Parents, I have some encouraging news for you. Although we’re all suffering from just a smidge of PTSD this year, we have also learned some really important lessons. And I’m not just talking about discovering that the kids won’t interrupt your Zoom meetings if you hide in your laundry closet.
I’m talking about some crucial truths that have been left standing when everything else has been shaken. Especially for those of us who have kids at home.
We’ve all been concerned about how the pandemic was impacting our kids—especially our teens and tweens. Schooling, academic progress and college prospects aren’t the only things disrupted. Just as worrisome for many, are missing the sorts of activities and passions that create joy and are even key to developing a balanced life. Sports practice, club meetings, theater rehearsals, dance recitals, youth groups, church retreats, sleepovers, movie outings—all gone. Not to mention that I personally know Seniors who had planned their whole lives for the day when a college scout or talent agent would come see them play, sing or debate—only to discover that such a day would never come.
All of that is concerning and sad. But what if I told you that there is a much, much more fundamental factor running under the surface, that has not only kept most kids from being emotionally devastated by this season, but has also led many of them to actually thrive in some very important ways during this time? What if I told you that recent studies have found this factor even leads to great resilience in our teens and tweens—and that it is something you can foster every day once you know it matters?
It is so crucial to know these facts before life “gets back to normal” (or at least closer to it!), so you can be prepared to not lose this crucial factor in your teen or tween’s life. Let’s dive into some of the details.
During This Pandemic, Teens Have Felt Better And Been LESS Depressed And Lonely!
A study by The Institute for Family Studies and the Wheatley Institution measured adolescent well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. They found that despite all the uncertainty and stress, teenagers’ well-being actually rose! For example, depression and loneliness were lower among teens in 2020 than in 2018! That’s not only surprising, but incredibly encouraging. The report reveals how and why teens have been more resilient than expected.
Here’s the key: teens who spent more time with their families and who felt more connected to them were less likely to report being depressed. Although there are certainly exceptions, in general, most kids were in a better place emotionally simply because by default they spent more time with Mom and Dad.
How can that be, you might ask, when you’ve felt like you’ve been distracted and unavailable by trying to juggle virtual work and parenting?
Even If You Haven’t Felt Like You Were “There”—You Were
Since many of us have just been trying to survive, we’ve felt like the exact opposite of a great parent. Personally, I have often had the feeling of being so stretched by just trying to make it through this time, that I have worried I’m not doing anything well.
Yet it turns out, it’s not always about us “doing” stuff. Rather, our kids have been positively impacted just by being around us and with us so much more. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t arrange the perfect origami, homeschooling, or virtual piano lesson to keep our middle schooler occupied during our Zoom meetings, or that we had to resort to Disney+ as a babysitter for chunks of the day. Apparently, there have been many, many other chunks of the day—far more than we realized—in which we were available to listen to a concern, give a hug, cheer on a winning video game, bake bread together, or watch a family movie. And that has made an enormous difference to their well-being.
Yes, the activities our kids love have been reduced or cancelled, and that is so sad for all of us. And our own work and activities have been pretty radically disrupted in many cases too. Personally, in our case, our household income was drastically affected by the cancellation of all our speaking engagements. But despite all of that, there is a true silver lining. If things have to be so disrupted, it is priceless to know that our kids have grown closer to us as we simply spend more time together in the same house. And that growing closer also helps them become much more confident in themselves at the same time!
Teens Spent Less Time On Social Media
Another finding from that study is that teens spent less time on social media and gaming in 2020 compared to teens in 2018. The result? They were a bit removed from the usual toxic social drama.
Yes, social media was still their main way of interfacing with their world. But instead of being eaten up inside by seeing in-person emphasis of online destruction, they felt distant from it. Or they simply weren’t interfacing as often. And as a result, they were a bit . . . detached. Positive stuff was still fun, but the negative stuff didn’t hold as much power over them.
Not to mention that being more engaged with family and fewer opportunities to connect with peers IRL (in real life) undoubtedly provided relief from peer pressure and other negative influences.
The Bottom Line
Here’s what W. Bradford Wilcox, senior fellow at IFS, said about the study results: “For teens fortunate enough to be in families that have come through the COVID crucible stronger, it looks like we’re seeing surprisingly good psychological outcomes in 2020. One of the unforeseen outcomes of the quarantines is that teens spent more time with their parents under normal circumstances. For all the difficulties this presents, this aspect appears to have been a gift.”
We need to chase after that gift of family time, now and long after this crisis has passed.
So what do we do?
Continue To Simply Hang Out And Be Physically Present With Your Teen, Even After The Crisis Has Passed
We’re all home more than usual now, which allows family time to just “happen” without much planning or effort. Once things open back up, we’ll have to be more intentional about making family time a priority. But even then, we can remember this surprising, encouraging, unexpected truth from 2020: simply hanging out together, being in physical proximity, and doing something as “normal” as baking bread or sharing YouTube videos back and forth can make a huge difference.
Long after this season has passed, spend time with your teen having fun, building connection, and creating memories. That time—your presence—will help them develop the resilience and confidence they’ll need to handle all the stressful situations life is going to throw their way.
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This article was first published at Patheos.