The Upside Down Teen

Written by Parenting Expert Janet Philbin, LCSW, CHt

Many parents have been coming to me and sharing their worries and concerns about their tweens and young teens staying up very late into the night, around 3 or 4 a.m., playing on phones and video games. Parents are looking for a solution for the problem. Their first instinct is to punish their child and take away their devices. In most cases this has led to resentment and to children ‘lying” in order to find a way to get back online.

This is causing a lot of pain for the parents. They are having a hard time embracing and fully understanding that their teen is struggling or in pain right now. Developmentally, a 12-16-year-old does not have the emotional coping skills to deal with the pandemic and how it has turned their life completely upside down: they have no more school, no more sports, no more extracurricular activities, no more socializing, parties, or plans. Their worlds are shattered and confusing. What is happening in their lives is being mirrored by the new patterns of sleeping until mid-afternoon and staying up all night. They are upside down.

As parents, we also have never coped with anything like this. However, we still have to get up each day, take care of the house, kids, ourselves and work (if you have a job inside or outside of the home). Our schedules have not changed, even though the routines may be different. Parents are having the same hard time coping with the pandemic but have more emotional resources to deal with the stress.

As parents, we feel the need to react and control. The time our children are going to bed is very concerning. Have you ever stopped to ask what is really going on with your child? What is your child really looking for when he or she stays awake until 4 am? Are they looking to feel connected? Is their body not tired enough to fall asleep? Your gut reaction may be to remove all video games, to unplug the modem, to take away the phone and lock it up. But I want to offer you another solution first. Because if we continue to take away more and more for longer and longer periods of time, it will only lead to mutual resentment.

I offer you this as an alternative:

  • Check in with yourself. What is happening within you that is getting triggered when your child is up so late and on electronics? Are you fearful, worried? Are you in the future with all sorts of thoughts of what will go wrong in his or her life if all they do is play videos all night? Are you worried about their health because their sleep patterns are reversed? Are you worried about how they will be able to reset, and get back to school? Pause and check in with yourself. What are your deep fears? What are the fears you have not said aloud to anyone? Ask yourself, where do the fears come from? When and why did you learn to even be fearful about these things? How are these fears impacting you in your day to day life now as you watch your child struggle?
  • Stay present. Being in fear and worry is all about the future. It is not about what is happening now. Worry creates anxiety and when we are anxious we are not in the present moment. The present moment gets stolen and we spend our energy doing our best to control the environment and others. Is this happening for you? If it is, the first step is to pause. Take a long, hard pause. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, because these are your feelings and not your child’s.
  • Work through your own feelings first. Let your feelings rise to the surface and greet them. Take out a pen and paper and journal about what you are feeling about all of this and why. Take time to meditate and clear your mind. Go out and take a walk or exercise and give room for the feelings to move through and out of your body. Once you have done this, and it may take a few hours or a few days, then you will be ready to approach your child and this problem with new energy.
  • Create healthy boundaries. Once you’ve gone through these other steps you will have clarity about what is going on with yourself, which will give you more clarity about how to make a decision about boundaries for your child. You are now ready to engage your child in a conversation. Ask for their opinions and feelings, really listen to what your child is saying. Connect to their heart, hear their struggles and their pain. Validate their feelings. Your child’s voice counts. Together, come up with a plan they also agree with. One in which he or she is also deciding on boundaries. This will take compromise. Be patient as you may need to revisit the conversation more than once before you have a solution that works for everyone. However, once your child feels like he has a choice and a voice in the process, they will more than likely comply.

Remember, all our children want is to be seen, feel secure, validated, to know they matter and that they are loved. Taking the steps and the time to first check in with yourself allows you to respond to their needs from a loving place within yourself instead of reacting from a place of fear and worry. Be a team, brainstorm solutions together. Approaching the upside-down world of your child from a place of alignment within yourself is the place to start.


Janet Philbin is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and Certified Hypnotherapist (CHt) that helps people solve the emotional mysteries that has plagued them and kept them “stuck” in their lives. Additionally, Janet is a Certified Conscious Parenting Coach. She was certified by Dr. Shefali Tsabary’s Conscious Parenting Coaching Method Institute. Janet works with clients to uncover and heal the issues of the inner child which are influencing their adult life and parenting in the present. She is also the author of Show Up For Yourself: A Guide to Inner Awareness and Growth.