Father: “I have two sons (16 and 9) and a daughter (13). My sons are fine with the current schoolless life. My daughter is increasingly struggling with the situation. She misses school and friends, and the freedom to go where she wants. We do not live in the Netherlands, but in a country where you can only go out with someone from the same household. She has coped well with it for a while but is now starting to look for ways to avoid the new rules.
“Normally that kind of typical teenage rebellious behavior wouldn’t be a problem, it’s part of growing up. But I notice that it is now difficult for me to estimate where ‘the boundaries lie behind the boundaries’: how much extra leeway is justified in an exceptional situation like this. How do you deal with the normal teenage desire to push the limits in the times of coronavirus?
Jelle Jolles: “It is difficult to have a bad news conversation with 13-year-olds because they still have to learn to understand the perspective of others. That’s why they can react so unreasonably. But that conversation has to take place. This corona time is difficult for everyone, there is no reason to make an exception for her.
“Make it clear to her that you understand her very well. That you would dearly want her to visit friends outside. Also tell her why you can’t allow that. She can contract the virus outside, and infect someone with it who has less resistance. The result is that the other person becomes seriously ill, and she continues to walk happily.
“Give examples of people in your area who have been affected. Compare with the woman who can’t visit her needy mother of 80 in the nursing home now; with the 15-year-old girl who is in a rehabilitation facility and is not allowed to be visited by her family. Consult with her: what do you think of that now? It can be a lesson in empathy.
“And finally, of course, there is the power word ‘very annoying to you, and I hardly ever do that, but now I do; I just don’t like you going out. Point’.”
Search within the boundaries
Loes Keijsers: “Friends and freedom are essential for teenagers at this stage of their lives to develop their identity. Wanting to go outside, physically distance from home is a developmental need for teenagers. As parents we have the task to help our children towards adulthood, which means letting go, but also to protect them on the way there.
“There is danger in this situation: your daughter can pass on the disease, and she is breaking the law if she does meet friends outside. So try to shape that need for social contacts and autonomy within the limits of the law.
“Recognize her needs, show understanding. Explain your considerations. Can you find ways together that will help her strengthen her friendships? For example, by sending a present to friends? Can a friend come to visit, or come to sleep, that you clear a part of the floor for the two so that they are undisturbed? And maybe you can give her some extra leeway in another area, like giving her some extra money to buy music.”
Jelle Jolles is professor of neuropsychology and author of The teenage brain.
Loes Keijsers is associate professor of developmental psychology at Tilburg University. She also wrote Why Teens Can Be So Annoying.