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May 24, 2021 Monday 09:57:27 AM IST

Anxious Parents, Resentful Teens

Parent Interventions

Experts in the field of human behavior caution us that, how we parent during the Covid-19 pandemic is the most important indicator for our children’s future. The long-term mental health effects on children from the pandemic will vary. How we choose to parent during the pandemic will determine if our children come out of this traumatized or not.

Now for many parents, home has become the office, the classroom, even the gym. Many parents are struggling to not only keep their children occupied, but also to oversee schooling, even as they remotely work, do grocery shopping and perform all the other daily necessities of family life. At the same time, children may be reacting to stress by acting out or regressing to behaviors long outgrown.

Dealing with quarantine is a particularly stressful experience for parents who must balance personal life, work, and raising children, being left alone without other resources. This situation puts parents at a higher risk of experiencing distress, potentially impairing their ability to be supportive caregivers. The lack of support their children receive in such a difficult moment may be the reason for these children to show more pronounced psychological symptoms. On the other hand, the lack of support for the parents, especially the single parents, is deeply affecting the parental involvement, and consequent dysfunction in the family.

Traumatized Mother and Daughter

A young mother (single, employed, age 40) came along with her daughter, Rosmy (14 years, 9th Std) for counseling. Both looked visibly upset and sad, ready to burst at the slightest trigger. The mother started her side of the story. She described how she was provoked by her daughter leading to the destruction of  her daughter’s mobile phone.

According to the mother, Rosmy was glued to the mobile phone. She would go on and on playing computer games endlessly, skipping meals, duties, homework etc. As a single parent, she felt helpless, vulnerable and was abandoned by her own children. The mother was anxious about her daughter’s dysfunctional behavior and blamed it on her daughter’s screen addiction.

The daughter had a different version of what happened at home. Rosmy complained about her mother’s over-possessive behavior, her unwillingness to let her socialize with her peers, etc. Rosmy complained about her lack of confidence to go out and meet people due to her mother’s restrictive behavior, and she resented her mother on this. Besides, she deeply resented the fact that her mother always sided with her younger sister (3 years younger).

Autonomy  Vs Safety

Two developmental dynamics are involved in this mother-daughter crisis: 1) Establishing autonomy  is  one of the key developmental tasks of adolescents, but the pandemic has limited opportunities to do so, for instance, by shifting adolescent learning from school to home and confining students to their parents’ houses. A common challenge for families is to balance teens’ need for autonomy with other concerns, such as their safety. This single parent is really anxious for her daughter who doesn’t show age-appropriate social skills, and the mother is afraid to let her daughter socialize. In counselling, the vulnerability and insecurity of the mother, and the need for autonomy of the daughter, have to be processed and resolved. 2) Testing the (COVID-driven) boundaries set by parents, is characteristic of adolescents. In this instance, the mother feels threatened by her daughter and she tightens the pandemic-driven restrictions to impose her authority. The mother could experiment with another parenting style, with the help of the counsellor, which includes the teens in discussions about house rules and expectations, and provides explanations for why those rules are important.

To help parents cope with the extremely stressful situation created by the pandemic,  here are some these tips:

Validate Your Children's Feelings

Supporting kids through the pandemic can take many shapes and look different for every family, but the most important thing we can all do is to be proactive in asking them how they're feeling, listen when they express their feelings and validate those emotions. And don't hide your own feelings either. It’s normal to feel fearful, anxious, or stressed now. Discuss your experiences with relatives and friends or share a laugh. If you continue to experience problems, try a tele-health consultation with a mental health professional.

Set boundaries

Boundaries blur when work and home life occur at the same place, making it more difficult to get things done or disconnect from work. Designate a specific area to work in, ideally a room with a door. Also designate an area for schoolwork and homework. If you don’t have a home office, consider setting up your children’s homework space alongside your workspace. That way, you can model how to work productively. Time is the other resource that needs setting boundaries.

Establish a routine

It’s unrealistic to think you and your children will put in normal hours during this stressful time. But it’s important to maintain a routine, even if children are getting or staying up later than usual. Routines help family members cope with stress and be more resilient.

Relax screen time rules

Don’t feel guilty about allowing more screen time than usual. You might allow your child to watch a movie or play a video game as you complete a work task, for example. Or help your child stay connected to friends via videoconferencing or multi-player video games.

Don’t forego the rules entirely. Younger children should use a computer or tablet in common spaces rather than their rooms so that parents can monitor content. With teens, talk about appropriate content and screen time limits.

Practice self-care

You—and everyone else in your family—need alone time every day. Take a walk, enjoy a long shower or just sit in your car. If you can’t get away physically, put in earbuds and practice mindfulness meditation via your phone. And practice self-compassion. Don’t worry if you can’t concentrate or let housekeeping standards slide. During this stressful time, it’s important to go easy on your children and yourself.

Developmental checklist for Child

Ask yourself:

Is my child sleeping enough and eating a somewhat balanced diet?

Are they getting some form of exercise every day?

Are they spending some quality time with family?

Do they use some screen time to keep in touch with friends?

Are they invested in school and keeping up with homework?

If you can answer yes to most of those questions, then it’s probably not a huge deal if your child watches an extra episode (or three or five) of their favorite show.

The reverse is also true. If your teenager is spending all their time alone in their room, scrolling through social media, “that could be a sign of depression — pandemic or not.”

Dr. Jose Cletus Plackal

Licensed clinical psychologist, BET-MRT, Jeevas Centre, Aluva, Kerala.

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