Talking to your teens during a pandemic

Talking with teens about any serious subject has the potential to be an emotional land mine under any circumstances, but it can feel nearly impossible in the midst of a global pandemic. The most important thing mothers need to know about this conversation is that their teenagers tend to take their emotional cues from their parents even if they don’t show it, so it’s essential to retain a calm attitude and demeanor. Keep in mind that everyone’s experience during the CIVID-19 age is going to be different, and your teen’s emotions are probably a revolving combination of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. Many teens feel as if the pandemic has compromised their futures, at least in the short term, so a certain degree of anger and frustration may be part of the mix as well. Children of all ages are likely to have been exposed to misinformation concerning COVID, but teenagers may be more vulnerable to this because they usually have a larger peer base than their younger counterparts they’re generally allowed more unsupervised contact with their friends. Rumors about the virus are spreading like wildfire, and teenagers aren’t immune to hearing them. 

Another essential element in talking with your teen about COVID is that it’s not a one-and-done discussion — there’s so much about pandemic to absorb, and it seems that new information is coming to light every day, and the nonstop news cycle ensures that no one is left out of the loop. This can lead to information overload and fuel feelings of helplessness and fear. You’ll likely be having daily conversations about the virus.

Get Informed

The first step in developing a rational, productive ongoing conversation with your teen about COVID is to become as informed as possible. Look to scientific sources rather than the conspiracy theories that are being passed around on social media and by word of mouth. Remember that being informed about the virus helps convey a sense of assurance — teenagers may not show it, but they need the adults in their lives to have a firm hand on the helm of the family ship. If you come across as uninformed, you may be contributing to your teen’s anxiety over the virus.  By the same token, be sure to emphasize that information on this virus is still in the discovery process and that things may change as more scientific evidence comes to light. It’s okay to admit you don’t know everything there is to know about any given situation, but in the case of something as serious as a global pandemic, it’s essential to communicate that you’re committed to staying on top of the latest findings from the medical community. 

Ask Them What They’ve Heard About the Virus

Asking your teen what they’ve heard about COVID is a good way to get the conversation going, and it also provides you with the opportunity to determine the extent they’ve been exposed to questionable information that requires your clarification. The initial conversation should occur at a time and place where your teen tends to feel most comfortable. For some, that may be the family dinner table, while others are more receptive during a drive or a walk around a neighborhood park. Once you’ve determined their level of knowledge and comprehension about the COVID situation, you can take it from there. Rumors and misconceptions about COVID are originating every day and travel quickly through internet channels. 

Start With the Facts

Many teens already know the basic facts about COVID, but it can’t hurt to go over them just to make sure your teen doesn’t have any misconceptions or inflated fears. It’s perfectly all right to express concern during this part of the discussion, but try to keep it as fact-based as possible — it’ll be more productive to address their fears after your teen has the facts. Their fears will likely not be the same as yours, however. For instance, your greatest worry at this point may be keeping food on the family table and a roof over everyone’s head if the pandemic has negatively impacted your income, but your teen may be more concerned about lost or damaged relationships with those in their peer group, including boyfriends and girlfriends, loss of opportunities to participate in sports, and loss of scholastic opportunities — they may, for instance, be concerned that they’ll get so far behind in their studies that they won’t be able to graduate from high school on the expected timeline, and older teens may be worried that they won’t be able to attend college in the fall. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge it if you don’t have the answers to their questions and concerns, but you should make it clear that you’re willing to be proactive about finding those answers.                                                                                                           

Let Them Ask the Questions

The next step is to listen and respond to any questions your teen may have about the virus. Letting them ask the questions provides you with insight into their main fears at this time. Be sure to answer the questions as thoroughly and as truthfully as possible, and if something comes up that you don’t know the answer to, make a commitment to investigate further and, if possible, allow your teen to be an active participant in the research process. More questions will undoubtedly arise as the pandemic progresses. Also, there will likely be times when your teen simply needs to talk out feelings as a way of processing them.  

Acknowledge That It’s Difficult for Them

Although it may be tempting to minimize the challenges your teen is having with this unique, troubling, and uncertain times, doing so simply sends the message to your teen that his or her worries don’t carry the same weight as the concerns of adults.  If you’re like most mothers, you wish you had the ability to simply wave a magic wand and make the world right for your kids, and watching them suffer without being able to do anything about it is both painful and frustrating — and this may cause you to make light of their specific worries. Even though it may feel to you as if their cares and concerns are trivial compared to those shared by the majority of adults, try to avoid giving your teens the impression that their concerns really don’t matter

Let Them Know What’s Expected of Them

The rules of your household have undoubtedly changed significantly since COVID-19 became a part of the picture. If you’re like most families, you’re severely limited the number of visitors allowed to come to your home, and perhaps you’ve even decided not to allow anyone in your house who doesn’t live there. As you undoubtedly already know, most teenagers are very social beings, and it’s undoubtedly difficult for them to go without the kind of social interaction with their peers that they are used to having. This is where you’ll have to walk a fine line between keeping screen time at reasonable levels and allowing your teen access to one of the few safe social outlets available to them. You probably already know that an overabundance of screen time isn’t good for anyone, but it can be a challenge during a global pandemic to come up with alternatives. 

Besides limiting or completely disallowing outside visitors, other house rules affecting your teen may include responsibility for the care of younger siblings if you work outside the home and lost your childcare due to the pandemic. If you’re among those currently working at home, your teen may have to take on additional household responsibilities, but this may actually help your teen weather this particular storm. Teens often resent being treated like children, and they may surprise you when you delegate responsibilities to them. Many teens thrive when they feel as if they’re an important part of keeping the family functioning during difficult times, and playing an integral role in the family will help keep pandemic related fear at bay.

As you already know, parenting is an ongoing process that never follows a linear path. You probably also know that dealing with the pandemic is likely to be an ongoing process as well. As medical science continues to discover more information about the virus, families will adjust their coping strategies to reflect the latest findings. Keeping lines of communication open ensures that all family members are up to date concerning all aspects of COVID-19.

By the same token, it’s essential to avoid allowing the pandemic to completely take over your lives. Find ways to relax and have fun as a family, plan for the future, and find ways to remind yourself and your family every day that there will come a time when the pandemic is in the past. 

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