Here is the scenario: you've got teenagers at home and have gone from a super busy, on-the-go, constantly Pressed For Time sort of life to one of 14 or 16 hour days of unscheduled time during this Covid19 voluntary quarantine.
It has already been recommended by many sources to keep your kids at home and supervise their social distancing compliance. If that is what you are doing right now, are you find the days getting longer and longer?
Are you really ready to have 2 months of unscheduled time, if that's how long this thing lasts? Day after day, hour after hour, of attempting to fill up time with things more meaningful and necessary than Snapchat, Captain Sauce, Xbox, and frequent trips to the fridge for more cereal milk?
If you need it, here is a blueprint for keeping your kids successfully goal oriented and focused while simultaneously keeping the family peace. Much easier said than done. Structure is everything. Everything.
Your teenagers don't need their hand held. They need basic parameters, expectations and responsibilities. Then you need to back off and let them achieve those things that you have set out for them. Provide them with a list of expectations and let them carry these out one by one on their own. They can ask for help if needed. Screen time may need to be limited until expectations for the day have been completed, especially for younger teens that are less self-directed or for kids that are less responsible. A 17 year old who is goal directed and self-driven may not need any of this at all.
1. Morning Routine: get up at a reasonable hour. It does not need to be at the crack of dawn or follow the high school schedule. But sleeping til noon isn't going to work either. 9am is a good time or even 10am. Especially if kids have gone to bed at a reasonable hour and have gotten a full 8 or 9 hours of sleep. Most teenagers are sleep deprived on a normal day Adequate sleep is critical for mental health and well being (for more on this see the blog post on coping with social distancing) and will decrease everyone's irritability. Lack of sleep might be the single most routinely damaging thing for adolescent mental health that exists. Get dressed. It is tempting to lounge around in pajamas all day and never shower. But, as previously mentioned, structure is everything. Eat breakfast, preferably something more nutritious than a bowl of Lucky Charms, but hey, something is better than nothing.
Pick a set time of day to begin and this must be consistent. From this point, in no particular order, your child can....
2. Read: one hour of reading, at grade level, something of interest. If your child is a bookworm and reading is an escape, perhaps they can be expected to complete the other tasks on their list before reading for pleasure.
3. Complete Schoolwork: In Virginia, our Governor has cancelled school for the rest of the year. That means kids will be at home from March through August, or just about 6 months. Teachers may have set out work to do for each class. Clear guidelines and expectations regarding school should have been outlined. If you child is struggling with this aspect of being home, make sure they are in close communication with their teachers via email and asking questions. If your child is older, researching or working on college applications, career education, or SAT prep may be in order.
4. Do A Chore: Each child is required to do one chore to help the family and the household.
5. Exercise: You are best equipped to decide what is an appropriate amount of time and expected exercise level. Is your child an athlete? If so, they will need to work to maintain their base fitness level. Is your child a couch potato on a normal day? If so, maybe some Wii fit, zumba youtube videos or a brisk walk outside may be sufficient. Exercise is a key component to maintaining mental health during this period of quarantine for everyone, child or adult, and best achieved by being outside if possible (see the exercise component of coping strategies for social distancing).
6. Get Some Fresh Air: Can be combined with the exercise component if needed, kids need to be outside every day. Playing sports, riding bikes, or jumping on the trampoline. If none of these things are options for you, consider just going on a walk together for positive family time, fresh air and exercise all rolled into one.
7. Participate In A Project of Interest: leave this purposefully open ended and vague. Your kids might surprise you with what they come up with! Perhaps a website that teaches coding, perhaps an activity long forgotten found in the garage, perhaps it is sewing masks to help hospital workers. Maybe they will rekindle their love of art or take one of the many virtual tours of a museum or park that is being offered right now for free. Whatever it is, it must be a special project of interest at least one hour once per day. It can be a different thing each day or carry over from one day to another. Of course, doing this for longer than one hour is acceptable also. As long as it is brain food, it will work!
Here is a hint: More than one kid at home? Rotate, so that they are doing each task independently and individually with the exception of exercise and outdoor time which should be done together and as a family if possible.
Another hint: you've got younger kids that are not so self-sufficient? Go ahead and try this structure but modify it or shorten the time frame. Finding an age appropriate project of interest right now should not be difficult. Check out Mo Willems drawing class for an idea of one thing an elementary student might enjoy. Practicing writing and penmanship can be accomplished by writing to elderly in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. There is an endless source of activities but you may need to get creative in order to mix it up to keep it interesting.
After each of these tasks has been completed to your satisfaction, let them be free to do what they want and have their free time to use as they see fit (abiding by social distancing requirements of course).
Set your expectations consistently each day and follow through. Remember, Structure is everything. You may experience resistance at first but this does not last usually more than one week. Before you know it, you will have a structured day, with meaningful activities, that your child can move through mostly on their own. Hopefully your period of quarantine will fly by in the most peaceful way possible. Good luck and if you need help, comment below.