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How to Help Teens Resist the Urge to Blow Past COVID-19 Guidelines

May 14, 2020

While parents often feel like broken records, constantly repeating safety reminders and directions on an endless loop, pandemic parents of teenagers need to be prepared to keep that theme moving as the world starts to reopen around us and the kids want out.

“We, as adults, know to go slow and keep boundaries and physical distance. Teens, on the other hand, tend to come from an all-or-nothing world view and feel invincible to any consequences,” said Dr. Laura Saunders, clinical coordinator of Young Adult Services – The Right Track/LGBTQ Specialty Track at the Institute of Living, part of the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network.

After two months spent largely inside their homes – physically away from friends, teachers, extended families and neighbors – teens might not recognize or respect the importance of the societal directive to continue practicing social distancing as a key source of protection against COVID-19. They have attended classes and submitted school assignments online, missed their proms and seen their sports seasons and even skate parks closed to them. Dr. Saunders said after such a profound sense of loss, teens just want to return to what they consider normal. Part of that is being free to be outside of the house, laughing and having fun with their friends.

“As the weather gets nicer, the urge to gather in large groups will be tempting,” she said, referring to the state order that gatherings be kept small.

The urge to protect our children may leave some parents wanting to keep teens barricaded indoors until the danger of infection passes, which is largely unrealistic. But Dr. Saunders suggested taking a forward, proactive approach.

“Parents should have direct conversations and remind our teens why we need to physically distance ourselves from others,” Dr. Saunders said, adding that this factual, frank tack might help keep teens from organizing or attending large summer bashes or going en masse to the beach.

Teens, especially those graduating from high school, naturally want to be more independent from their families and spent time with their friends. It’s actually, she said, “generally healthy and developmentally appropriate” behavior. This summer, many will want to make up for the rites of passages they might have missed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Encourage them to see their friends, but to do so responsibly and safely,” Dr. Saunders said. “Groups should be small and there should be physical distance at all times between people.”

The biggest mistake parents can make, she said, is clamping down too tightly on teens.

“If parents become too rigid, it will increase resistance and defiance from their teens,” she said. “The best guideline is to validate the teen’s frustration of not being able to connect in groups, reinforce the reasons behind our need to keep social distancing and allow teens to get creative on ways to socially connect.”

Ideas can include Netflix watch parties, coordinating online theme parties, online game playing, engaging in sports like tennis that require only a few people at a time, TikTok challenges or outdoor scavenger hunts.

The Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network is now scheduling virtual-health visits for mental health and addiction services. Call your provider for details. New patients can schedule a virtual visit by calling 1.888.984.2408.

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