4 Ways to (Maybe) Connect With Teens During the Pandemic

If you had told me a month ago that my son would show even the slightest bit of interest in participating in an all-hands housecleaning effort, I wouldn’t have believed you.

But these are not normal times.

It was the suggestion of this exact activity that somehow enticed my 17-year-old high school junior out of his basement bedroom this past Sunday – without any begging or bribery on my part. Chalk it up to the dwindling allure of an unanticipated, COVID-19-induced three-week (and counting) break from school that is testing the hibernation skills of even the most introverted teens.

We all know of the hardships faced by parents of toddlers and elementary school-aged children during this time of isolation. Many have been suddenly thrust into a work-from-home situation while facing the arduous task of keeping their children occupied, entertained and on-task with schoolwork. Parents have dug deep and communities have rallied to offer neighborhood scavenger hunts, online entertainment and virtual playdates to fill the time. However, such activities just don’t appeal to older kids. While Governor Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy initiative may have brought families together under one roof, the cancellation of school, sports and social activities has meant many teens retreat to their rooms; lured by the siren song of electronics and social media. Ironically, this state-imposed together time has made some families with teenagers feel like they’re further apart now more than ever.

As the stay-home edict continues and the prospect of school on hiatus for the foreseeable future, the likelihood that your teens will venture out of their rooms increases. When they do, perhaps some of the activities below will help foster a connection.

Family cleaning day

Stay with me here. I’ll admit it was a stretch to make this one appealing, but with everyone home 24/7, tidying the house was a job that just had to be done. I made a checklist of tasks that we crossed off as they were completed, and my husband sweetened the deal by blasting some motivating music from the Bluetooth speaker. Two hours flew by, and when we were finished, we high-fived each other for our shared accomplishment. We could have hired a professional cleaning service for upholstered furniture cleaning in Fairfield or elsewhere, but that’s for another day, depending on the severity of fabric stains.

Expand your TV repertoire

As your kids get older, the number of TV shows and movies you can enjoy together gets smaller and smaller. If you’re willing to expand your horizons a bit and dip your toes in the pool of young adult-targeted programming, you just might find your teen next to you on the sofa. A few nights ago, I queued up The Circle on Netflix, a reality game show heavy on twenty-somethings, social media slang, and emojis (and oddly appropriate right now, my son pointed out, with the contestants sequestered in separate rooms and communicating with each other only via voice-activated chat). My son and I are now four episodes in, with plans to watch another tonight.

Food fun

Dinner has always been one way to draw my son from his room – especially if I’m fixing something he likes. But because my idea of a delicious dinner doesn’t always match his, he’s usually not all that excited about what’s on the menu. I’ve realized these last few weeks that small indulgences mean a lot, and our dinners have included more mac and cheese, hamburgers and other meals high on my son’s preference sheet. For parents watching carbs or following a keto diet, a recipe we recently tried may just please everyone. The Big Mac salad includes just a few ingredients (ground beef, iceberg lettuce, shredded cheddar or Velveeta cheese, diced pickles, diced white onions and Thousand Island dressing) and was quick and easy to prepare. (And for those counting macros, it packs a wallop of protein.)

Something to sip

Before COVID-19 kept us inside, I’d often suggest a trip to our favorite bubble tea cafe if I felt like my son and I needed some time to connect. Sharing a sweet drink is still possible: Starbucks and many other coffeeshops are still serving drinks through their drive-through windows. Or better yet, whip up some hot cocoa at home. The recipe, like this one, is surprising easy, and the internet is full of options if you don’t have a particular ingredient. To sweeten the deal, top the drinks with marshmallows – as many as they want – and allow some space for the conversation to flow.

These uncertain and unpredictable times have us stressed, grieving and fearful. Our teenagers are feeling this too. Teens aren’t always the best at sharing their concerns with their parents, but the wider we can open the door, the more likely it is they’ll step inside.

Image by NicolasMcComber