Making sure that teens stay away from their friends during the COVID-19 pandemic is not always easy — for reasons that are not really their fault. They are in absolutely the worst developmental stage for this, because
- They are naturally and appropriately seeking independence, which often includes defiance.
- The frontal lobe of the brain is still developing, which means that skills like impulse control, delayed gratification, and realizing the consequences of actions are not fully in place.
- They are very reliant on, and influenced by, their social networks.
So just telling a teen to stay inside and away from friends isn’t always as easy as it seems. But during this pandemic, hanging out with friends can literally put lives at risk.
How to handle pushback from teens and encourage social distancing
Here’s what parents should do if they get pushback from their teens about staying home:
- Make sure that they are educated about the problem. Point them to good sources, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC explains a wide range of information, including how to slow the spread of COVID-19. Help them understand that the only way social distancing works is if everyone does it. Point out that while young people don’t seem to get as sick from the virus, there’s no guarantee of that — and people with mild illness, or illness without symptoms, can spread it to others.
- If they don’t want to listen to you, engage others they might be more likely to listen to — like their doctor, or another adult they trust.
- Help them think through other ways they can connect with friends without seeing them in person. There are lots of ways to use tech to do this.
- Help them think about other ways to pass their time — and help make those things possible. Maybe there is a privilege they can earn, or some other way to make it worth their while.
- Acknowledge that this is hard for their mental health. Talk about ways to manage this.
- Set a good example — don’t do any socializing yourself!
- Reach out to the parents of their friends, to be sure that everyone is on the same page.
- Set rules — and enforce them. If your teen goes out, there should be a consequence. Ultimately, this is part of a parent’s job.
If none of this works, reach out for help. Parenting takes a village sometimes, particularly in desperate times like these. Your child’s doctor may be able to help you figure out next steps.
Follow me on Twitter @drClaire
For more information on coronavirus and COVID-19, please see Harvard Health Publishing’s Coronavirus Resource Center and podcasts.