Parents Talk Back by Aisha Sultan

Growing Up Faster in the Age of Coronavirus

As I write this, my teenage children begin their first day of distance learning. I’m already yearning for their schools to reopen, even though I’ve accepted that this won’t be happening anytime soon.

Officials shut down schools across the country in attempts to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. This means our children are home all day, every day, while many of us are working and trying to supervise the virtual homeschooling that is supposed to happen.

In my defense, we’ve already spent 11 days socially isolating at home together due to an extended spring break. During those 11 days, the world has been upended in a way I haven’t seen before. I’ve been reading about, talking to and writing about people whose lives and livelihoods hang in a precarious balance.

During the same 11 days, I’ve watched the teens sleep in, binge-watch Netflix and wait to be invited to do basic chores like the dishes, walking the dog or helping with dinner.

I’ve reached the limit of my patience with that approach.

Adolescence in the time of coronavirus is going to mean growing up faster than the previous timetable allowed. I don’t mean to suggest that teenage brains are going to magically mature faster during a pandemic. Nor am I unsympathetic to what young people have lost -- their graduation ceremonies, proms, final sports seasons and performances, the last months with their friends, college visits -- there’s a long list of how this has affected their lives in sad and unfair ways.

But once they’ve had some time to deal with these disappointments, they should also prepare to realize that most family households no longer orbit around their schedules.

The weekdays B.C. (before coronavirus) had a structure: kids out the door by 7:10 a.m.; back home sometime between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m., depending on the after-school activities; dinner around 6:30; up in their rooms for the rest of the evening, mostly doing homework. On some weekdays, the after-school activities demanded more hours, and weekends often involved some kind of tournament or competition or performance.

This is how life operated for many children and teens.

All of that has come to a screeching halt. In response, our expectations for their routines and contributions to family and community life must also change.

Initially, I gave my kids a few talks about rising to the occasion and keeping a sense of perspective of what this national crisis means to millions of people. They listened, but I don’t know that they really got it. Perhaps those lectures have lacked specificity in how I expected their behaviors to change. So, the longer they continued their spring break of doing nothing much, the more aggravated I got.

We had a morning meeting before their first virtual day of high school began. I told them the start times for their school days, household responsibilities to keep track of during the day and expectations of when all devices would be turned in at night. I said they needed to share a daily project outside their schoolwork that contributes to the greater good somehow. I’m not sure how closely or cheerfully this guidance will be followed. But it was helpful to spell out what the new expectations and consequences are.

A week ago, I asked the parents on our high school’s PTO Facebook group if anyone else was dealing with a teenager who didn’t have the best attitude about this yet. The responses reassured me that adjusting to this new normal was going to take a little bit of time. One mom shared a meme that said: “OK, the schools are closed. Does that mean we drop the kids off at the teacher’s house, or what?”

Regardless of how much we appreciated teachers before, multiply that by a hundred now.

The thought of another two months of this prompted me to post a different question on Twitter: “Are any of y’all’s homeschools accepting transfer students?”