Why Are Teens and Tweens Having Such a Tough Time?

(Developmental x Pandemic Interactions)

A group of teenagers with masks on

Happy December, Practice families!

Here we are, staring down the holiday season, the end of the year, the beginning of 2021, and another shelter-in-place that hopefully will be the final push before a vaccine and a less cloistered life (more thoughts on all of this coming your way next week)!

As we kick off another shelter-in-place, I wanted to send a note specifically to the parents of tweens and teens.  We have been seeing many kids in these age groups really struggling, and a new shelter-in-place– during which many families will reinstate limits around in-person social contacts and/or activities outside the home– seems likely to make this holiday season a particularly tough one for tweens, teens, and their families to navigate.

Typical adolescent development involves a very adaptive push for independence; let’s face it, teens have to figure out who they are and develop a sense of autonomy and self-reliance in order to be able to successfully launch out into the world!  During adolescence, teenagers typically tend to turn away from parents/adult authority figures and turn toward their peers.  Teens’ brains are literally rewiring in a way that results in increased emotional expression and reactivity, increased novelty-seeking behavior, and an increased push toward creativity and exploration.

These all ultimately are good things (although man, these changes can result in tension between parents and teens along the way!).  But they are particularly difficult things in the context of a global pandemic and shelter-in-place orders that directly intersect with these NORMATIVE developmental changes.  Tweens and teens currently are less able to connect with friends. They have fewer opportunities to explore the world independently.  They are more likely to be susceptible to peer pressure and to take risks (overtly or covertly) with which parents may disagree… and there are more options on this risk-taking front (masks, gatherings, etc) than in non-pandemic life!  And teens/tweens and their parents are likely spending A LOT more time together in a way that likely makes all of these developmental shifts more visible and consequently more likely to serve as triggers for arguments, disagreements, or family tension.

If you have a moody or irritable teen or tween at home, we’ll encourage you to try to keep all of this in mind as we head into the holidays and to do your best to access a sense of compassion for your teen (and for yourself!).  This is normal tween/teen behavior, particularly under such extenuating circumstances.  It is good that they are testing you– that’s what they are SUPPOSED to be doing, and the pandemic makes all of it feel so much harder than it might otherwise.  Collaboratively plan some fun activities or adventures with your teen/tween (brainstorm a list together of things they might want to do, independently, one-on-one, or as a family), but try to keep expectations low (e.g., it is OK if your teen/tween does not want to do everything you want to do, or that you wish that they would want to do!).  Scaffold in opportunities for everyone to have some space (more on this here, from Dr. Stephanie Rooney on our team!).

We’re here for you, and for your tween or teen!  Feel free to reach out to us for 1:1 support (for your teen or for yourself as a parent as you navigate life with your teen/tween!), or consider signing your teenager up for our upcoming workshop (tomorrow!!!) or series with Ginna Oates, AMFT.  

Tomorrow night’s workshop, with Ginna and Tara McLaughlin, yoga and mindfulness teacher, will offer teens the chance to connect and slow down in the middle of end-of-the-semester stress (and in the context of the new shelter-in-place orders)!  Thursday, 12/10, 5:15-6:30pm, $25, sign up here.

And our January teen series will be led by Ginna and Erin Gilmore, yoga instructor, and will focus on connection and healthy coping even in the context of stressors outside of our control.  This series will run on six consecutive Thursdays (1/14 through 2/25,  no class 2/18), 5:15-6:15pm, $150 for the series.  Sign up here.

Take a look below for a few of our favorite resources for tween and teen parents!  We’re sending you all warmest wishes as you and your families navigate this challenging time. 

A few of our favorite resources for tween/teens and their families (please note, some links are affiliate links):

(If you have other resources you love, please reply to this note and fill us in– we love to know about good things out there!)

Don’t forget, our clinical team offers 1:1 support for kids, teens, parents, and expecting parents!  

If you are interested in learning more, reach out to us by email or phone (415-780-3239).

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