Here’s what we heard from teachers this year:
Your kids have forgotten how to care for each other.
That’s…a bit of a revelation.
One thing we know for sure about the upcoming generations is that they care SO much about others.
They are the warriors of forging a better world and better future. They are social justice minded. They have done away with popularity hierarchies. They are open, accepting, and loving all all people and types.
So how have they forgotten to care?
It’s no secret that teens struggled with the return to school. And they are struggling with the return back home for the summer. They are struggling with the experience of social engagement after a confusing few years.
Perhaps they haven’t forgotten how to care for each other, it’s that they have forgotten how to care for themselves! And in that absence of self-nurturance (that we have ALL felt), they simply ran out of gas.
You can’t pour from an empty cup. In order to get our kids to care again, we need to re-fuel them.
So, What happened to our tweens and teens during the “great digital interlude” of the past two years?
Partly what happened was kids grew accustomed to a world where social rules were on hiatus. Whenever we interact online, we seem to abandon our sense of “presence” in the world – which is to say our awareness of the impact we have on others, and in some cases, we lose empathy altogether (meaning we lose awareness that we even have an impact on others at all). This has lead tweens and teens (in mild cases) to show up to zoom school wearing their jammies, and (in extreme cases) to ramp up online bullying because what happens behind the safety of a screen seems “consequence-free”.
The adolescence years are meant to be a time of testing boundaries and gauging how others react to us and our choices. But when we can’t see the impact of our behaviours, how will we know when we’ve crossed that line?
Likely your kiddo struggled with knowing how to develop a sense of self and a compassionate awareness of their impact on others during their two years being cooped up.
While I talk a lot about social exploration and the necessities of some freedom and ability to make mistakes as tweens and teens develop their sense of self, it’s also important to have boundaries at this developmental stage. Without guidance, and without seeing the impact of their words and actions on others, kids at this stage may not actually consider the impact they have on others. They simply haven’t fully developed that yet. And how can they practice something they didn’t yet develop the skills for? They missed two years of critical social learning.
No wonder now they are back in person at school (and summer camps) they are still behaving like the “younger” versions of themselves. Will they catch up? Absolutely. But it may be a rocky road for a bit. Patience is useful. So is love and compassion. And yes, boundaries are still very, very much needed. Kids DO thrive on structure and knowing what expectations (and safety nets) are there for them.
But what about those older teens that “should know better”? Older teens are developing too and need the structure and safety nets just as much! Their brains also missed two years of development. They were given free reign for a while as we struggled to contain our own burnout, and getting “back on track” may be a bit of a battle. Love them and love yourself. It will get better. Emotional validation practices will help tremendously.
But what do you BOTH need most right now? More fuel.
Tweens and teens – no matter what age – also spent two years struggling with grief and confusing loss and overwhelm and confusion. They didn’t know how to cope. And nor did you. We were ALL at capacity. It makes total sense that now that they are returning to the social world, they simply don’t have the energy for the social world (hmmm sounds familiar!)
Re-fueling means finding pockets of joy again. For both of you.
How do you replenish yourself? Go back to basics. Remove as much from your to do list and expectation list as possible. Do LESS. Involve them in FEWER activities. Reconnect as a family! Let them just hang out with friends. Don’t pressure them to perform or catch up or “make up for lost time”. Make time for joy and prioritize play over work.
Slowly those gas tanks will replenish and you both will be able to give back to the world and too those around you. But right now (in addition to teaching them that loving and caring for others is a family value), make sure you are loving and caring for yourselves!