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Have you got a teen in lockdown?

Tetchy and uncommunicative at the best of times - but enough about me. Need some help with your frustrated and very bored teen? Read on, we have tips!

What a hard time to be a teen. Locked away from their friends and the things they love, having to learn on their own or on line, exams, festivals, sporting events cancelled and left spending endless days cooped up with their parents –  it’s no wonder they find it hard to get motivated. Parents are frustrated, and some are at their wits end, trying to entice their teens to get out of bed, to get off their phones, to help around the house, to sit down and do some work and generally cheer up. If we think for a moment about the job of a teen, we might just see their point of view. Muddy talks to The Parenting Partnership’s Heather for some much needed help…

At exactly the time when they should be spreading their wings and pulling away from the family, taking on their own identity and values and having fun, they find themselves in lockdown with us.  When we remember that the teen brain is wired to help them transition from dependence to independence, to focus on peers rather than parents, to take risks and question their boundaries, we might be more understanding of the frustrations they are feeling about all they have lost while left stuck at home. 

It’s up to us to us consider our approach and tread with thought and consideration as our teens can feel quite vulnerable.  The teen years is a time for re-evaluating who they are and who they are going to be and all this reflection can be accompanied by self-doubt, self-consciousness and a dip in self-esteem.  Add to this change the uncertainty of today’s world and it is a perfect storm of unease.  

There are many ways that we can support our teens through this tough time. Here are three things you can do to build their self-esteem, keep the lines of communication open and help them feel safe and secure during this challenging time:

Manage your expectations.  What are our teens supposed to be doing right now? None of this.  Be kind to yourself and be kind to your teen. This is tough stuff.  Ask yourself the question: what can I expect of my teen with her temperament, at her age, in this unprecedented situation? Can we expect our teens to be as self-motivated as we might expect in normal times? In all likelihood, no but we can help.  Continually revaluating our expectations is just one of many ways that can help us to remain calm and supportive.

Focus on all the things they get right – even, and especially, the tiny things. It’s time to change our focus and the way we speak to our teens.  While we are busy trying to ‘teach’ our kids how to improve their behaviour (pick up their clothes, hang up their towel, put their dishes away, question their dress choices) they hear criticism and judgement and it’s no wonder they feel unmotivated.

Here are a few examples of what doesn’t work and why:

‘I can’t believe that you haven’t done ANY schoolwork all day. What do you think is going to happen when you get back to school?” – They hear criticism.   

‘Oh you poor poor thing. It is just awful to have to be working like this. ”   They hear pity.

“ You’ll have only yourself to blame when you get all out of shape”. They feel blamed.

“ You really should keep up your Spanish vocabulary while you are at home” They feel judged.

“ Oh so you think that recycling is just going to walk to the bin on its own?!” Sarcasm feels belittling.

Our natural inclination is to point out all the things they get wrong because we are trying to help and teach them but when it comes across to them as blame, criticism, pity or judgement, it’s demotivating.   Our kids end up thinking ‘why bother’.   When they go on the defensive they stop listening and worse, we chip away at their self-esteem.   

When we change our focus to all the things they get right, it sends the message that they are valued and appreciated just the way they are.   We do with using Descriptive Praise and our kids can’t argue, disagree or discount this acknowledgement and attention as we are only stating what we see – the facts.

Notice and mention exactly what you see like this:

  1. Focus on the positive and describe what you see: “you set your alarm and got yourself up on time.’ ‘You set the table without being asked’, ‘I see you’ve picked up some of the clothes off the floor “. Even though you hate the recycling, you took it out without complaining.’
  2. Acknowledge improvement – ‘that is the third day in a row that you got up to clear the table without having to be reminded’’ ‘thank you for remembering to clean your bathroom this week. That is a huge help and contribution.”
  3. Notice and mention TINY steps in the right direction “you’re sitting at the table with all your books out and you look ready to start your work.” ‘You put your trainers away back by the back door.’
  4. Recognise effort, attitude and strategies “you should be really proud of the effort you are putting into that work as it is so hard to be doing this at home on your own.” ‘Despite not being able to go to team practice, you are still trying to get exercise. That shows real determination.”

When we change our attention to the things they get right, and not react too much to poor behavior, we pivot our commentary from being judgmental and critical to being positive.  Our kids feel valued, acknowledged AND their motivation and their behaviour improves.   

Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get much response.  You won’t get a ‘wow Mum thanks so much for pointing out how determined I am”.  Keep persevering.  The message is going in and little by little they will think of themselves at more ‘determined, kind, helpful, considerate’, their self-esteem with grow and they will feel more motivated.

Connect, connect and connect some more.   When our teens feel connected to us, when our relationship is strong, when they look upon us as the coach rather than a judge or a best friend, they are more likely to be open, unburden their worries and feel motivated.  One of many ways we can do this, in addition to focusing on the positive and managing our expectations, is to be present and take a sincere interest in their world.   You may be thinking, “I am home with my teenager 24 hours a day, how much more present can I get?!”

Being present takes time and energy and is tough when we are working from home, have all our kids at home and a list of jobs to do, but it is important.   It is about taking the time to understand and respect their interests, their need for space, their need to be in contact with their friends, their view of the world.  Our teens still need boundaries but they are much more likely to feel motivated to cooperate when they feel connected and respected.

It is our job to keep alert and create and seize these opportunities to connect such as having dinner together, cooking together, asking them to show you (sincerely) the video game they love, showing interest in their favourite TikTok posts, playing your favourite family game on the weekend, watching their favourite film, saying goodnight to them (no matter what their age). Seize the moment – it’s the spontaneous times that are often the best.

Our locked down teens are understandably finding it tough to stay motivated.  The silver lining is that we have more time to think about our expectations, focus on all the little things they get right and be proactive and creative about connecting with them and building a relationship that staying with us.

The Parenting Partnership offers online workshops, courses, and private consultations. Get in touch at

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