While there is never a perfect time to raise a teenager, trying to be a good parent to one especially now that they will be home for months is not the scenario most people would choose.
Some teenagers have locked themselves in their ensuite bedrooms, blasting music and smoking unknown substances, others are roaming in estates, mask-less breaking all the rules and some are well-behaved, playing by the rules.
A majority of parents feel like the ground is shifting underneath them. Why aren’t they enjoying the extra quality time with their teenagers?
BDLife spoke to three parents on balancing rules and relationships with teens who dislike the idea of being cooped up with their parents for such long periods.
Catherine Mwangi has a 15-year-old son, Boniface, who is in Form One. When schools closed indefinitely, her son was pleased to be home. “He wasn’t into the boarding school life in the first place,” says Catherine.
For her son, being home usually meant more sleep, more time to play football and be with friends. But in the Covid-19 times, this cannot be the case, so Catherine has come up with new ways to keep her son engaged.
“My son is super active. Staying at home is a conversation we have had for him to understand what is happening. It wasn’t easy,” says the 46-year-old.
With about eight months out of school, Catherine’s focus now is training her son life skills which she had not done before due to lack of time.
“He’s now washing his clothes, tidying up his room, in addition to helping with house chores after his Zoom classes,” she says.
With most teenagers spending hours on end in their rooms with smartphones, Boniface does not own one. “He asked me about it. I listened as he explained to me about his fear of missing out and I also explained to him why I was against him having a phone. He finally understood my point of view,” Catherine says.
“We listen and talk to him. This enables us to get into his world and address his fears,” she adds.
Catherine has also seen the benefits of engaging in recreational activities like indoor games and daily prayers, as a family.
“These have demystified me as a super mom who expects my children to do the right thing all the time. This has resulted in him seeing that I’m human just like him and more approachable,” she says.
Charles Chege, a reverend, has two teenage boys, John Mark, 17 and Ruel, 13. He says when schools closed to tame the spread of coronavirus, Ruel thought he would be back to school after a short while. But when the number of infections started increasing, they had to talk about Covid-19 uncertainties.
“John Mark (a Form Four candidate) was worried about his final exams but I reminded him that he’s not the only one affected,” says the 49-year-old.
One thing he has noted is that the children miss their friends.
“Wanting to relate with their peers is important,” he says.
He has allowed his sons to communicate with their friends through video and phone calls. He has also been a bit lenient with them and relaxed their TV time.
“Sometimes I hear them playing football at 10 pm before they sleep at 11 pm. I’m letting it slide,” says Charles. He is quick to add that relaxing rules does not mean forgetting to be a parent. “Do you know what the last verse of the book of Judges in the Bible says? A parent is a distinct office,” he says.
“I give expectations to the children— what’s acceptable and what isn’t—to maintain order, then model the expectations. Otherwise, I risk losing trust and moral authority over them by saying one thing then doing another.”
His advice to parents? “Be honest. If you’ve been financially affected by Covid-19, let the children know so that they can adjust. Be available. Being walking adults doesn’t make us parents,” Charles says.
Shalom Munyiri, a trainer at Retro Group, and mother to Theru, echoes these sentiments.
“This is the time to guide our children on how to handle crises in life,” she says.
Theru says he was sad at first that life had to somewhat stop due to coronavirus.
“No more going to places without worrying. And I have to be more disciplined so as to study at home,” says the 17-year-old.
Shalom says the main thing is to keep the conversations real, especially with teenagers by discussing the possibilities of Covid-19 lasting much longer than expected.
She has allowed Theru to interact with friends. “We picked only three friends that she’d visit once a week. With time, they are a few more,” she says. Dr Susan Gitau, a lead counsellor at Susan Gitau Counselling Foundation acknowledges that staying at home for months has forced parents to rethink parenting of teenagers.
“Teenagehood is a delicate developmental stage. So critical is it that parents can make or break their relationship with their children during this time,” she says.
“The teens want to belong, they are trying to balance their thoughts and emotional wellbeing, resulting in an identity crisis as they figure themselves out. Add Covid-19 restrictions and the teens feel like they’re in solitary confinement!”
To manage them, parents need a broad-based approach. “Acknowledge their emotions and show empathy. Parents tend to forget that once upon a time they were teens,” she says.
“Go down to their level and meet them where they are. Be a source of stability,” she says.
Secondly, be calm.“A peaceful parent is an attractive parent. Use a non-threatening tone and avoid doing things that will lower children’s self-esteem like scolding them in front of people. They long for friendship. Be a friend, as much you’re a parent. In the same breath, be informed so that you’re not played,” she adds.
Thirdly, support independence.
“Don’t control them as it makes them feel forced. Use dialogue. Draw a contract. Ask what they want, give your suggestions, and come up with a mutually beneficial plan. Dialogue communicates trust and respect,” says the counsellor.
Finally, engage them. “Together, come up with a daily routine. This helps regulate their time and energy and encourages bonding,” says Dr Gitau.
The foundation of good parenting, the counsellor says, is having a healthy, open relationship with your children. What if this isn’t the case? “It's never too late to start having a relationship with your children,” she says.
How does one begin? “Acknowledge that you don’t have a relationship with them. Let them know this then express your desire to have one. Ask their thoughts about it and their suggestions on bonding, share yours, and keep reviewing as the relationship progresses,” Dr Gitau says.