How to help teens during a pandemic? ‘It’s a dance,' according to this parenting coach

Clinician and parenting coach Joani Geltman
Clinician and parenting coach Joani GeltmanCourtesy Joani Geltman

To be transparent, Joani Geltman and I usually talk about the world’s problems at the Cheesecake Factory.

The clinician and parenting coach — who wrote “A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens: Talking to Your Kids About Sexting, Drinking, Drugs, and Other Things That Freak You Out” — is my friend, and usually we meet at our favorite location (the CF in Chestnut Hill) and eat our favorite salads while we analyze everything.

Obviously we can’t do that right now, but I asked Geltman to be an expert on Taking Care, our Love Letters series featuring Q&As with mental health professionals during this time of social distancing. In previous episodes (we’ve done them weekly on Zoom since March), counselors have told us that teens are having a particularly difficult time with quarantine because they’re missing out on so much.


Geltman joined me for a talk about that experience. She also took questions from readers. Below is a very edited transcript of our conversation. The entire Q&A is in the video. You can find the entire series at bostonglobe.com/takingcare.

Taking Care with Meredith Goldstein featuring Joani Geltman
Watch Boston Globe Love Letters advice columnist Meredith Goldstein in the next installment of Taking Care with Joani Geltman, clinician, parenting coach.

Meredith Goldstein: A reader asked, “My teenage son is very concerned about catching COVID-19. I’ve tried to explain that it’s safe to take a walk while wearing a mask, but he won’t venture outside. What are some of the ways I can encourage him to get outside without adding to his anxiety?”

Joani Geltman: What I would do is start [with] baby steps, like sitting in the backyard. This [fear] is based on reality. So [say], "I get that it’s scary. Let’s think of all the things that will make you safe.” [Talk about] what he will do if he sees a person. Say, "Let’s play it out. You walk out of the house, you’ve got your mask on, and you see another person. What could you do? You’d walk over to the other side of the street.” Sometimes they need a rehearsal.


MG: A reader named Roberta asks, “My daughter was supposed to head off to New York City to a trade school, and we are both having fears that it won’t happen. How do I help both of us cope with her unsure future?”

JG: Rather than waiting and then feeling like you’ve lost everything, try to come up with something [else]. I think it’s [about] brainstorming. “Let’s just assume you don’t go. What would be some way you would want to spend this year?”

MG: Rachel asks, “I’m getting pressure from my teen to see her friends.”

JG: It may be that you vet another family and say, "Joey wants to get together with Sam, so what are your family rules about quarantining so we can find a way that maybe our kids can be outside together?” There are kids who are just going to get mad [if they can’t see friends]. Just like there are other families that let kids drink in their houses. Now we have the quarantine version of that. So also acknowledge [that]. “I get that it feels unfair to you. Safety is the number one thing right now in our household.”

MG: Judy asks, “What’s the best way to encourage adult responsibility around the house. Our two daughters, 21 and 19, are home from college.”

JG: There is not one person in the world who I know, who when they were teenagers [said], “Yeah! Chores! Can’t wait!” So part of it is to bring the family together and say, “OK, I get it. You don’t like doing that stuff, and neither do I. So we have to come up with a different solution.” It’s acknowledging people’s differences instead of assigning them things they’re resistant to. It’s the problem solving. It’s not a punishment.


MG: A reader asks, “My middle daughter, who is already not the easiest person to deal with, is extra stressed having her college classes online, and being extra nasty to all in the household. Any tips or words of wisdom?”

JG: Keep your distance. Anything about school should be off the discussion table. If I were this mom, I would [ask myself], “What are the areas that seem to piss her off the most? Am I asking too many questions?” A lot of what parenting is is having those look-in-the-mirror moments. What am I doing that encourages this behavior? It’s a dance — every relationship is a dance. And the only person you have 100 percent control over is yourself.

Meredith Goldstein can be reached at Meredith.Goldstein@Globe.com. This interview was transcribed by Globe correspondent Grace Griffin.