It seems the phrase “be careful what you wish for” may be in order here. The March WWWT newsletter spoke to re-entry hesitancy and the anxiety of reconnecting socially. Now that summer is here, more and more teens are vaccinated, and things are re-opening, teens are diving back into their social lives head first. We know that in addition to a year of feeling overly restricted, teens are also wired for risk and exploration of their freedom and independence. This combination seems to be fueling a great social comeback! I for one, as a therapist and a parent, am thrilled to see isolation and depression shift to excitement, reconnection and fun. But how much fun is too much fun? (I would say by the 4th beach week for a graduating senior, enough is enough.)
How do we find the right balance to allow teens to make up for lost social experiences while also helping them gage when they are overdoing it or putting themselves at risk? If any of you feel a little rusty negotiating and managing limits with teens (after a year of knowing they were just in the next room), you are not alone.
Accept and Validate. Accept the need for both social connection and rebelling as part of a developmentally healthy way to explore independence. Start by expressing your appreciation that your teen has their social life back. It has been a long year plus and they are deserving of some fun at this point. Letting loose and wanting to be with friends is expected and a sign of health and well-being. Express your gratitude for these social connections, relationships and experiences.
Create Predictability. Have conversations to discuss expectations. This includes general expectations for a regulated sleep routine (most nights), engaging in healthy and productive activities (camp, a job, summer academic practice, movement, helping around the house, etc..), what time they are expected to be home, communication on whereabouts, and the number of other teens you will or will not allow camped out at your house. Having conversations ahead of time even to outline general expectations can open lines of communication and decrease reactive management of unexpected situations. If your teen refuses to have these kinds of conversations, it may be useful to calmly let them know you cannot approve, endorse or pay for desired experiences until there is a discussion to come to some common understanding of expectations, their and yours. Remember to be open minded and allow for some reasonable negotiation on their part. Empowering them to have a voice and feel effective getting their own needs met (within reason) is independence and confidence building.
Respect. Your own values and teens’ needs. When the two come into conflict (expect that they will) and teens misstep, lie, break the rules, or get in some trouble, allow for honest expression of emotions. Model respect. Hear what they have to say. Remember that teens express emotions in less mature and effective ways than adults. We can value how they feel and disagree, maintain limits and hold them accountable. Respectful accountability is not about revenge, punishment, or exerting power. Remember adults cannot control teens’ behavior. We can however, manage the environment (no car keys, extra funds, or access to other privileges) and implement contingencies (consequences- related to the infraction and natural are most effective). If we want teens to respect (value) us, they need to feel we are responding thoughtfully and with compassion. Remember the goal is to raise teens to be independent, thoughtful, competent, responsible and dependable adults, while keeping our relationship with them intact.
Happy Summer Everyone!
Julie Baron, LCSW-C