By Jenna Kruse, LSW – September 23, 2020 –
Being a parent of a teenager is difficult enough without adding the stress of navigating a pandemic. After being stuck at home for several months, most teens are ready to stay in school, see their friends, and return to any sense of normalcy.
As guidelines continue to change, here are ways you can safely support your teen during these trying times.
It’s safe to say that teen and adult worries are very different. “I’d look stupid in a mask” and “I need to see my friends” might not be thoughts that cross your mind as an adult, but understand these concerns are vital pieces of a teen’s social development.
It is important to remind yourself that your teen is living in a socially distant society as they are attempting to establish their own identity and independence. Have a clear list of your expectations instead of reciting government-issued mandates that they may not understand and are likely to ignore.
Empathize and validate your teen’s worry and anger. Teenagers are likely to feel the weight heavily; it feels unfair that the pandemic has happened, that it is still happening, and that life cannot yet return to normal.
By validating your teenager’s feelings, you grant them the opportunity to be open and expressive with their feelings. Try phrases such as, “You are right, this is unfair” or “I feel that too, but it’s important that we do what we can to keep others safe.” Validating a teenager’s feelings will make them more accepting of whatever you say next.
Your teen may feel frustrated that they have new restrictions placed on them when they have not been directly affected by this virus. Help teens make the connection by outlining the increased danger for older family and friends. This helps students understand that your fears aren’t far-fetched, and that what we do now makes a big difference down the road. You may also use the mask mandate and current restrictions as a way to teach compassion and the importance of keeping ourselves safe so we can keep others safe.
If your student is going out with friends, incentivize them to comply with safety measures. Let them know if they are willing to take safety precautions seriously, they will have more freedom to spend time with friends.
Make safety fun by practicing what talking to a friend from 6 feet apart looks like. Allow them to pick out a cool mask in which they can express themselves, and sit down with your teen to create a list of outdoor places where they could safely spend time with friends. Remind your student that your family rules may be different than their friends’ rules, but they are still the rules they must follow.
During these trying times, it is important to remind your teen (and yourself) that even though we are in the middle of a difficult time, this pandemic, like other difficult times, will pass. Work as a team and keep communication open, factual, and honest with your student. Remember, what we do now will determine what will happen next.