Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Being a Teen in Quarantine

“It’s all vegetables and no dessert”

Lisa Damour

Throughout social media, you may have seen an act of social media solidarity for high school students as Facebook users shared their old senior photos. Thousands of individuals came together to support and empathize the significant loss these teenagers were enduring. To some, they may not see or understand the significant loss. To them, it’s just high school. To be honest, I initially didn’t understand the magnitude of this loss either. I’ve been far removed from those years for quite some time so, to me, I forgot the significance of what my teenage years meant to me. After listening to Lisa Damour’s talk on Teen Lockdown, I now remember the importance of my teen years and can understand why so many teens are struggling.

Lisa Damour, clinical psychologist and writer, who has written numerous academic papers, chapters, and two New York Times best-selling books, Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood and Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls, put it really well when she said, “It’s all vegetables and no dessert.” The thing that’s missing is the fun and social aspects of school. Seeing friends in the hall, cracking jokes, attending sporting events, and gossiping about the latest crush is no longer a factor in play. These playful parts of school that are so meaningful to students are hard to replicate in a virtual learning environment and it’s really affecting our teenagers.

With distance learning being the only current option, we have now created a full-on academic environment without the social interaction that teens crave and need. That’s why so many of them are having a hard time at school. Now, add in being stuck at home with your family for the majority of the day. If there’s one thing teenagers want from their parents, it’s autonomy. How many times have you heard, “just leave me alone!”? This common phrase gets thrown around a household with a teenager quite frequently and often leads to tension within the household. More so now than ever, with the stay-at-home mandate, teens need space. Teens were not built to be at home all day with their parents. They were meant to be at school, socializing with their peers. This time is an extraordinary challenge for them.

So how do we help our teens?

  • A lot of empathy is in order.
  • We know that this quarter in school is typically not a high motivational quarter anyway. Children are typically drained and are looking forward to summer vacation. On top of that, there’s not the time pressure of getting assignments done.
  • We know that teens will feel better if they feel productive during the day. Don’t throw all the rules and expectations out the window. Children feel better when they accomplish tasks and get things done.
  • We also know that teenagers dislike being told what to do. Lisa Damour goes into the two different sides that teenagers have. One side is they want to be impulsive and lazy. The other side is that they are thoughtful, mature, and invested. When trying to motivate your child to do something, try to recruit the more mature side into problem solving together instead of throwing solutions at them.
  • Let your teenager know that this is a big loss, but also offer them perspective. It won’t derail their life and it’s going to be a shared experience for all of you to look back at later in life.

Remember that your teenager has experienced a huge loss and they don’t have the perspective that adults have. The have experienced the loss of graduation, prom/dance, and friends. For many of them, this may be the first major setback and disappointment for them. Teenagers typically get through school by looking forward to things, whether that be seeing a crush in the hallway or attending prom. Now, they don’t have any of that.

So parents, show empathy and work with your teenager and hopefully you can all get through this difficult time without hearing “leave me alone!”

This coming December, we will be having Lisa Damour speak to The Willows community and our extended Los Angeles community as part of our Speaker Series, which will be open and free to the public.

For more information, please check out our Distance Learning Hub:

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