By JENNA KRUSE, LCSW
ADVICE FROM YOUTHFIRST
Being a parent of a teenager is difficult enough; now, let’s add a pandemic. After being stuck at home for several months, teens are ready – now more than ever – to get back to school, their friends and 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 your top priorities right now, but understand these 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. Try having a clear list of the rules you expect from them 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 unfairness heavily. It feels unfair that it happened; that it is still happening; and that, even though they’re not the age most at risk, things cannot return to “normal.” By validating your teenager’s feelings, you grant them the opportunity to be open and expressive in their feelings. Try phrases such as: “You are right, this is unfair. I feel that too, but it’s important that we do what we can to keep others safe.” Validating a student’s feelings at any point in time will make them more accepting of whatever you say next.
Your student may feel frustrated that they have restrictions but have not been directly affected by this virus. Help teens make the connection by sharing the 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 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 their friends, try tying independence to compliance with safety measures. Share with your student that, the more they are willing to take safety precautions seriously, the more freedom they will have to spend time with friends. Make safety fun by practicing what talking to a friend from six feet apart looks like, allowing them to pick out a cool mask in which they can express themselves, and sitting down with your student 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’, but they are still the rules they must follow.
During these trying times, it is important to remind your teen (and yourself!) that 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 helps determine what will happen next.
Kruse is the full-time Youth First social worker at Evansville’s Holy Rosary School.