Before you read this post, please be aware that these are about as far from expert tips about surviving isolation with a teen as it’s possible to get.
It’s more like – here’s what we’ve cobbled together, in the hope that we don’t kill each other over the next couple of months. If we can also escape without long-term psychological damage, that’ll be a bonus.
You Feel What You Feel
One of the first things I said to Flea when this coronavirus crisis kicked off was, “It’s okay to be pissed off. And I know I’m the only person here, so if you take it out on me, I promise to try not to take it personally.”
We’re all grieving the lives we should be living right now. I’m gutted to see all our easter/half-term/summer plans going up in smoke. I’m sad not to see my friends and my parents. I’m frustrated not to be able to go for a coffee, or get a takeaway at the end of a busy day. It’s also beyond terrifying as a single parent – how do I provide for us? how do I keep us safe? what if I get sick, or worse?
Our teens are grieving, too. Flea’s facing three months – maybe more – of not seeing her friends every day. She’s lost the routine of school and hockey and tennis coaching. At the moment she can’t see her Dad (we’ve decided to minimise risk as far as we can by restricting their contact to daily Skype calls).
So I’m heading into this with the full understanding that it’s okay to be sad, to be lonely, to be angry, frustrated – whatever. This isn’t a time when I expect Flea (or me) to always behave nicely. Because it sucks. That doesn’t mean we aren’t grateful for all the things we DO have, it just means we’re human.
School is not your Problem
While I think it’s lovely to see influencers on social media setting up fun activities for their children’s learning stations, that is definitely NOT happening in this house. When you’re in isolation with a teen, you can’t just set up a learning activity and assume they’ll take you seriously. Besides, the odds of my understanding the first thing about GCSE physics or maths are very slim indeed.
Flea’s school is doing online delivery of the existing timetable, so Flea is “attending” her usual lessons every day. Each morning the teachers email links to the lesson instructions – this might be watching a video, doing an online exercise, or downloading a sheet of questions to print and complete. At the end of the lesson, Flea photographs her work and emails it back to her teacher for marking. She’s even had to revise and do a physics test this week.
This routine is giving her something to occupy her, which I think is probably more important than how well she’s performing or keeping up. As lovely as online classes are, it doesn’t replace having a teacher in a classroom. It’s inevitable that Flea will need to do some catching up when she finally goes back to school. But if she’s emotionally healthy and has kept a positive view of learning, then I think I’ll have done my job.
At the moment we’re only allowed to leave the house once a day to walk the dog, or take some exercise. My teen has much in common with a sloth, so I’m doing most of the dog walking. But I think it’s important for teens to be active in some way. Being active is great for your immune system and mental health, and I figure it’s also a way to work off some frustration.
With that in mind, we’ve bought a hockey goal for the back garden, and a rebound net, and we already have a few dozen hockey balls and tennis balls in the house. This will allow Flea to practice hockey shooting, and I can use the balls and the rebound net to help her keep working on her goalie techniques.
As an added bonus this coaching will look a lot like “hitting things hard with sticks” and “throwing things at my teenager” which I suspect is going to come in pretty handy in the weeks ahead.
Along with that, I’ve dug out an old yoga mat and introduced Flea to a channel recommended by my friend Sarah. If Flea fancies it, we’ve also given our bike a spring clean, and checked out local public pathways if she wants to go for a run. (There’s a great website showing all the public right of way pathways, which we used to ensure we’re walking in the right places in the countryside around where we live).
Prepare to Feed an Army
There are only two of us in our household, so you’d think we wouldn’t go through much food. But I’ve never seen anyone snack til I was in isolation with a teen. It’s like having a swarm of locusts in the house who only eat fruit, crisps and chocolate.
Like most people we’re on a budget right now, so I’m focusing on the healthiest snacks I can, for the lowest possible price. So far the best options seem to be:
- Ice lollies (bought in boxes of 20 from the supermarket)
- Any sort of fruit – but apples and grapes seem to create the least mess.
- Popcorn. We have a microwave popcorn bowl which saves a lot of mess.
- Mini cheese balls/sticks/straws
- Cereal. All the cereal.
We do also have biscuits, mini rolls etc, but I’ve hidden most of these in a secret place that Flea doesn’t know about. I bring them out in small amounts to avoid the risk they’ll all get eaten in a single day.
Relax on Screen Time
Typically, I’d turn off Flea’s phone during school hours but for this period, I think it’s actually good for her to be able to use her phone freely. I’m acutely aware that she’s an only child with a single parent and no extended family apart from my parents – so outside of school, her social interactions are quite limited.
One morning this week I went into Flea’s room and she was quietly studying English, with two of her friends on House Party. I know she’s regularly chatting to people throughout the day – and while it might not be the best way to get perfect marks, I think it’s probably working wonders for her mental wellbeing, in terms of helping her feel less lonely.
Flea has FaceTimed relatives, and she’s also downloaded an App called Rave that lets kids watch videos together online (a similar version for desktop computers is the Netflix Party Chrome Extension.
Have Fun Together
Like most teens, Flea will happily spend hours locked in her room watching Netflix or playing video games. So isolation isn’t a new concept for her. That said, I’m actively looking for things we can do together, for a small part of each day.
I’ll be able to help Flea with her hockey practice, but a simple game of catch can be a good way to spend half an hour relaxing. We also bought Animal Crossing for Mother’s Day, and Flea’s going to teach me how to play on her Nintendo Switch. We have a few decent games for the Switch, so that’s another way to have fun together.
We’ve done pretty much nothing with our garden since we moved in – it was a project for this Spring. That said, we have set up our new fire pit in the garden, with some fairy lights. Of course, we can toast marshmallows and watch the fire at night, but we’re also working on some “light photography” projects. If they’re any good, Flea can use them towards her GCSE photography coursework, but it’s also fun working out those sorts of things together.
Your version of fun might look different, but I think it’s so important to find something each day that you can laugh about together when you’re in isolation with a teen. Whether it’s cookery, making stupid TikTok videos, or playing games. Wouldn’t it be great if we could make this time something our teens can look back on as something other than scary and frustrating?