My 17-year-old son Jacksen bounded out of his room this morning, fresh out of bed, greeting us without a hello or good morning but instead straight-up yelling, “That’s it! I’m not staying in this house today! I’m going out! And I don’t care what anybody says right now!”

Did I say, “No you are not! You can’t go out right now because we are all expected to self-isolate as part of protecting our community, and it’s our social responsibility and furthermore, so on and so forth, and blah-blah-blah, and so on and so forth…. [insert lecture]”?

No, I didn’t say any of that, even though my rapidly firing stress response pushed me in that direction. I didn’t match his alarm and frustration with my own. Now is the time to give room for his emotions, not mine. I didn’t push my will up against his. We all know where that kind of foolish challenge can lead, turning bad to worse. 

Instead, my husband and I let him vent. We made him some eggs and toast for breakfast while he stomped around a bit. And the storm passed just as quickly as it had arrived.

Right now, the cooped-up adolescent is trying to navigate the emotional impact of these strange days, with panic and fear rapidly circulating all around. Adolescents are absorbing intense stress during an already heightened time of developmental turbulence. For many, being cut off from school, friendships, and regular activities will fester worry about the “what ifs” that are further fuelled by negative social media exposure. We simply have to accept that we are sometimes going to see this tension play out in their behavior, in their tone, in their language, in their decisions, in their demands, in their challenges….

It helps to know that, in the bigger picture, this manner of expression is important and serves a purpose. We need to give it some
R-O-O-M. This is “coping in action.” This is “alarm in motion.” We do not want these emotions to get stuck inside of our adolescent with no outlet for release. What is happening in their world is terribly alarming and not easy to talk about. We are going to see them “behave how they feel” at times. 

Will there be things to address in what they do, what they say, or how they say it? Perhaps … but consider that sometimes the best way to address something as a parent is to take it in context and stride, allowing it to simply be released by the side of the road along the journey. We can allow ourselves to keep the relationship foremost in mind, and be creative about the rest.

What can I do here? I wondered after his outburst. What might help?

When all was more settled and his stomach was full, I decided to invite him to share what he thought was important, to give this article a 17-year-old’s perspective.

I think there is a lot of fear right now for young people … fear about loss and worry about death. This is true when I think of other people in my family, like my grandparents. Maybe some people have lost a family member already. People my age feel super-anxious right now about this virus. It feels like it is the end of the world, and some young people actually believe it is the end. I also think that many of us feel like we are missing out on something: on adolescent experiences, on time with friends, on experiences at school. This is really true if you are graduating. We feel like we are missing something we can’t ever get back.

I think we have to remember this is temporary, and we can use social media to connect still with people and our friends. Maybe it is a good time to think about a new hobby. I think we need to try and get out of our rooms more and spend time with family or we will end up feeling more depressed about things … 

Jacksen Friske

While I listen to him describe some of his thoughts, acting as a scribe to type his words, I can’t help but marvel at his maturity level, even in the face of those moments of seeming immaturity. 

As I finish the article, my son seems more at rest, more settled. That is, until next time when the alarm and frustration bubble up to the surface again! And it will….

Then it will be back to the same formula of relationship, R-O-O-M, and rest, applied liberally as needed, with as much patience as I can muster for my cooped-up adolescent.

I wish you all the patience you can muster, too.

© 2020 The Neufeld Institute
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