helping your teen pause from unhealthy romantic relationships during social distancing
For many people, the Covid-19 pandemic has been a nightmare with tragic deaths, soul wearying overtime, and scary slim bank accounts.
For others, it has been an opportunity for pause and growth. Some have found respite from the news feeds within projects or creating new forms of income. Other people have decided to shop online and rest at home, rekindling the love of old hobbies, or working on personal addictions to phones, screens, chips... Whatever your experience, this is a time of unavoidable change and an opportunity to observe the quality of our relationships. For teens in areas that are locked down but not heavy pressed with scary sick statistics, this time could be invaluable.
As a 16/17 year old girl, I could have been saved a lot of heartbreak if I were forced to take time to back off. A breath a fresh air can remind a suffocating person what breathing should feel like. I had a boyfriend that my parents did say I needed to break from, but I choose to learn hard lessons myself. It was a tense time and I have empathy for my parents as they navigated that year. If they forbid me to see them, it would have caused resentment for a time (however I'm thinking now, that may have been the best route, but who really knows?). Uncertain and tense circumstances will put strain on already strained relationships and cause an intense person to escalate his/her frustrations and lashing out in general. The stats for domestic abuse during Covid-19 have seen a rise. (Check out https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/double-pandemic-domestic-violence-age-covid-19)
Right now, people are being forced to spend time away. Families are being huddled together at home. For some reason, and I suppose it is because of my experience and because I haven't seen anyone bring it up - I felt the importance of starting a conversation about how we can use this time to connect with our teens, especially if they have been in a relationship that waves red flags and makes our Mama Bear instinct growl. At the risk of seeming apathetic to the horror going on in many lives because of Covid-19, I imagine that there are some mothers who are thankful they can restrict their teen's exposure to toxic partners because of the shut downs. #silverline #lemonfromlemonade
Issues of the heart are so tender - we don't want to shield our children from important opportunities to learn lessons about boundaries, the fun of flirtation, the excitement of easy young interest, the curious freedoms of having their own taste or types. BUT, if your child has been in a relationship that seems too heavy, one that pulls them away from routine and healthy family rhythms, now is the time for you to educate yourself and be available for support. As your teen is forced to distance by shutdown measures, he or she (for brevity sake I will use she from now on) may begin feeling the painfully confusing lightness that comes with the absence of a controlling person. We should notice and lean into this. If there is tension and struggle with how/when they can spend time together ( angry texts and calls), no doubt she is confused by conflicting feelings - relief of time away from a controlling person, but still a strong bond to be with the other person, and a resentment all around that perhaps he is pressuring her to get together when the pandemic regulations and you say, "no". This is an opportune time for you to begin your own process of growth as an emotionally healthy parent who can guide a confused and heartbroken child. And I say heartbroken before even mentioning the breakup, because I know that being with an impulsive and selfish person is a split cracking more and more with each phone fight.
It is important to note that children have an intense sense of justice and fairness. If your family culture is to fight and call names, she will not see the value of you criticizing or commenting on her relationship as you live out the same dynamic imitated in her relationships. Abuse is life sucking and life threatening in a long term relationship. Usually, behaviors snowball as relationships progress. If you have sustained unhealthy relationships or fallen into abusive or toxic patterns in your home (yelling, name calling, throwing things, slamming things, non-commitment and partner cycling, cheating, physical abuse) , it is of utmost importance for you to NOW:
accept that you have not made healthy decisions or been a healthy example and caused pain in your family,
confess those faults to God and your family,
find resources to retrain your thoughts, habits, reactions,
and begin the journey to a peaceful home.
If you are in an abusive relationship, the pandemic has definitely affected your day to day, as stress and close proximity are unavoidable. Please use this site to begin a plan of action to safety for you and your family : https://www.thehotline.org/2020/03/13/staying-safe-during-covid-19/
We must all accept and move on to serve our loved ones well. We can ask forgiveness of God, and forgive ourselves as we intentionally seek out resources and practices to maintain a healthy home. This is especially hard because a child is never slow to point out our own hypocrisy as we work in repentance, but it is a nonnegotiable that we do not give up and remain the progressive example and anchor for her.
If you have never experienced a toxic relationship, you may still notice warning signs - lots of tense phone time, not inviting the other person over much, or when he is over, a general disrespect for you/family members/your teen, breaking or stretching of curfew, and a heckling sort of relationship. Young folks do this anyway as they lean into the tension of the power struggle of the sexes, but some people carry it over into abusive territory. The severity of the slight, your child's temperament and reaction will always be a signal if certain jokes are OK or not, but I do find that most mature married couples I look up to do not poke fun at the other in public often.
Taking an inventory of your effort into bonding with your family is a good start to begin setting up opportunities to listen, encourage, enforce, and become the ally and protector your child needs depending on the dynamic your are observing. Order some games, shows, hobbies, charities that you can do together that she would enjoy. Ask her to help you cook her favorite meals. Intentionally set up time together that peaks her interest as you work on your own foundations of patience, supporting your children, respecting your spouse, and fostering peace and health in your home.
The problem of tense young love is not new or unique, so there is no reason to feel helpless in supporting health for yourself and your family. Check out the resources at the bottom of this post to *begin* your own reserve of resources as problems or opportunities for change arise. Quality advice is readily available to you. I love anything by Dr. Henry Cloud and John Townsend - check out their book titles and follow their social medias for videos and live call in advice.
A note on books : many books can be borrowed by e-book or audio format on library apps, such as Libby and Hoopla. Use these resources to open up a whole vault of expert knowledge for free through your phone.
God bless you, friend! This is probably one of the hardest hurdles in young love and parenting a teen. You are not alone, and you don't have to be perfect. #presentoverperfect You can use this time of increased family presence and togetherness for so much good that could possibly impact a lifetime and generations to come.
Dating: ( make sure to check the links and resources on these)
Your personal growth
https://livingeasy.libsyn.com/ (many episodes on parenting and marriage)