Since we are in quarantine and I’m dying to get out, do you mind if I pretend we are sitting at a coffee shop, and you just said, I think COVID-19 has made my teen hate me, and we just have a chat? Cool. Oh, who am I? I’m the father of four kids who were teens and one who still is. (I’m looking forward to being a retired teen parent.) I’ve also spent 25 years in classrooms working with teens. So you’re having coffee with as close to a teen expert as you’re probably going to get in this imaginary coffee shop. It will help if you pretend we are really close friends, too, so I can be pretty blunt with you.
I have so many questions for you, my imaginary coffee partner: What was your relationship with your teen like before being in quarantine? Have you considered how this unique time may have changed your teen? Have you considered how this unique time may have changed you? Is it possible that this quarantine has magnified some pre-existing issues in your relationship? Have you considered that teenagers may be here on earth to trouble their parents?
Bottom Line: Your teen probably doesn’t hate you. But they might.
Let me share the wise words of American author Ralph Waldo Emerson. (By the way, I taught English. Please pass the cream.) Anyway, he says in his essay Self-Reliance that “Every great man must learn how to estimate a sour face.” Paraphrased for our purposes, “Every great parent must learn how to estimate an I hate you from their teen.”
I’m trying to lovingly raise a future independent adult. I’m operating from principles, for a purpose—not for popularity. Some of the wisest things I did as a parent were met with fierce anger from my kids and some of the dumbest things I did as a parent were met with great joy from my kids. I’m not into this parenting thing for an approval rating from someone whose brain literally will not fully develop for a few years. I’m trying to work myself out of a job by preparing my teen for the real world.
So, I’ve had to ask myself if my child was mad at me because I’m doing what’s right as a parent or is my child mad at me because I blew it and was way out of line and I needed to make it right.
Do I need to stick to my guns or be honest, humble myself, and apologize? That’s kinda why I said: Your teen probably doesn’t hate you. But they might.
Don’t Rush to Judgment.
But this whole COVID-19, quarantine, shelter-in-place, global pandemic thing, right? I wouldn’t rush to any judgments or hard conclusions during this time. Nobody is their best self right now, including you and your teen. You may have been thrust into the employee-teacher-parent role. That’s a lot to juggle at home. You may be really stressing out about the future and your finances. Maybe all of this has affected you more than you realize. Maybe you are treating your teen like you don’t like them. Are you taking care of yourself? (Mmm… This is a great latte!)
And don’t forget how all of this quarantine situation might be affecting your teen. Their life has been turned upside down. They’ve lost the cool parts of school—their friends, sports, band, and clubs, but they are left with the lame part of school—the work. (Which at this point in the year, might pretty much be online busy-work.) They might be really missing what they are missing. They might be worrying about the future and your finances, too. Or, they might not understand how to process the stress and anxiety that they feel. They might be bored. You become the prime target for them to take out their frustrations.
Finally, there’s the possibility that this quarantine has revealed and even magnified some issues in your relationship with your teen. That’s okay. Face them head-on and capitalize on this quarantine to connect or maybe reconnect with your teen. This blog, pretty much written by a teenager, might give you some pointers for connecting with your teen. It was really helpful for me.
Whether you and your teen are in quarantine or not, one parenting adage remains true: Rules without relationship leads to rebellion. Give that equation some real thought. Hang in there. Thanks for having coffee with me.