Supporting your teen to stay safe during COVID-19
We’re in uncertain and challenging times because of COVID-19. Parents are making significant decisions to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their children in a rapidly changing environment.
Shifting away from established routines and adapting to a new way of life has been stressful for parents. For parents with teens, there is the added challenge of knowing how to respond to their children’s continued desire to socialise with their friends in person, just like they’ve always done.
We have put together some tips below to support you with this challenge.
1. Look after your wellbeing
The best thing you can do for your teenager, and something you have control over, is to make sure you are taking care of yourself. Worrying about the current situation and living with uncertainty can cause feelings of stress, which will impact your capacity as a parent. Managing your stress will put you in a much better position to be present for and support your teen. Think about how you can look after your mental wellbeing.
2. Be aware of your reactions
Check-in with yourself about how you are feeling before entering conversations with your teen. Heightened stress and worry can make it harder to tune in to your teen's thoughts, feelings and needs. Stress is contagious, meaning it can lead to increased conflict in communication. Modelling calmness will support more positive communication with your teen and also support them with their feelings.
3. Be a role-model
Check you are modelling what you expect of your teen. Talk about why you are practicing physical distancing. You could say, for example, “It’s hard not seeing my friends, I miss them, but it's important to follow the experts’ advice to support the safety of ourselves and others.”
Verbalising what managing feelings and self-care looks like is also effective. For example, say something like, “I’m going to sit outside with a cup of tea as I’m starting to feel a little agitated,” or, “I notice I have a short fuse right now, I’m going to go and do some deep breathing.”
4. Listen and acknowledge their feelings….and don’t take it personally
Nothing like COVID-19 has happened in any of our lifetimes and your teen is likely to be experiencing a range of emotions. If your teen expresses their feelings, resist the urge to try and fix them, minimise their feelings or what is happening, or reassure them everything is okay. Instead, go to your teen, listen to them and let them know you get it. This will validate that what they are feeling is understandable and makes sense, which should provide them with some comfort.
Friends and a sense of belonging in adolescence is highly important, so being told to physically distance from friends is counter-intuitive and can cause them to feel stressed. Understand their frustration over being asked to not see friends. Remember, they are missing out on multiple things, some of which they won’t get the chance to experience again, which isn’t easy to accept.
5. Communicate…and know the facts
Explain the reason you want your teen to practice physical (social) distancing, linking it to the safety of both themselves, your family and the broader community. Be honest, communicating in a way your teen can understand and handle emotionally.
There’s a lot of information out there, so be curious about what your teen knows or has heard, and ensure that it is based on a reliable source. Correct any incorrect information they may have heard or read, remembering it’s okay to let your teen know if you don’t know the answer.
If your teen sees other children their age living by less restrictive social distancing measures, you can say something like, “I know other teens may be out, but we can’t support that choice because it doesn’t fit with what health experts are recommending for people to keep safe.”
6. Remember their developmental needs and support them to problem solve
The prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until around the age of 25 which leaves many teens unlikely to consider consequences like an adult. They are dealing with strong impulses to be social and in the moment and are still developing self-control. Adolescence also brings a developmental need to seek increased independence and autonomy – increased time at home with parents can feel the opposite of this to them.
Offer as much independence at home as developmentally appropriate, giving them an amount of freedom. For many teens, removing their choice can set-up conflict and rebellion, so rather than telling or instructing, ask them questions and give them choices. You can say things like, “We’re all having to find new ways to keep in touch with people. Given the importance of physical distancing, how are you planning on connecting with friends?” or, “I get that physical distancing feels tricky, how can we help you to connect with your friends safely?”
Try to be flexible about ways to help them feel connected to people and events they are missing. Encourage them to stay connected to their friends virtually, rather than going out, reminding them they are helping support people's safety. Whatever happens, try to avoid punishing your teen by taking away their devices, as this might make them feel isolated and increase their desire to meet up with friends.
7. See opportunity and remind them of their strengths
Use the opportunity of more time at home together to enhance your relationship with your teen. Think about ways to connect with them, as strengthening your bond can help you have more influence in their life. Encourage their strengths and interests at home to support them through this time.
If you would like some one-on-one support with a challenge you are experiencing while parenting your teen try our One-on-One Support.
Additional Useful links
This story was written and provided by Afra Durance, Child and Family Practitioner at The Benevolent Society. Afra coaches parents through The ReachOut Parents One-to-One Support Program, delivered by ReachOut Australia and The Benevolent Society. Find out more about this partnership here.