I am very worried for my teenage son, who has expressed being sad and having little desire to get up each day. He has no interest in his online classes, nor in the things he used to do, like reading, writing, or sports. Mostly he spends his time on his phone or laptop in his room, watching videos, and I observed that he now easily gets annoyed, and has very odd sleeping hours.
I really want to help but I don’t know where to start. I’m also afraid of saying or doing anything that will make matters worse. Would appreciate any advice you can give.
Thank you for writing to me.
I begin with a disclaimer that I have had no experience parenting, save for sometimes looking after my nieces, which means I return them when I want to. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m sure you know so much more about parenting, because for over a decade and counting, you’ve been there for the good days and bad.
Right now, it’s more of the latter. But in your message it was easy to sense the genuine love of a parent, and I want you to know that that is enough to see you through. Your love is enough, you are enough.
Let it guide you every step of the way. Trust that it will flow through your words, your actions, and really, even in your silence. And you will know what to do for him just by being there, keenly watching, sincerely listening.
When you’re (understandably) filled with worry, it can be harder to achieve this clarity, at which point you might have to ask your son what he needs. He may not have an idea, too. But allow the same love to humble you and be able to tell him that while you might not have the answer, you can find out together.
Teenage years are a time for self-discovery, where we deal with questions of identity: who we are, what we want to be, what our passions are, etc. It is unfortunate that he has to deal with it during this pandemic, but with your loving guidance,* he can grow through this experience with ease.
I hope you can arrange for opportunities for him to explore his interests, such as sports, music, and the arts. I’d like to refer you as well to a previous post about keeping a semblance of structure and predictability in these times (it’s for creatives, but the general principles apply: http://bit.ly/37OxISQ). You can nudge him to share meals with the family, and on Monday mornings, you can sit down together and help him plan his week. Otherwise, the hours and days blur and it can make one go crazy so to speak. I also encourage restful weekends in the embrace of nature; the key is creating a space where he feels comfortable and accepted as he navigates the question of what he wants out of life.
I have this theory (I could be wrong), that the toughest part of parenting is letting go and giving your child complete freedom, knowing how tough and unkind the world can be at times. But your son’s life is for him to live. In the end, he is just another person trying to find his place on Earth, and I think it is the very best parents who extend their children the same respect they would afford an equal, even, and especially, when they make what look like mistakes.
The most a parent can do is to offer the unconditional support like everyone deserves. We learn this first at home, and when it is ingrained in us, the belief in our person because somebody first loved us without condition, even when we puke at them, or slam doors in their face, or lose or break their favorite things, we can handle anything life throws at us.
I know there’s plenty of this kind of love in your heart, so I am not too worried for your son. And I hope you’d feel the same way. Know that if you’re anxious, you too will easily get annoyed, and you cannot be the understanding parent that he needs. Your son needs you to be healthy and well, and looks to you for cues on facing life’s ordeals. That is, with grace, with grit. I like putting these two words side by side. Grace sounds like being water the way Bruce Lee described it, effortlessly flowing through everything. Grit is almost onomatopoeic: it loses half its meaning if you don’t say it with determination.
May you have the grace to flow like water, but also the strength of a rock to weather through life’s storms. May you be the parent you aspire to be. <3