Is anyone else having issues with their kids and getting them on schedule or getting them to do the things around the house the first time you ask? I knew the COVID-19 pandemic would change our lives for a few weeks, but  I never considered that it would stretch into the summer. As a result of the “new normal,” I have noticed changes in the behavior of my children as well. Some of those changes include:

Backtalk From My Kids

Arguments About Bedtimes, Chores, Hygiene 

Too Much Screen Time (Games, Netflix, Disney+, etc.)

What is really going on? How am I contributing via my stress, anxiety, or mood? In essence, how do I stop fighting with my kids? What are the things that I can do?

1. Remember That You Are The Parent

I recognize that my responsibility to my children is to be their parent. Even though I want to develop a close relationship with my child, being the parent means that I will have to do things that are not popular. In fact, because I love my child and want a close relationship with them, as a parent, I have to make unpopular decisions. The first time that my youngest son said to me, “Mommy, you are not my friend,” I took a deep breath and replied, “You are right. I am not your friend, I AM your MOM.” I want my kids to know that they are loved, accepted, and can always come to me, but I can’t always be their “buddy.” I can’t make decisions based on a popularity contest—I have to do what’s best for them knowing that they won’t always understand that this is real love.

In that particular situation, I chose to respond versus react. Reactions are automatic, without thought and usually driven by emotions. When I respond, according to the author and licensed marriage and family therapist Hal Runkel, “I take a pause before I do something.” In other words, I think, control my emotions, and move forward as the parent.

2. Become A Student Of Your Child

Learn what your child likes and what interests them. Talk with and listen to them, find out what shows they watch, what music they like, what are they feeling (e.g., fear, concern, anger, sadness). Creating a healthy relationship with them gives you insight into their world. Remember that the pandemic and all that is going on has had an impact on your child as well. Take your child’s emotional temperature by asking questions to find out how are they are feeling and what is on their minds. They may be acting out because they feel insecure, afraid, or anxious. They may be trying to get your attention

3. Create Structure And Boundaries And Consistently Enforce Them

It is important that our children feel a sense of routine, structure, and boundaries in the midst of all the chaos and confusion going on in the world. Structure and boundaries provide safety for children. They see and hear news about COVID-19 and racial unrest. They may feel afraid and concerned as a result. You can create structure and boundaries by: Making one-on-one time with each child to talk, Having dinner together as a family, or Family Game Night. These family interactions can develop connectedness between the members which hopefully can decrease the argumentative interactions.

Your children should have routines in the morning and evening and bedtime that place structure around their day. Give them a daily to-do list like: Brush Teeth, Eat Breakfast, Read For 20 Minutes, Exercise/Play For 1 Hour, Eat Dinner, Screen Time (as prescribed by parents), Bedtime Routine, Lights Out. Put the schedule somewhere at their eye-level. Even kids that can’t read yet can follow a list using pictures to know how to get ready for bed. These routines provide expectations for what the day will look like and there will be less to fight with your kids about.

Power struggles and arguments seem like they will always be a normal part of parenting. However, you don’t have to normalize fighting with your kids. When you recognize your role and responsibilities as a parent, it gives you a focus point. Creating a healthy parent-child relationship helps your children learn and respect boundaries. Make sure you are taking care of yourself so you can be your best self and respond, not react. One of the best lessons that I have learned on my parenting journey is, “Rules (structure) without relationship leads to rebellion.

I knew you cared and you always made me think.”

It was my wife that pointed it out. After 25 years of being in schools, I frequently run into former students or they drop me a message on social media. They usually say the same thing: “I knew you cared and you always made me think.” 

When it comes to having conversations with your teen about race, those are great goals to have. You want your teen to know you care and you want to make them think.

In the past few weeks, the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police has outraged many in our nation and many protests have been sparked across the country. Once again, the conversation, especially on social media, has turned toward racism, the Black Lives Matter movement, police use of force, and whether everyone in America truly and equally enjoys the benefits of justice.

Having conversations with your teen about race and these subjects can be hard for many reasons.

Sometimes our teens bring the conversation to us and we may feel:

  • Attacked—they may accuse us of being hypocrites or not doing enough, or being on the wrong side of important issues. Don’t get defensiveand keep your cool.
  • Fearful—of disagreements escalating into full-blown fights or that we are ill-informed about the issues involved. It takes two to fight, so keep your cool. Get informed if you aren’t and recognize that this is a real opportunity to show what it looks like to disagree, have strong feelings about something and still be able to love through it and continue to have conversations.
  • Disappointed-—that we haven’t passed down our beliefs and values to our kids the way we hoped. You’ve probably passed down more than you think, but understand, this is the age that teens begin to think for themselves and form their own beliefs and opinions. You can still speak into their lifeas a role model and active listener.
  • Overwhelmed—by all the information that they may have to share with us. It’s okay to say, “Hey, slow down… I’m trying to keep up!”

Sometimes we try to bring the conversation to our teens and they may be:

  • Close-minded because their mind’s already made up.
  • Dismissive and think our “generation doesn’t get it” and is out of touch.
  • Apathetic and don’t share our concern about these issues.

1. We want our teens to know we care:

  • Listen, but don’t lecture. Make sure they feel heard, even if we don’t agree. Let them take the lead in the conversation and allow them to fully explain their ideas and opinions.
  • Show respect for them by respecting their thoughts and opinions. For many people, teens especially, the personal and the political are intertwined. If we dismiss or minimize their opinions, we have dismissed or minimized them. You don’t have to agree to show respect. In fact, you are modeling showing respect for differences.
  • Support their activism where you can—on social media and in the real world. If your teen knows you don’t agree with their cause, yet you are willing to stand with them at a protest, you have demonstrated how much you care in a powerful way. Conversations will flow out of that…

2. And we want to try to make them think:

  • Help them understand that we don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are. All of us see the world through the tinted lens of how we were raised, our life experiences, our friends, and what we’ve been taught. We can choose to simply look through that lens, or we can choose to look at that lens and question it or even try to look at the world through someone else’s lens.
  • Help them to distinguish between facts and opinions. Most of what your teen is exposed to are opinions. The most reliable opinions are ones supported by research, facts, data, and logic. Opinions based only on feelings, personal experiences, and anecdotes should be viewed with healthy skepticism. In the past, being educated meant knowing information. Now, it involves knowing where the information comes from. Is it biased or trustworthy, and reliable? Does it have an agenda? Do you believe whatever you read or do you fact-check it? Challenge them to be a critical thinker.
  • Help them understand the role that the news and social media play. The news and social media don’t simply report reality; they have the power to create it and manipulate it. And they are looking for ratings and clicks to make money.
    • As a teacher, I didn’t use my lectern as an opportunity to lecture teens on my opinions. I had to remain neutral in a room full of kids from various backgrounds with varied opinions about all the “hot button topics” that frequently flared up. My role wasn’t to photocopy my beliefs and opinions into the teens that occupied my desks. It was my responsibility to help them be critical thinkers. My mantra was, “You don’t have to think like me, but you have to think.” I asked questions and I listened. I especially tried to help students understand where their classmates were coming from and how to be respectful of each other.
    • Sure, I have values and character traits that, as a parent, I wanted to pass down to my children, but I wanted my kids to think for themselves, form their own opinions, and to be able to civilly articulate why they held that opinion—even if it was very different from my own. I encouraged them to seek out and be courteous when they navigated conversations with people holding different opinions and perspectives or didn’t look like them. Our dinner table was a classroom where ideas and opinions flew around. I tried to play the role of questioner, not a lecturer.
    • In the last few weeks, our family of five from 14 to 25 have had some great conversations about racism, protesting, rioting, the role of the police and the government, social media activism, and how to do things in the real world that make a difference. These aren’t conversations to shy away from as a parent, but they can be hard and sometimes get lively and passionate. That’s okay.
  • Be a role model. We should respect and continue to have relationships with people who don’t believe exactly the same things we do. Our teens are watching. We should cultivate relationships with people who look different than we do. Welcome them into your home. Have a meal with them. Even little things can send a big message. I took my kids to see Black Panther, Wonder Woman, and Captain Marvel because I wanted them to see that superheroes aren’t just white men.
  • Teens often feel strong emotions associated with their perceptions of current events. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Make sure they feel heard. You can encourage them to stay off social media for a while or to channel their emotions into doing something productive, legal, and positive in the real world. You could even do it with them. This will give your conversations more credibility.

Keep the Conversation With Your Teen About Race Going

Talking to your kids about the latest headlines isn’t that different than talking to your kids about sex, dating, pornography, or drugs. Just know that these aren’t one time monologues but ongoing conversations. Also, know that the average teen spends about seven hours a day in front of a screen and has at least two social media accounts. This is where they see corporate messaging, news and information, and the opinions of their peers. You might not watch much news or engage in many controversial conversations in your day to day, but your teen steeps in it for hours a day, day after day, for weeks. And these past few weeks have been heavy.

Don’t miss these excellent opportunities to help your teen develop their empathy, learn from people different from themselves, and hone their critical thinking skills. You can help them process complicated and controversial topics even if you don’t agree with each other. Be their role model for how to handle disagreements! Be their role model of loving and empathizing with people of other races. 

Then you can keep the conversation with your teen about race going.

I was thinking about this question as I drove to pick my 14-year-old up from football practice. Without any context, when he got in the car, I asked, “Do we ever fight?” He said no, and I followed up with, “Why not?” [His insights surprised me and definitely made me look like a better parent than I am. More on that later.] Here’s what he said:

“You’re understanding. You don’t yell or instigate. And you don’t nag. You listen. A lot of it is personality—We’re both pretty chill. We don’t press each other.” [He’s not wrong. We’re both laid back. Also, I don’t know what “press” means.] “Like, yesterday, I guess you can call that a ‘fight.’ You wanted me to mow the lawn right after football practice and I didn’t want to. You listened to my reasons why and said why it needed to be done. I still asked a couple more times, and you said, ‘Sorry, dude. Do it now.'”

For the record, he is the youngest of five children. I’m 50. What he calls “chill” might just be parental fatigue. I have most definitely fought with my other kids. But he has also benefited from what I’ve learned from parenting his four much-older siblings.

He did touch on some things that might be labeled, “New School Parenting.” Listening to where your teen is coming from. Trying to understand their perspective. Letting them feel “heard.” Explaining your reasons. Not yelling or escalating. This was definitely not “Old School Parenting.” My father didn’t say, “Sorry, dude.” He just went straight to, “Do it now.” and probably threw in a “Because I said so!”

Here are some probing questions to ask yourself that could answer, “How do I stop fighting with my teen?” Bear with me, I’m gonna start at the foundation…

1. Does your teen know that you love them?

Don’t be quick to say, “Of course!” I talk to a lot of teens who don’t think their parents even like them. How well do you know your teen’s heart? Do you know what speaks love to them? Do you show interest in the things that interest them? How much time do you spend time with them? Do you know their friends? Do you take a little time to welcome them into your home and get to know them a bit? When is the last time you told your teen that you love them? How about: I’m proud of you. I believe in you. I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me?

2. Do you have clear boundaries, routines, and structure in place?

At any age, boundaries and routines provide clarity and predictability and security. But they also provide freedom and communicate, “I care about your well-being.” They are just another way to say, “I love you.” ★ Have you made these boundaries clear to your teen and the benefits and consequences that are associated with them? ★ 

Both of these things form a relationship foundation that can stop a lot of fights before they start. An environment of love and good communication, as well as clear expectations and consistent consequences, will help you avoid many fights.

If you include your teen in making a cellphone contract or family technology plan or car-use contract, (or at least have a conversation that covers boundaries, expectations,  and consequences) everything is all laid out. You don’t have to think of a punishment on the spot or get angry, and you don’t have to raise your voice. You can just say, “Look, we talked about this. If you came in past curfew, you lost social driving privileges for ___.” (If you choose to go the contract route, remember, they aren’t carved in stone. They get adjusted as your child matures and builds trust. Plus, sometimes stuff happens—flat tires, extenuating circumstances, and sometimes some grace is in order.)

Stop fights before they start. There’s no “negotiating” which often escalates into a full-blown fight.

3. Still, no matter what, you are gonna have some fights with your teenager. 

  • Remember you are engaged with a teen whose brain is not fully developed. It won’t be until they are in their 20s. Just understand that the parts of the brain that regulate emotions, predict consequences for actions, and do other “higher-order” things like logic aren’t fully formed. If they are upset, it’s even worse. Don’t be shocked by an “I hate you!” or something similar.
  • Speaking of brains, when we (you and your teen) have hot and heavy emotions, our prefrontal cortex gets “flooded” with “fight or flight” chemicals that can make us say and do things that we will regret later. Learn to recognize when this is happening in you and your teen. This is when you need to call a “time-out.” Nothing productive is going to happen if one or both of you is flooded.
  • It takes two to tango. It takes two to fight. You are the adult—you can do things like de-escalating, not letting your emotions push you around, choosing the best time to address an issue, recognizing “flooding,” and knowing when you are out of line and need to apologize or calmly hold your ground. 
  • If you recognize there are specific issues or areas that tend to be the catalyst for fighting, take time (NOT in the middle of a fight) to have a conversation about them. Note: I said, “conversation,” that’s a two-way street that involves speaking and listening. I’ve found that even if a boundary didn’t change, but I took the time to explain the rationale behind it and listened to my teen’s point of view and made them feel “heard,” they had a completely different posture toward it. Sometimes even a tiny bit of “give and take” goes a long way.

Fighting with your teen is no fun at all, but it is part of parenting. Do your best to stop fights before they start. Sometimes we expect our teens to act and respond like adults, and biologically they literally are not there yet. We have to be the adults in the situation. Remember: You are fighting FOR your teen, not WITH them. They will see the difference.

  1. On a video call… “Hey Dad, I’m hungry!” “But you just ate.” “I’m still hungry.”
  2. The dream of sleeping later every day since I am working from home… then remembering my 7 and 4-year-old don’t know what sleeping late means.
  3. Countless hours of Nerf battles and Lego builds.
  4. Using the parent face when your kid walks in the room while recording a video for work.
  5. Getting on to your child for walking into the room while on a video call but forgetting to mute yourself. Sorry team!
  6. Explaining to your child that show-and-tell is not part of your video meetings.
  7. Family walks all times of the day—just because we are home and we can.
  8. Eating lunch and dinner daily as a family and having great conversations.
  9. 4 weeks into quarantine and my 4-year-old was making her own lunch. Success!!
  10. Dodging Nerf bullets while on a work call.
  11. Apologizing to a work vendor for the loudness of your kids in the background of a call… only to hear “Oh, I get it” in response.
  12. When a one-hour webinar takes three cause you know… kids gotta have snacks.
  13. Your child answers a business call… oops!
  14. My 7-year-old constantly reminds me of his video call schedule.
  15. I might have used bribery just to make it through a meeting.
  16. Watched Frozen 2 so many times you’ve begun to wake up singing “Show Yourself.”
  17. Fully aware that Elsa singing “Into the Unknown” is the song of 2020.
  18. Muted by co-workers during a video call because you ran off to referee a sibling quarrel.
  19. Showed up to at least one video meeting in PJs and bedhead.
  20. Get overly excited to drive somewhere, anywhere… alone.
  21. Stayed up way too late too often to work after the kids go to bed.
  22. When your 7-year-old says, “Dad, you remember when we used to go to school?”
  23. Grocery shopping (alone) is something you get really excited about.
  24. Hiding my stash of cookies so my kids (and maybe my wife) didn’t find them.
  25. When all is quiet, not worrying about why it’s quiet, just accepting it, and taking a nap.
  26. All that saved gas money is not enough to keep up with the increase in grocery spending.
  27. Covid-wear is a real thing… business (or at least presentable on the top), PJs on the bottom.
  28. Having a 3-foot-tall shadow on every call.
  29. Surrendering your living room to be a site for fort building.
  30. Abruptly ended a group video meeting when my oldest ran in and said he got sick in the living room.
  31. Dropped $300 at the grocery store and realized I only bought snacks.
  32. Found all the creative ways to eat Nutella.
  33. The kids declare, “I need to do my work” while playing pretend.
  34. My sweet 4-year-old decided to draw a picture of what she thinks dad loves most during this time… running and Zoom calls. She might be half-right.
  35. Gave into otherwise ridiculous demands from your children in an effort to maintain your sanity and peace.
  36. PJs are acceptable attire for small kids… all hours of the day. Look, we’re ready for bed!
  37. Diligently trying to work on a project and your little one crawls up in your lap and asks, “Can you just come lay with me?” And the project is on pause.
  38. Best investment of the summer… inflatable pool. I can finally get some work done and they are entertained for hours.
  39. Having to constantly remind my kids that it is not okay to sit and talk outside the bathroom while someone is in there. Whatever it is can wait… and I want some peace and quiet.
  40. Realizing that no matter the chaos and stress, these moments will be treasured for the rest of my life and theirs.

Parents, these last few months may not have been what we expected—it definitely wasn’t something we were prepared for, but this time should be cherished. You are doing a great job and your kids see it. Have fun, be crazy, and enjoy the slower pace that still lies ahead for many of us this summer. You’ve got this!! Go make some memories and treasure every moment!

When I was a teen, summer meant one thing: work. And lots of it. I had 2-3 jobs lined up before school was out each summer because my goal was to make as much money as possible. Part of my motivation was to put gas in my car, pay for any eating out, and try to save for college expenses. The other motivation was that my parents believed working would help me learn to be more responsible and give me other necessary skills in order to be successful in life. 

With COVID-19 essentially slamming the door on the majority of summer jobs for teens, we face some challenges. The escape out of the isolation that many teens hoped for, the earning potential, and the learning opportunities that parents know come from working have been swiped right out of their hands. 

In fact, according to a Pew Research Center survey, young people ages 16-24 are more likely to face layoffs due to Coronavirus. Why? Because they make up 24% of employment in the restaurant, retail, and transportation industries. The lack of work leaves behind the opportunity to learn about working with others, being responsible, and accountable to someone other than parents. It may keep them from experiencing a sense of accomplishment from a hard day’s work.

Now what? With Plan A out the window, this is a great opportunity to help your teen put Plan B into motion. In spite of all that COVID-19 has taken from us, there are still plenty of things teens can do this summer. These things can make the time go by faster, but also help them continue to learn the skills they need to master before heading out on their own.

Here are four ways you can help teach your teen responsibility this summer in spite of COVID-19:

1. Set clear expectations for the summer.

Even though many options have been taken off the table, ask your teen to come up with a plan for their summer. The structure still matters and makes a huge difference in a teen’s mindset and motivation. Exercise, some type of work, help with household chores, time with friends in a socially distant way, things they need to learn to do for themselves such as laundry, cooking, managing money, and maintaining a vehicle, along with family time are important parts of their plan.

2. Help them think through opportunities that do exist.

Think yard work, shopping for those who cannot get out, being a nanny or manny for parents who have lost childcare and summer camp opportunities, odd jobs, or construction. Don’t forget about those special projects you or others have been putting off or need help doing. Part of the goal here is to help them think outside the box about what’s possible during a difficult time.

3. Encourage them to look at their strengths and identify what they are passionate about.

Are there online experiences they could take advantage of to further enhance their skill set and make them more marketable in the future? Can they take a distance-learning course to help them finish school faster or lessen their class load down the road?

4. Ask them to take on more household responsibilities to give you some relief while providing practical experience.

It may feel like more of a headache in the beginning, but these are all things they need to be able to do once they are out on their own. Grocery shopping, meal planning, cooking and/or house cleaning or making household repairs could be ways they can step up and assist in a big way if they aren’t already. As a bonus, additional teen responsibilities at home is a helpful reminder that in times of crisis, everybody has something valuable to contribute to the good of the family unit.

Obviously, we are all dealing with the unknown here and looking for ways to navigate the constantly changing landscape. Undoubtedly, there is a tremendous financial and emotional strain on teens and adults because of the limitations we’re dealing with and certainly, we need to be sensitive to thisEven in the midst of chaos, circumstances often present themselves that turn out to be positive in the end. I’m hopeful that these tips can help you prepare your teen to handle any situation that comes their way and to help them learn responsibility even in the midst of a pandemic.

For many of us parents, this time of social distancing and self-quarantine caught us off guard.

Before, we might have had small chunks of time spent at home, like when a child was sick. However, quarantine has more than doubled and even tripled the amount of time that I spend with my children. Back in the good old days in March, my sons would spend over seven hours at school. Once they came home, it would be dinner, homework, chores and some video gaming time. Then it would be off to bed. In reality, we didn’t spend lots of time together. 

Now with concentrated togetherness, work from home and virtual school, I am starting to see parts of them that I didn’t know existed. (Some of those traits remind me of me.) I am starting to have all these doubts and questions creeping in:

  • Am I doing this right?
  • What am I doing wrong?
  • Do we have enough (time, money, energy) to do this?
  • Do I have what it takes to parent my child?
  • Is this really how my child behaves at school?
  • Am I ruining their life, education and future?
  • In my heart of hearts, I am asking myself:  Am I A Bad Parent?

Questioning yourself as a parent can be a GOOD thing! (But be careful!)

When we became parents, we dreamed of our child’s future—what type of schools they would attend, the activities that they would participate in, and the friends they would have. Never in that dream did we consider a “global pandemicand how it would affect school, interaction with friends, and our family.

I have chosen to view this time as a Reset Button for myself and my family. I haven’t camped out with fear and guilt, but I have been introspective:

  • As a family, what are our priorities?
  • What can I control and what can I not control?
  • When it comes to my children, what type of relationship do I want?
  • What does my child need from me as their parent?

Accept that you did the best that you could.

Most of us were not taught how to be teachers. We don’t have medical training. We have never experienced a pandemic that mandated shelter-in-place. This is uncharted territory, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Instead, make it a learning opportunity. Have a family meeting and have a conversation with your children to see how they are doing. Take the emotional temperature of your family. Learn, then let yourself off the hook.

Recognize that there will be a transition out of quarantine.

As we prepare to “re-enter” the world, take some time to process how you have changed as a parent and what you may want to change going forward.

From Guilt to Action

Asking yourself these questions can move you from feeling guilty to taking action:

  • Am I confusing being a good parent with being a perfect parent?
  • Am I taking care of me to be the best version of myself?
  • Is the issue really exhaustion from work, virtual schooling and parenting?
  • What are the lessons that I can teach my children during this time?
  • Am I the parent that my child needs me to be during this time?

Asking yourself these questions can help you learn from this quarantine time:

  • What have I learned from and about my kids?
  • How has my family benefitted from this time together?
  • What has been a struggle for us?
  • How will we as a family be different after the quarantine ends?
  • How will I parent differently after quarantine?

It’s always good to be trying to improve as a parent, but it is easy to fall into the perfection trap and end up sitting in feelings of fear and guilt. This doesn’t benefit you or your kids.

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.

My first thought was to think back on all my experience parenting and working with teens. My first thoughts are frequently wrong. I realized that my 14-year-old son, Jude, was sitting right next to me. Ding, Ding, Ding! He has the best credentials to answer this question. Why not ask him! He’s the expert! 

What followed was me talking with my teen about talking with my teen. (He even grabbed my laptop at times and started typing, “You gotta tell parent’sTHIS!”)

Me: Is it helpful for parents to find out what you are into and learn all about it so they can build some common ground? Like, “Is your teen into skateboarding? Learn all about skateboarding so you can talk to them! Now you can ask if they ‘push mongo’ and if they can ‘aciddrop into a melongrab.’”

Jude: (Laughing Hysterically) You don’t even know what those words mean, do you?

Me: Um, no… I Googled them.

Jude: That stuff might help. It might come off as forced and lame.

Me: Bottom line, I can’t make you talk to me, can I?

Jude: (Kinda Smugly Triumphant) Nope!

Me: (Sigh) Let me type that…

Bottom Line: You can’t make them talk. Sorry. You can’t point the remote at them and press “Unmute.” The good news, however, is that you can adopt a parental posture and create an environment where a real conversation has a much higher chance of happening. 

Jude: I like the “unmute” thing!

Me: Hey, thanks, I just think…

Jude: (Interrupting) Just tell them to spend time with their kids. That’s it.

Me: You just told them.

Jude: What? Wait! Are you just typing out what I say? 

Me: Yup. Keep talking… I might make it sound more adult-y and mix in some of my thoughts.

According to a real-life teenager, there is no magic formula, but here are five things for parents to think about…

1. Some teens are just quiet or go through quiet phases. 

You remember being a teenager, right? Well, it’s way harder now, according to Jude. It’s more cutthroat, more emotionally charged, more adultish—social media amplifies all that exponentially. Jude says teens genuinely feel like you just won’t get it. It’s not an insult. They often process issues internally or with their peers. Resident Teen Expert encourages you to be patient. 

Big Idea: Make a standing offer to be available to talk about anything, whenever they want to.

2. Spend time with them not obviously trying to force a “big” talk.

You might be dying to hear about what is going on deep inside their world and incredibly anxious to speak into it. But just offer to watch them play video games, play some Uno, (Jude: Dude. We’ve never played Uno.) or go grab a bite to eat with no agenda other than to enjoy their company. Make small talk. Don’t sweat silences. 

Big Idea: Don’t force it. Spend time with them and see what happens organically. Small talk often leads to BIG TALK.

3. Don’t freak out when you hear something that rattles you.

Jude says this is “super important.” If they do open up to you, you will hear some stuff. Maybe some shocking stuff. If you freak out, it might be a loooong time before they open up to you again. Keep a good poker face. Jude: And don’t bombard them with a million questions. Don’t lecture. Me: Got it! Empathize. Probe gently. Listen, then listen some more. (Check out this article on active listening skills—especially the Six Levels of Listening.) 

Big Idea: So many teens say that their parents don’t listen and just talk at them, not with them.

Me: So, how do I do with all this?

Jude: Um…

Me: Okayokayokay! I’ll work on it!

4. You might not be the person they feel comfortable talking with right now. 

Jude: Some stuff I just feel better talking to Davin about. (His older brother.) As a parent, I’ve had to settle for… are they talking to someone? Someone I trust? For some topics and even some phases of teenage life, I realized my teen was more comfortable talking to Mom. I had to work to get to a place where I was just happy they had someone to talk to that I knew would basically give them the same input that I would. It might be an older sibling, their aunt, a teacher, or a coach. I know I can trust my sister, their favorite aunt, to give me a heads-up if she hears something I need to know about. 

Big Idea: Encourage them to cultivate relationships with people they are comfortable talking to.

5. Talk to them. But be real. Be transparent. Be vulnerable.

This speaks for itself. Sometimes we expect our teens to give us things we aren’t willing to give them. Me: Am I real with you Jude? Jude: Yeah. Maybe too real… Me: So that’s a compliment?

Big Idea: Make sure you are giving conversationally what you hope to get from your teen.

Me: You get the final word.

Jude: Spend time with them, listen, don’t lecture. Just tell parents to spend time with their kids.

Me: You just did, again. What do you think of this blog?

Jude: This blog goes hard.

And then, on the way to school the next morning, out of nowhere…

Jude: We told them not to lecture, right?

What’s The Big Idea?

  • Offer to be available to talk about anything, whenever they want to. Be patient.
  • Don’t force it. Spend time with them and let conversations grow organically. Small talk often leads to deeper conversations.
  • Practice good listening skills. Don’t talk at them; talk with them.
  • Encourage them to cultivate relationships with people they are comfortable talking to and that you can trust.
  • Model the openness, vulnerability, and transparency that you are hoping to get in return.

Let’s Cut Right To It, Because:

  1. You are probably working from home.
  2. It is good for your kids. They live here, too.
  3. Now more than ever, you need to take care of yourself.

You’re probably less interested in the “why” of getting help around the house, and more interested in the “how” of it. I get it, but you need to understand the “why” first and believe it

Taking care of yourself—physically and mentally—is incredibly important, especially right now. Stress, anxiety, fear, and plain old fatigue will all take their toll on you. That toll will impact you and the people that you care about. I see it in myself and in my own home. I feel fragile, a lot.

COVID-19 has me working in quarantine with five kids. My wife works in the medical field and is keeping “normal” long hours. My at-risk mother-in-law lives with us. Sooooooo…

You know the deal. I’m at home, trying to put in a full day’s work and finish my projects, making sure school work gets done, keeping an eye on my at-risk mother-in-law, and generally holding down the fort—including keeping it clean and organized. Oh, and when my wife gets home, I try to have dinner ready and we try to do Family Movie Night or Game Night and keep all the sequestered happy. It is a daunting task, and I’ve never felt so exhausted. You feeling it too? It often feels like a lose-lose situation.

If I focus time on my kids and mother-in-law, I feel like a bad employee.

If I focus time on my work, I feel like a bad dad and son-in-law.

I can’t possibly do it all. I just feel stressed out and guilty.

When in the world am I supposed to take care of myself?

Start with the basics.

The house needs to be kept up and your kids need stuff to do.

Those dots connect themselves, but how do you do this without having another thing to do?

  • I got the ball rolling by laying out expectations in a family meeting.
  • I also sent out this text message in our family group text after days of exhaustion:

Hey Family! I know everyone is taking care of their own living areas but we need to work together on shared spaces like the kitchen, dining area, and living room. We are trying to stay afloat during this – Mom is working full time, I’m working full time from home, and Grandmom isn’t our maid. (Thanks for all you do, Grandmom!)

Some Stuff That Needs Doing:

  • Kitchen needs to be swept and mopped.
  • Dining room & front door area swept and mopped.
  • Living room vacuumed.
  • Lawn mowed when it dries.
  • General sanitizing wipe down.
  • Help with cooking dinners.
  • General cleaning up after yourself, especially in the kitchen.

There’s enough for everyone to do a little. Thanks in advance. Hope this isn’t received as snarky. Totally sending with a heart full of love for all of you. Just need help. You guys are my favorite part of being quarantined! ❤

That was the text. I didn’t have high hopes. I figured a couple of kids (maybe) in drips and drabs would hopefully mark a few things off the list in the upcoming week. Maybe there would be a little less work for Grandmom and me.

Then something incredible happened.

My son, who is without a doubt the “lone wolf” of the whole crew and was in quarantine before it was cool, immediately came down and started sweeping the kitchen. What? Soon, everyone started popping out of their rooms and joined in. They cranked out a very thorough cleaning of everything. We even game-ified the cleaning by adding some rounds of Nintendo Wii in-between cleaning jobs. In a couple of hours, the house was spic & span – and get this – we all had time freed up to do our stuff. Even me!

I can’t call it a Christmas Miracle; maybe it was a COVID-19 Miracle? It was like something out of some wholesome unrealistic sitcom or Disney Channel show. It worked. But let me be clear, I was fortunate this time. It usually doesn’t play out like that. But I learned some valuable info that day…

There is no way I can keep up with housework, school work, and work work AND have time and energy left for self-care plus some gas left in the tank to have a little quality time with my wife when she gets home from work. You can’t give what you don’t have. 

And my kids can and will and need to help.

Let’s Break It Down

So how do I keep this ball rolling? If you break down my text, you might find some reasons why it was effective that might help you get your kids helping more around the house, have some structure in their day, and burn off some energy. Hopefully, this will lower your stress levels by freeing you up for working on work and remember, working on yourself.

Here’s what I did in my text to get my kids to help around the house:

  1. Started positively.
  2. Acknowledged what they were already doing.
  3. Was realistic and honest about our new situation.
  4. Listed very specific things that needed to get done.
  5. Gave them a choice of what they wanted to do.
  6. Thanked them in advance.
  7. Tried to preclude any misinterpretations.
  8. Affirmed my love for them and that family is the most important thing.
  9. And here is the kicker – I TOLD THEM I NEEDED HELP.  (I didn’t suggest it. I didn’t imply it. And I didn’t say, “It would be nice.”)

I probably should have added a timeframe for the work to be done by. Missed that one. 

We made it a challenge and made it fun. We worked together and multiplied our efforts.

Apply these principles in a way that works for your kids at their ages. 

Don’t be bashful with the We Are In A Global Pandemic And I Need Your Help Around the House card. Just don’t try to do it all yourself. And don’t sweat it if it all doesn’t get done. It isn’t going anywhere, and neither are we. Take care of yourself.

How am I going to keep my son engaged in online learning for the foreseeable future?” I just left a ZOOM meeting with my high school Junior son’s school. They were keeping parents informed about the plans they have for the rest of the semester. Their initial hope was to be back in school by the middle of April. Per this meeting, our new date is April 27. My real question is, how am I going to survive this? 

Here are a few tips to survive having teens in quarantine 24/7 in your home.

1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

At this time, it is primarily important that we know what our teens are thinking and feeling. Are they anxious, scared, withdrawn, missing their friends, or antsy? Do they want to go visit friends or have friends come over? 

Are you experiencing anything similar with teens in quarantine? Parents, we must discuss the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic with our teens. We must be honest with them about the facts and transparent with them about our feelings. Also, remember that their brains are not fully formed (25-30 is the age) so expect some questions or flat-out denial that it’s not that bad. “It won’t happen to me and my friends. Well, our family is going to follow the guidelines. 

The ways that we enforce rules during this time should be no different than how you enforce cell phone usage, driving privileges or dating rules.

2. Do something physical.

My son’s school has a mandatory physical requirement for all students. As a result, the coaches have sent the students workouts that will keep them in shape. I was thinking that it might be nice to work out with my son. After about 5 minutes, I was ready to cough up a lung. It doesn’t have to be a strenuous workout, but maybe a walk/run/jog around the neighborhood. Try a bike ride, or throw the football, baseball, and frisbee to each other in the yard. Physical activity can reduce stress and expend excessive energy.

3. Keep the routine.

I am grateful that my son’s school schedule has allowed him, for the most part, to keep to his regular school day. He starts around the same time every day.  While he may have longer breaks, he usually has classes in the morning and in the afternoon. He has a set time for lunch and his physical activity. Keeping his routine gives him a sense of security in the midst of the Coronavirus. It allows him to control what he can control:  His attitude and his effort in classes.

4. Stay connected.

With all of my boys home, having dinner together has been a way for us to touch base with each other. I am trying to make their favorite dinners, desserts, etc. We talk about things like what classes my rising Senior will take next year, how online interviews are going with my soon-to-be college graduate, what their summer plans will be (jobs, college visits, visits to the grandparents.) It’s not all serious talk. I ask my youngest, “Who is your favorite musician and why?” These talking points allow me to get into their world. They recognize that I am interested in what’s going on with them. Family meals are a great time to stay connected.

5. Be grateful.

Throughout this time, I am choosing gratitude.  I am getting to spend quality time with my sons that I will cherish forever. I frequently share my gratitude with them. Yes, I am “surviving” the teen years—even COVID-19 quarantine—but sooner than I think, they will be gone from home. They will be men with their own homes, jobs, and families. I won’t take even this hard time for granted. Enjoy your teens in quarantine while you can! Don’t just survive—thrive!