Dear Dr. Debbie,
This would’ve been graduation time for my high school senior. It must be very hard for her to accept the losses she’s experiencing.
How can I help her and her 10th grade brother avoid the temptation of getting together with friends? Despite the continued messages about Social Distancing, I’m shocked to report that there’s a small gathering of teenagers outside tonight, maybe 7 or 8 of them.
Don’t They Have Parents?
Although the Stay at Home Order is now replaced with a Safer at Home policy for the state of Maryland, the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still says there is a high risk of contagion for COVID-19 every time you are in close proximity to anyone except your household members. And although adults, especially older adults, are more likely to get sicker than teenagers and children, teens still have an important role to play in following the guidelines. But it’s not easy.
Everyday Risk Takers
The teen years are particularly unsuited for staying at home. Yes, we’re at home due to a global emergency, yet our everyday actions are more like a verrrry long weekend that doesn’t have any actual holidays to celebrate nor parties to go to. Not too exciting. Dullsville, actually. Teens are ready for adventure. Between childhood and adulthood, teens yearn to pursue challenges that take them beyond who they have been, what they have known, and what they have been able to do. Teens approach this developmental task with an attitude of invincibility and immortality, often leading to risky behaviors. Their “irrational optimism” leads to imagining only the best outcomes from impulsive decisions, which can get them in trouble.
A related task of adolescence is to become independent, particularly from parents. A parental directive to do one thing usually results in a burning desire to do the opposite. In normal circumstances, there are the common conflicts about keeping a bedroom tidy, keeping up with schoolwork, and just what constitutes appropriate clothing for a visit with the grandparents. Parents are hopelessly out of touch with popular culture, the latest technology, and the status markers of social standing by which teens are measured by the peer group. Why should anyone listen to parents?
A Little Help From My Friends
Most teens would say that their friends are their world. Truly, teens go to a peer for help with a problem more readily than to an adult. Peers face similar stresses with relationship issues, navigating school assignments, budgeting enough money for fun, and decision-making for a future beyond high school. Your friends generally fit and help to clarify your own identity in some way or another – musical taste, career ambitions, political leanings, etc. Close relationships in the teen years also provide experience with social skills such as honest communication, interdependence, and making heartfelt amends. Friends agree on what’s funny, what’s tragic, and what’s no big deal. You feel lost without them.
While teen-age behavior hasn’t changed from past generations, this upside down world in which we find ourselves add extra challenges but also provides timely opportunities.
Opportunities Behind Closed Doors
Which household tasks are your teens learning? Support their budding independence with skills to take care of their own needs and their future households, too. They have plenty of time now to learn how to sew a button back on, to scramble up breakfast for the family, to calculate the cost difference between renting a car or buying it on installments, to build a proper fire in the fireplace, or to tighten a leaky faucet. If there are maintenance or cleaning chores for which you are also in need of training, go with your teen to the University of YouTube for instructions! How satisfying would it be to re-caulk the bathtub yourselves?
A pandemic like this doesn’t come around but maybe once in a hundred years. Your teens can document this historic event through many art forms. Look for examples of other teens who have found creative expression through writing, singing, dancing, painting, or sculpting their COVID-19 experience. When their regional competition was cancelled, high school chorus members from Chino Valley, Arizona turned “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” into a socially distant performance that’s now been seen around the world. The Ndlovu Youth Choir from South Africa, finalists on America’s Got Talent 2019, used their collective talents to create a song to help slow the spread of the virus in their country.
Contributing to Community Needs
Show your teens other examples of youth power around the world to inspire contributions of their own. Teens from such diverse countries as Switzerland, Kenya, Italy, Peru, China, Haiti, and Syria are meeting their communities’ needs during the health crisis for: accurate information, sanitation supplies, food, and hope . Locally, your teens could join efforts to sew facemasks for Anne Arundel Medical Center. Or they could ask their friends to help gather food and other household essentials to donate to Anne Arundel County Food and Resource Bank or any of the other local efforts to alleviate financial and other challenges for families at this time. Your teens can take the initiative to call religious organizations or non-profits they know of to see where help is needed.
Time to Talk
Acknowledge how hard this unprecedented situation is for your teens. Listen to their gripes and their worries. Sympathize with their losses. Talk about how the pandemic is affecting people they know, especially with regular updates if someone is ill or has had to make hard financial choices. Use news stories to share “adult” conversations with your children so they understand the serious risks inherent in a live meet-up. People who aren’t sick at all can easily be spreading corona virus germs through their selfish actions. If your teens regress to whining and protesting, repeat your messages of sympathy and suggest they can be leaders among their friends, helping them to stay home, too. If it comes up in an interview for college admission or a job some day, they’ll have a great answer for, “So how did you spend your lock down time in 2020?”
Help your teens see the importance of doing what’s best for everyone.