The conversation I had with a child healthcare professional was disturbing.

“You cannot imagine what I am seeing,” he said. “Kids who never got into any trouble before are taking all types of risks and parents don’t know what to do. The kids are out of control.”

A few discussions with parents and educators confirmed what I was hearing. We are talking about behaviors that compromise values and character. Kids who are sneaking out of the house while parents are sleeping, testing boundaries, chatting inappropriately on social media platforms, and experimenting with substance abuse. Many are grappling with their faith.

Children are losing their soul.

Why now?

Vulnerability

Teens and preteens have been dealing with months of uncertainty. Do we have ‘in school’ learning or remote? Many activities once taken for granted have been canceled or changed. Live graduation ceremonies, senior year, bar and bat mitzvah celebrations, family gatherings, Shabbat and holidays with grandparents and friends, summer camp, school trips, team sports, just to name a few. The kids are dealing with fear of the unknown unlike anything they have ever experienced before. Stories of covid-related illness, death, and the sense of living in a world out of control overtakes a child’s being. There is a huge sense of feeling vulnerable.

Less Routine

Less routine means there is a void in a child’s day. Left with emptiness, many kids discover that the solution to boredom and a lack of schedule is risky behavior. What do you do when you have extra time on your hands and nothing to do? Kids are trying out activities that would not normally enter a child’s sphere or have seemed possible in their mind.

Remote learning is lonely. Being home for extended time is tiresome. Some kids are sitting alone in their rooms while parents are working or occupied with other children. Kids need friends and in person contact. Solitude means seeking more online connections. Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok, Snapchat are the virtual door out. Many kids have found themselves jeopardized after sending inappropriate photos, texts or having engaged in improper conversations, the result of unfilled hours in the day.

FOMO

The feeling of missing out (FOMO) can drive a child to behave in ways he never could have imagined. If everyone is out partying, than why shouldn’t I? If my classmates are breaking curfews, rules, and hanging out, I can’t be the one staying home and out of it.

There is also a sense of entitlement that has taken hold. “This was supposed to be my graduation year.” “We were supposed to have our family trip that you promised me.” The feeling that because I feel shortchanged I am now going to make up for it and do something exciting can bring a child to make huge mistakes.

What can we do?

Parents are exhausted and burned out. I know how difficult it is. But now is not the time to give up. We are living the true definition of being a parent – to guide, to lead, and to inspire. Our children need to us to be captain of our ships. They must see that in times of challenge and chaos we are present in both body and soul. We care.

Begin with a conversation. Don’t wait for the situation to unravel in your home. I’ve spoken to parents who have been shocked with the behavior their ‘good kids’ have gotten into. Communicate in a non-threatening way. Acknowledge the challenges your child is facing. Don’t be busy with everything and everyone else and then be forced to confront the damage done.

Speak about the loneliness, the vulnerability, the boredom, the sadness and the frustration from losing out on times that were always counted on to happen. Be prepared to limit screen time. Pay attention to your child’s online hours. They can easily run from morning to evening, unwatched. Don’t let days and nights go unsupervised even if you are beyond exhausted. See to it that if your child is home, you check in with him and that he takes healthy breaks throughout the day.

If your child is spending a lot of time indoors and school is sporadic, stay engaged. Be informed. Ask: who is my child spending time with? What is he doing all day? Think about filling the empty time with more engaging activities.

Confusion and fear bring kids to seek out new ways to deal with the chaos confronting them. They grasp for whatever will bring them a sense of calm. Uncertainty can bring a child to experiment with vaping, smoking, drinking or using nonprescription drugs. Stay alert. Don’t be that home where parents are caught snoozing while their children are raiding the liquor cabinets or making bad choices that cause devastation and harm.

When children go through turbulence and stress we, parents, tend to feel sorry for them. That’s normal. We open our hearts to our children’s fear and pain. Children need to feel that we hear them, that we understand them. But we can’t feel so badly that we look away at their responsibility to live with character. That would mean living with misplaced compassion. We’ve tried for years to raise our children with soul. We cannot allow this pandemic to strip our children of the morals and wisdoms we’ve sacrificed for. This challenge becomes one of our greatest missions.

Every generation has their test; the pandemic has become ours. And parents, be sure to tell your children that you believe in them, that you know they have a special soul and that you love them, no matter what.

Photo credit: Luca Malic, Unsplash.com