This looks like hanging up their coat, clearing the table, and speaking in multi-syllabic words when they go to a friend’s house for dinner. That’s their adult self. Upon arriving home, they revert to a Cro-Magnon style of communication. Grunts. Coats on floor. Chores? Not so much. Home is where they feel safest. And can regress.

Advanced reasoning skills? Out the window whenever parents set a limit. Say no to a teen and their baby self comes out swinging. Baby self responds to limits with yelling and/or sulking, often garnished with ad nauseum repeated never-stopping arguments that would do a litigator proud.

This is the normal.

Factor in two years of COVID, and we can expect our teens to do exactly what teens do: Oscillate wildly between their baby and adult selves, except that the oscillations will likely be even more exciting post COVID. More dramatic, more challenging. Many teens are more vulnerable now, which will cause their baby self to surface more often and be more….. babyish. This will be horribly annoying for parents, and sometimes scary. Think back to the Terrible Two’s. You survived that and you will survive this. It’s not abnormal post COVID. I{t’s just more.

Your most powerful survival tool: Get a Q-TIP. Quit Taking It Personally. That simple. This is not about you.

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