“He’s gotten an attitude lately. He’s talking back and acting surly every time I ask him to do anything. His favorite word is ‘Well …’ and he says it in a huff and with an eye roll.”
Does this sound like your teenager? Yeah, mine too.
If you are wondering why, living in the new world of COVID-19, your teen is edgy, sarcastic, crabby, unhappy, or downright depressed, the answer is, he is experiencing grief.
Perhaps in the beginning your teen was doing alright. But now that it seems ongoing forever, many teens (heck, adults too) who were previously handling it OK are now … not great” />
When you think about it, this is to be expected. Being isolated for a few weeks is manageable but as it drags on and on, it gets so much more difficult.
The loss of a normal routine, time with friends, participation in sports and activities, having friends over for your birthday, and the freedom to go about regular life … all of these losses result in grief.
Grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss of any kind. Grief is also the conflicting feelings caused by the end of (or change in) a familiar pattern (The Grief Recovery Handbook by John James and Russell Friedman).
Our kids are grieving.
One mom asked me, “What do I say when my son complains, ‘I hate being stuck in this house. I hate not seeing my friends. I’m sick of being cooped up!’”
I suggested she do what I learned while training to be a Grief Recovery Specialist, “Be a heart with ears.” I encouraged her to simply listen and show her love.
Society has taught us some very poor ways of managing grief. We’ve learned we should hide (or even deny) our feelings, we need to be strong, we can replace our loss, and that if we just give it time, we will feel better.
To help our kids in these strange and difficult times, I’d love to see parents talking about loss, instead of denying it or ignoring it, and explaining it is natural for this quarantine situation to bring out feelings of grief.
Even if we have not had anyone die, we are still experiencing the loss of our hopes, dreams, and expectations for the future. Our kids are experiencing the loss of their hopes and dreams too.
So please, tell your kids they do not have to pretend everything is fine. Tell them they can and should express their feelings …. of frustration, anger, and sadness.
When your teenager voluntarily talks to you and tells you how she feels, grab on to the opportunity and don’t let it slip away.
- Put everything aside and listen.
- Be a heart with ears.
- Do not give advice.
- Do not tell her she will get to have so many great experiences next year (i.e. you can replace this loss with the promise of next year).
- Do not say, “But honey we are so lucky. We have a home and food and clothes and Netflix” (i.e. you shouldn’t feel bad because you have a LOT to be thankful for). Sure those things are true. And there is a time and place to remind your kids to be grateful. But that time is not while they are breaking down and emotionally vulnerable.
In those moments, listen and love them. Teach them to honor their feelings, honor their pain, grieve, and heal. Then, they can fully hope for and embrace the future.