Parents tend to think about how to nurture their children's ability to make friends and simultaneously, encourage their independence.
We hope that our kids, left to their own devices, can manage time alone. We pay attention to sociability and independence, because it’s important to connect with others and to be comfortable by oneself.
As kids get older, the routines of school, homework, and organized activities take over and we may stop thinking so much about how our teens navigate friendships and alone time. With cell phones and social media, we may think our teens are rarely alone, even when they are home.
Many teens, though, do need help learning to be comfortable in the bookend zones of aloneness and social connections. And, they need to hear from you that loneliness is something normal and natural to feel. In order to find comfort in those bookend zones, your teens need these life skills.
Summertime, with its change of pace, offers you opportunities to help your child to become more comfortable with the notion of "alone time" —and to obtain some skills to enjoy it.
Here are a couple of tips to create conversations about being alone:
You can help your teens learn to cope with loneliness and sociability.
If your child goes off to summer camp or on an organized trip with other teens, you have an easy opportunity to talk about loneliness, framing it as a natural part of being away from home. If your child is home for the summer and friends are leaving for adventures, you also have a chance to introduce the topic. The most important thing you can do as a parent is to normalize the feelings. Everyone gets lonely sometimes. Loneliness is a natural thing to feel. And being alone does not necessarily mean you’re lonely.
Depending upon how organized your child’s life has been in terms of scheduled activities, you may discover that as a teenager, your child hasn’t learned how to reach out to friends. Help your child learn to reach out to peers—possibly for a scheduled activity or simply to hang out. Teach your child how to field invitations from peers. This may seem so basic you’re surprised to discover your child isn’t naturally versed in these skills, but think again: A very scheduled life may not have granted so many opportunities for intentional outreach like this.
Some teens use the time alone to work out, watch TV, go online, play with pets, or read. Giving your child chores to do, such as buying food at the supermarket, doing laundry, or ironing are good ways to spend free time. Encourage other hobbies that they can have for life, such as jewelry-making, gardening, painting, and playing a musical instrument.
How do you and your child deal with "alone time"?