As we are nearing the second anniversary of the pandemic, in the midst of a surge, I am hearing lots of conversation that feels like deja vu. And I know a lot of us are experiencing heaviness, grief, exhaustion, frustration, and so on because we are in a trauma response. (An invitation to take some deep breaths, if it feels helpful.)
One of the conversations that seems to be on repeat these days amongst clients, friends, and family is related to finding the “appropriate” amount of alone time. In other words, parents are worried that their teens are spending too much time in their rooms with the door shut, often on screens, and teens are doing their best to figure out how to stay connected and engaged during these strange times.
This article offers parents and teens 5 tips each for dealing with “too much alone time.” It is my hope that these ideas can help your family make even just a tiny energetic shift.
Tips for Concerned Parents
- Try to think of your family as a team instead of you vs. teen. In any interpersonal experience it is beneficial to use this perspective. If there’s already tension (aka differences in opinion/preferences) taking an “I’m right” kind of stance will push the other person away, and the conversation will quickly turn into a power struggle or a shut down. Do your best to remind yourself that your family is a team before the conversation and consider brainstorming ways that your language and approach could indicate this.
- Get in touch with your underlying fears and stories you are telling yourself about what “too much alone time” means.” Sometimes parents think (consciously or subconsciously) that they’re failing because their kid is in their room and/or on their screens many hours of the day. This story may be adding pressure or a sense of urgency, which, again, your teen will feel. I invite you to get in touch with your feelings, AND press pause on the story. Instead, focus on the facts. For example, “My kid currently only leaves their room for the bathroom and food, and they’re not having in-person connection time” or “Their screen time seems to be increasing each week, and I notice their sleep has become irregular.”
- Regulate yourself before you invite your teen to talk in detail about this topic. This means that conversations should not happen during existing conflicts. Start from a neutral space to the best of your ability. If you are aware of your fears and stories (tip #2), you can work to soothe yourself. This is good for you AND for your kid!
- Invite your teen to make agreements. While it’s important for you to give your teen space and agency to make their own decisions, they do sometimes need structure and accountability. The agreement-setting process is a way to find balance with your teen. You might invite your teen to create agreements around family connection time, screen time, or time outside of their room, for example. Find my agreement-setting process here! Start small, and celebrate the little shifts!
Tips for Tired Teens
- Try to think as a team instead of you vs. your parent(s) or caregiver(s). While it can be super frustrating to hear feedback from your parents, it can be helpful to think about the feedback as care. Right now, many parents are concerned about how the pandemic has impacted their kids, and they want you to feel connected and grounded. Before you enter a conversation with them, do your best to remind yourself of this and consider ways that you might be able to meet them in the middle. (In the case of harm or abuse, this perspective is not appropriate. Please reach out to a trusted adult if you are in this situation.)
- Encourage yourself to change your environment regularly. This could mean sitting outside for 10 minutes a day, coworking with a family member at the kitchen table 1 evening a week, planning to watch TV with a family member on a specific evening, opening your door and windows, and so on. Consistency can be helpful; thus, I suggest adding this change of environment to your daily or weekly calendar/schedule.
- Schedule breaks, even if you think you don’t need them. Like attracts like, so if you’ve been in your room for endless hours or days, it makes sense that it’s easier to stay there than to leave. That said, sometimes you need to hold yourself accountable, and schedule breaks. Breaks can include time to get a snack, a shower, a FT hang with a friend, time to cuddle with your pet, and so on. You might use timers or visual reminders or Siri or any other tools you prefer to support you in taking breaks.
- Check in with your support system. If or when you feel like you’ve had “too much alone time” or you are spending the majority of your time talking to a specific person or playing a specific game or on a specific app or in the same corner of your room, it can be good to check in with your broader network of support. Who and what else fills you up? Makes you feel like yourself? Helps you feel connected? Can you pick 1-3 people or things to connect with today? This week?
We Can Get Through This Together
There’s no perfect or right way to get through this pandemic. We are all doing our best! Your family is a team, and together, we are all a collective teen.
If you’re a teen or young adult who wants support along your journey, I’m here to be a space holder! If you’re a parent who is ready to make some shifts in how you’re showing up, I’m here to support! Reach out anytime.