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During this uncertain time, what’s shaping your teenager’s views and actions? Here’s how to help your kid through the COVID-19 pandemic.

By: Dr. Sergio Buzzini, adolescent medicine specialist, and Dr. Monika Parikh, pediatric psychologist

When it comes to social distancing, the good news is, your teenager is probably already adept at using tools that will help them feel connected to others during this time of physical isolation.

In fact, chances are they’re using their knowledge of platforms ranging from Instagram to Discord (a gaming-centered virtual conversation hub) to keep in nearly constant contact with their friends.

But that doesn’t mean those communications are any healthier than they are during “normal” times.

And what if your teen is rejecting social distancing, taking a cue from recent news stories and social media posts that showed college students gathering at beaches to celebrate spring break?

Risk and the teenage brain

If you’re struggling to convince your teen that social distancing is important during the COVID-19 pandemic, keep in mind that while we’re facing extraordinary circumstances, teenage brains haven’t changed. Your teen’s views on social distancing are processed by a brain that’s still developing its prefrontal cortex, which governs the consideration of consequences.

This lack of development, which isn’t complete until we’re in our mid- to late-20s, is why teenagers tend to be impulsive and feel invincible.

Keeping that in mind can help us understand our teens’ frustration with being isolated at home. Especially when statistics show that young people usually recover from COVID-19 without serious problems.

What can you do to help your kid deal with COVID-19?

Most importantly, arm yourself with information about the spread of COVID-19 and how the novel coronavirus can impact vulnerable populations. You can find a wealth of accurate, up-to-date information on our coronavirus resource center.

Once you’re informed, remind your teen that they aren’t just protecting themselves by staying home. They’re protecting their grandparents, their older neighbors, their teacher who recently underwent chemotherapy — the list goes on.

Teenagers might lack self-preservation instincts, but they can develop and practice empathy.

Social distancing and social media

As we all work on social distancing, it’s also important to keep monitoring your teenager’s social media communications, just like you probably always do. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is already a stressful time. You might want to ask your teen:

  • Do you feel like your friends are posting accurate, or idealized, representations of life at their homes?
  • What rumors are you hearing about COVID-19, school closings or future activities?
  • Are there creative or productive ways you can connect — like by holding a virtual concert or playing a board game together over Facetime or Zoom?

As social media becomes the primary means of communication for the time being, it’s more important than ever to help your teenager keep their online interactions are as healthy as possible.

Have sympathy for missed milestones

Finally, while missing school might seem like a dream come true, there’s a good chance your teenager is also missing activities they enjoy and maybe even milestones, like proms, sports and graduations.

Those things might not seem important when lives are at stake. But from your teen’s perspective, these are life events that might not be repeated. Show them sympathy and let them know you understand.

And remember, your teenager is still forming their identity. This is a crucial time in their social development, and it’s being interrupted by forces beyond their control. We can’t change those circumstances, but, as adults, we have a responsibility to see the world from their perspective, too, and to make informed, thoughtful parenting that protects their mental health as big a priority as maintaining their physical safety.

Next steps:

Visit our coronavirus resource center for the latest updates
Read our coronavirus FAQs
 Coronavirus and COVID-19: Learn the difference.

The power of social distancing
Young teen girl using her smartphone at home.

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