Pediatrician: Why Our Teens’ Lives Should NOT Go Back to “Normal”

“When will life get back to normal?”

It’s been a persistent thought and a frequently asked question for every one of us over the past year. As parents, we’ve had to grapple with not only our own uncertainties and impatience but with those of our children as well.

And if you parent an adolescent, you were keenly aware that their life was already full of uncertainty and impatience, even before a pandemic piled more insecurity onto the heap of their swirling emotions.

What if we can help our teens understand that this last year will enrich their lives forever? (Twenty20 @jenni.heller)

Most parents and kids want a return to normalcy

Most parents and kids seem to desperately want normalcy back as soon as possible —normal school schedules, normal sports activities, normal club meetings, normal teen social interactions, normal work and volunteer opportunities, and normal extended family interactions.

It’s easy to think that everything and everyone will feel so much better if things can just go back to the way they were before. We’re tired of cancellations, postponements, and “making the best of the situation.” We’re tired of feeling sorry for our teens and all that they’ve missed out on. Many of us are also concerned about our mental health.

What if we can shift the paradigm and look at it all differently?

But what if there’s an entirely different way to look at the experiences that our adolescents have gone through over the past year? What if we can help them embrace the upheaval and have them accept that this profound departure from normalcy will actually serve them well for the rest of their lives?

One renowned parenting expert and award-winning author who hopes our adolescents’ lives won’t return to “normal” is Dr. Ken Ginsburg, MD, MSEd., an adolescent medical specialist and the Director of the Center for Parent and Teen Communication at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Dr. Ginsburg wholeheartedly supports a strength-based philosophy when it comes to parenting. Rather than focusing on deficits and struggles, he advises parents to look at challenges as opportunities that will help their children thrive as adults. During a Facebook Live event with Grown and Flown, Dr. Ginsburg shared how our adolescents can come through this pandemic even stronger and more resilient, and lean into a new and improved “normal.”

What have our teens learned this past year?

With in-person social interactions severely limited during the long months of quarantine, our teens were forced to honestly think about how important friendship and human connection is. Coming at a time in life when social connection is so essential, they will forever have pandemic memories of missing out on simple interactions like laughing with classmates in English class, high-fiving teammates after a scored goal or hugging a close friend who just experienced a break-up. Having endured these social deprivations, Dr. Ginsburg believes our kids will appreciate other people more and understand human connection better. 

Our teens have also become much more aware of inequities in life. Whether these injustices pertain to someone’s health condition, race, or material resources, our kids have watched and listened to lived experiences that are vastly different from their own over the past year.  

They’ve seen how things that they may have previously taken for granted, such as internet connectivity or a parent’s job, are now things to be consciously grateful for. So many more of them will now consider taking action to make their community or their country a more equitable place. 

Teens sacrificed and learned a lot during these days

Teens also realized that contrary to stereotypes, they are not all selfish and entitled. They undertook a great deal of personal sacrifice in order to protect the health and wellbeing of older people like their parents and especially their grandparents.

These sacrifices were implemented out of love, in order to protect people more vulnerable than themselves. Dr. Ginsburg feels that this might “drive a course correction for this generation to venerate the elderly.”

In addition, increased time at home with parents made so many of our adolescents realize that intergenerational connections can bring a lot of happiness and joy. For all the annoyances and irritations that we may have lived through, many of us also cherish the extra hours we have had with our kids.

All that time spent Netflix bingeing, board game playing, and cooking together created even deeper family bonds that might not have formed without the break from our normal, busy lives, shuffling from one activity to the next.

Our goal should be interdependence with our adult children, not independence.

Dr. Ken Ginsburg

Dr. Ginsburg reminds parents about to goal of interdependence with our adult children and, to this end, the pandemic was an unexpected gift of sorts. 

So rather than dwelling on all that our teens and young adults have missed out on since their “normal” lives came to a screeching halt, we as parents have an important role to play in guiding them to focus on the lessons learned and skills gained during this challenging time. They are resilient and need to hold on to that belief. 

Maybe today’s teens will be the next greatest generation

Hearing Dr. Ginsburg say that today’s adolescent children “can become the greatest generation” brings me a great deal of hope and joy. Like many of their grandparents and great-grandparents who came a generation or two before us, they now possess a deeper understanding of sacrifice for a greater good, along with a more committed appreciation for interpersonal connection. They will also benefit from a more open and honest cultural acknowledgment of mental health issues and treatment.

When faced with life’s continual challenges as they mature and age, our kids will be able to look back and remember how they got through this tough time and that will bolster them to continue to put effort into close relationships with family and friends; to work for a more just world; to protect the vulnerable, and to appreciate what they have. 

Our kids’ lives might have been fine in the reality of the “old normal” and some may grieve that loss. But let’s remind them of every reason why a “new normal” can be even better and more meaningful. 

About Dr. Ken Ginsburg

Dr. Ken Ginsburg, Co-Founder and Director of Programs at the Center for Parent and Teen Communication is an adolescent medicine specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

You can find more about the Center for Parent and Teen Communication on Facebook or Twitter.

More to Read:

How to Help Your Teens Manage Stress as We Begin to Return to Normal

About Marybeth Bock

Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing - as long as iced coffee is involved. You can find her work on numerous websites and in two books. Find her on Facebook and Instagram

Read more posts by Marybeth

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