Tag Archives: COVID-19

How to Get Your Children to Wear a Mask

By Tracey Dowdy

By now, wearing a mask when we leave the house has become second nature for many of us. We know that wearing a mask is important and can help stop the spread of COVID-19 as it protects the vulnerable. And with the U.S. continuing to report record numbers of coronavirus casesdespite the vaccine rollout, we’ll all be wearing masks for the foreseeable future. 

While your older children have likely been wearing masks for nearly a year, little ones may be transitioning back to in-person learning and daycares that require one. For some children, this transition is easier than for others. If you’ve ever tried to keep mittens on a toddler or have your preschooler wear a hat for more than 30 seconds, you know what I mean. For children with anxiety, sensory differences, and autism, the challenge can be exponentially greater. They may be particularly sensitive to how the mask feels on their face, head, and ears, and some children may even feel panicked when forced to wear a mask. Some will resist just because “I don’t wanna.”

It may help if you involve the child in the choice of which mask to wear. They may not be interested in a plain blue, disposable mask, but one with Disney characters, superheroes, or a favorite sports team may make them more willing. Let them shop online with you, and choose the style of the mask carefully. Consider over the ears, around the head tie-straps, or even those that attach to a headband with buttons or snaps (check on Etsy). If the mask feels tight, invest in ear savers that put the pressure on the back of the head (like straps for glasses) instead of on the backs of the ears. Having a choice can be empowering and, “It allows them to feel like they have some ownership or control over the process,” says Allison Tappon, a child life specialist with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia — herself a mom of two young kids. 

Practice wearing the mask around the house, even for a few minutes at a time, so your child gets used to the feeling and experience. Modeling good behavior is a technique we all use with our children in other areas, and mask-wearing is no different. If you can find pictures of people they look up to – older cousins, celebrities, athletes – wearing masks, that may help normalize the experience for your child. Remember, “If you act as though the mask is an annoyance or a source of anxiety, your kid will notice. If instead, you emphasize that it’s a simple thing you can all do to help keep others safe, your kid will very likely adopt a similar attitude,” Tappon says.

As a parent, one of the best places to start is to show your child how you wear your mask. Watch for their reaction and comfort level – are they avoiding looking at you or seem upset? Are they acting out, or do they seem distressed? If so, try redirecting them as you would any other time they’re upset. You could also role-play with dolls or action figures and have them make masks for their toys or talk about how superheroes wear them. Explaining that we wear masks to protect others can make them feel like superheroes too. 

If your child is still struggling, try these steps: 

  • Let them touch and hold the mask and don’t forget to praise them for their efforts. “Don’t underestimate the power of positive reinforcement,” says Dr. James Lewis, a pediatrics professor at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall University and author of “Making Sense of ADHD.” Reward them with a little treat, create a star chart, or simply use your words to praise them. Small victories are big victories in these situations. 
  • Have them touch the mask to their face without putting it on. Make it a game by saying, “Touch your nose with the mask! Now touch your ears! Touch mommy’s nose with your mask!” and so on. Again, the goal is to take any anxiety out of mask-wearing, so keeping things light takes away some of the fear factor. 
  • Once they’re comfortable with steps one and two, have them put the mask on, even if it’s just for a few moments. Build up to wearing it for more extended periods. You can use a timer to make it more of a challenge-like game. As always, praise and reward positive results and be kind and compassionate if progress is slow. 
  • At this point, have them practice wearing their mask for more extended periods around the house. Have them wear it while they play with toys, a video game, or watch a movie.
  • Remember, they may need breaks, so be mindful of their emotional state and when they’ve had enough. Help them use their words or come up with a hand signal to indicate when they’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed. 

 Wearing a mask is hard even for many adults, so it’s no wonder it can be difficult for our children. As the parent, you know what works best for your child, so pick and choose what tips will work for them. If they have special needs, talk to your child’s therapists and healthcare providers for advice on how best to help them adjust. 

Licensed psychologists developed these tools at the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Set Your Child Up for Success in 2021

By Tracey Dowdy

By now, “2020 was a year like no other” may be the most overused phrase in recent history, becoming the written equivalent of saying “like” in every sentence. Millions of American children haven’t been in a classroom or on a playdate since last March, some have lost loved ones, had quarantine birthdays, learned to live with uncertainty and disappointment, and the knowledge they’ll be among the last to get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Still, they’ve shown resiliency and courage through it all. Our children have adapted to virtual schooling with varying degrees of success, submitted to wearing a mask better than some adults, and figured out creative ways to connect with family and friends via technology. 

With so many of the challenges of 2020 still lingering in 2021, here are some ways to help your kids charge into the new year with confidence, courage, and a cheerful heart. 

Lead by example. If you frequently complain about what a dumpster fire of a year this has been, your children will adopt that attitude as well. Be careful about projecting your struggles on to your kids, which is easier said than done at a time when parental burnout is at an all-time high. There’s no question whether or not we’ve all struggled but focus on the victories, not the losses. You don’t need to pretend everything’s okay – your children aren’t blind to what’s happening – but by teaching them to find the good in every situation, you’re not just helping them get through today; you’re setting them up to be leaders and culture changers whatever their future holds. 

Don’t stress over bad habits. I’ve heard so many parents lament the amount of screen time their kids are subjected to through virtual schooling or simply as a way to pass the time when playdates are out of the question. Others are concerned they’ll never get back on a schedule after sleeping till five minutes before their Zoom class starts or ever be able to hold a face to face conversation again. Julie Ross, executive director of Parenting Horizons and author of “Practical Parenting for the 21st Century,” says, “Many of the habits that children are developing now that their parents are ‘worried’ about are ones that serve them well in this bubble we’re living in. What concerns me, to tell you the truth, is that because parents are worried, they’re putting pressure on to their kids and not acknowledging how resourceful they are being.”

Instead, ask yourself whether your child is eating and sleeping well, getting some exercise, still spending time with family and whether they’re pretty much on top of their schoolwork. If the answer is yes to most – doesn’t have to be all – of these questions, don’t stress about what’s helping them cope now – like excess screen time. 

Offer concrete praise. While empty praise does little other than guarantee your child will one day be among the first round of contestants on a reality show they’ll later regret, recognition for actual accomplishments, big or small, is life-giving. Recognize when they push through a challenging class or assignment, finish their chores, or show kindness to a sibling. “Acknowledgement is specific, and acknowledgment is not overblown,” Ross says. 

Be intentional about downtime together. While many parents and children have spent more time together over the past 12 months than they ever have before, much of that time has been structured or in some way instructional. Claire Nicogossian, a clinical psychologist and author of “Mama, You Are Enough: How to Create Calm, Joy and Confidence Within the Chaos of Motherhood,” suggests taking stock of how much time you spent together throughout the day, then adding a few minutes for relaxing and reconnecting. “This is not to make you feel more guilty, but give you perspective. Often, we as parents spend so much time in the supporting roles of parenting, we lose out on the fun, quality-time moments.”

Finally, although self-care may seem as out of reach as getting back into your pre-quarantine jeans, find ways to take care of your mental health. You can’t pour from an empty bucket, so ignore the laundry so you can take a bath after the kids are in bed, treat yourself to an overpriced coffee on your grocery run, disconnect from social media, or go for a run before everyone is up. If you’re overwhelmed and can’t seem to catch your breath, reach out to friends and family, and ask for help. 

While we can’t make COVID go away and get things back to normal tomorrow, we can take steps to ensure we all get there eventually. Give your children and yourself grace. Remember, you’re your own worst critic – unless you have toddlers who are brutal and give savage performance reviews. I promise you’re doing a great job, sweetie. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

Cold, Flu, or COVID-19? A Parent’s Guide

By Tracey Dowdy

Fears of a ‘twindemic’ – flu season colliding with COVID-19 – have led health professionals to encourage families to get their flu shot this year. Even a mild flu season has the potential to overwhelm hospitals struggling to cope with the recent surge in Covid-19 cases. Though there are still unknowns, officials are concerned large numbers of people will skip their flu shot this year in anticipation of getting the COVID-19 vaccine, increasing the risk of mass flu outbreaks.

As parents, it can be difficult to discern among common childhood illnesses like allergies, a common cold, or tummy bug. Factor in the flu, and now, COVID-19, and determining why your child is sick can feel overwhelming. 

This guide can help you prepare for the upcoming flu season, know what to do if your child is exposed to a virus, and which symptoms are important to watch for. 

Plan Ahead. 

In the words of the once king of the pride lands, Scar, be prepared. Pandemic fatigue is a real thing. Many families are exhausted by the strain of parenting, homeschooling, working from home, and supporting extended family and friends, albeit from a distance. Couple this with the holiday season, and the temptation to let your guard down rises. As a family, have a conversation about the importance of sticking to the guidelines as best as you are able. Take some of the stress of the unknown out by determining your plan B – or C, or D – should you be called back to in-person work, your child care falls through, or virtual schooling is extended. Make sure to wear masks, use proper handwashing techniques, and practice social distancing whenever possible. 

Watch for unusual symptoms.

Dr. Eric Robinette, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio, says even doctors struggle to diagnose the different illnesses without testing. “It’s pretty much impossible, honestly, to tell the difference (between flu and COVID). Cough, runny nose, sore throat — those are all shared by both viruses, so without doing testing, it’s pretty hard to tell.” He recommends that if there’s any concern about which condition might affect your child – cold, flu, allergies, COVID-19 – it’s essential to keep them at home. The only significant difference between the flu and coronavirus is the loss of taste and smell. If your child has symptoms like fever, dry cough, or loss of senses, get them tested as soon as possible, though there’s no need to panic. 

Know when and where to be tested. 

Testing options and positive COVID-19 test results vary depending on where you live. If you’re unsure whether your child has the flu or coronavirus, it’s better to start with the COVID-19 test as it is the more restrictive of the two should your child test positive. Remember, coronavirus has a long incubation period, so some individuals may not start showing symptoms for up to 14 days. “If I test you five days after you’re exposed to somebody with COVID and you’re negative then, I can tell you you don’t have COVID right now, but I can’t tell you that you’re not going to have it tomorrow because you could be incubating the virus,” Robinette says. He recommends maintaining a two-week isolation period after the exposure, even if the patient remains asymptomatic. 

Record details of the illness. 

Though it may seem excessive, if your child tests positive, having relevant information like when the symptoms first appeared, places you’ve been, and who you may have exposed, will help with contact tracing and potentially reduce the number of others who will be exposed. It’s unnecessary to inform your contacts if you have the flu, though it’s entirely at your discretion, Robinette says. However, it’s still a good idea to quarantine, though the timeline may change depending on when your child started showing symptoms.

Family practice physician Dr. Kristin Dean says, “If the child becomes sick, that sort of resets the clock. Then we think about the timeline in a different way … and we start a 10-day clock for symptoms. …Ten days after the onset of symptoms, you have to be without a fever for at least 24 hours, and you have to be feeling better. Those are the criteria that we look for to confirm the end of illness.”

Be prepared. Again. 

Knowing that there’s the potential to be quarantined, it’s a good idea to stock up on basic remedies like children’s and adult acetaminophen, hydrating liquids like Pedialyte or Gatorade, and tissues. Do your best to keep the patient isolated from the rest of the family, wear a mask when you’re near them, wash your hands often, don’t touch your face, and sanitize anything that goes in or comes out of their room to limit the risk of the virus spreading to another family member. 

If in doubt or if your child’s symptoms seem to be worsening, seek medical attention immediately. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Self-Care for Parents – Back to School

By Tracey Dowdy

I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention, but 2020 has been a wild ride. It sometimes seems like we haven’t had time to catch our breath before the sky begins to fall again. Self-care has always been important, but perhaps never more so than in 2020. It’s also probably never felt more impossible. 

It’s why flight attendants tell you to put your mask on first in an airline emergency. You can’t take care of someone else if you’re gasping for breath. Yet, across the country, kids are going back to school on campus, and online, offices and workplaces are re-opening, and everyone is trying to find their new normal. How on earth is there time to care for oneself when you’re wearing so many hats? 

Coming out of quarantine, depression, anger, and confusion are all possible due to the loss of connection with others, making self-care even more critical. Implementing a few simple changes to your routine can clear your head, refresh your spirit, and equip to save the world once again. 

In the words of the great Gloria Estefan, get on your feet! The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of movement per week, which is just over 20 minutes a day. Have a dance party with your kids, grab a quick walk around the block or do some yoga before anyone else is up. YouTube and the Google Play and App store each have tons of free workouts if you need something more structured to get you moving. 

Not many things are better for your mental health than taking a break from social media. Simply putting down your phone and engaging in real-world conversation, making eye contact, and including physical touch boosts your serotonin levels. Create boundaries for when you are online and be sure to get your information from reputable sources like the CDC, WHO, and local health department.

Taking a few minutes a day to meditate or pray can help align your mind and put you in the right mindset to face the challenges of your day. If prayer and meditation aren’t your thing, read something inspirational, savor a cup of tea, do a breathing exercise, or unwind in a relaxing bath. All provide the same mood-boosting benefits. 

Despite the fact we’re all still social distancing, it’s never been more important to stay connected. Be intentional about creating virtual hangouts with your friends and play games, host a Netflix party or an online book club.  

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

COVID-19 Back to School Checklist

By Tracey Dowdy

The Spring semester played out much differently than most of us anticipated, and despite our hope to the contrary, things are still somewhat uncertain as we kick off the 2020-21 school year. If your school district is offering in-person learning, the prospect of sending your child into a classroom this Fall may be daunting. 

But, rest assured, there are steps you can take that coupled with the precautions being put in place by administrators and teachers, will ensure your child is as safe as possible. 

Don’t send your child to school sick.  While this may seem like an obvious statement, it’s not uncommon for parents to send sick kids to school. The CDC has a checklist for parents that includes which symptoms to look for before you make your decision. Michael LaSusa, superintendent of schools in Chatham, New Jersey says, “First and foremost, parents should not send any child who is symptomatic of illness to school. This means that parents should develop a routine for quickly checking their child for fever in the morning and also confirm that their child does not have a cough or any other sign of illness. If a child does have a fever, the parent should not give the child fever-reducing medication and send her/him off to school, but instead, be sure to keep the child home.”

Backpack backpack. While classroom management can be difficult under normal circumstances, this year will prove even more of a challenge. School districts across the country have asked parents to provide their own school supplies as children will not have access to communal supplies. If you or someone you know is struggling to provide supplies, follow this link for a list of resources in your area.

Sanitize and mask up. Depending on your child’s age and cognitive ability, the prospect of them keeping a mask on all day may make you laugh harder than any stand-up routine. Do your best to model appropriate mask-wearing and encourage your child to wear their mask if they’re going to be in close proximity to others, such as on the bus. If possible, send them to school with at least two in case one gets dirty or breaks – you know they’re going to play with them and it’s not a matter of if but of when they’re going to break. It’s a good idea to ease them into wearing one for extended periods of time if they aren’t in the habit,” LaSusa says. “Parents should gradually build up face-covering ‘endurance’ in their children by having them wear a face covering for longer and longer periods of time. If a child spends zero time during the day right now in a face covering, then that child will have a tough time spending four hours wearing one when September rolls around. We need to build up this endurance gradually.” 

One thing that most children can comprehend is the importance of clean hands, whether through hand washing or using hand sanitizer. Look for brands that are at least 60% or higher alcohol-based, which kills most types of bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

Maintain your safer-at-home protocols. Though it may seem excessive and like adding a greater burden on already struggling families, having your kids wash their hands and change out of school clothes as soon as they get home to keep your home as clean and safe as possible. “When children return from school they should immediately sanitize their hands,” advises board-certified pediatrician Dr. Candice W. Jones. “At the very least they should remove clothes/shoes and place them in the laundry or in a designated safe place for disinfecting. A shower would be great, but is not absolutely necessary.”

Stay positive.  Noreen Lazariuk, superintendent of the Sussex Charter School for Technology in Sparta, New Jersey says, “My advice is to stay positive. As parents, you are constantly teaching your children. Your example is one they are exposed to more than any classroom or teacher. If your children hear you speaking optimistically about the school year they will adopt that attitude.”

LaSusa adds, “I think we all need to maintain a sense of flexibility and patience, and also recognize that students are going to need some time to reacclimate to school, especially when the adults in their school are wearing masks and the whole environment looks different. We need to adjust the expectations we have for children and meet them where they are, not where we think they ‘should’ be.”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Resources for Home and Virtual Schooling

By Tracey Dowdy

Many parents, perhaps unwillingly adding “Homeschooling Teacher” to their resume, are scrambling for resources so our children can learn more this Fall than “Mom hides her ‘sanity chocolate’ in an empty bag of frozen peas.

These resources will become your go-to as you support your student and help them navigate everything from the parts of speech to solving a math problem using Common Core math. 

Khan Academy will show up in every search you do for “homeschooling resources” or “homework” help. The site is curated by experts and one of the most comprehensive learning resources available – and it’s free! Content covers everything from K-12 and some college prep. Their primary focus is on math and science. 

BrainPOP takes a fun approach to learning. They cover a broad spectrum of subjects using kid-friendly videos, written content, quizzes, and games. Kids can even make their own movies by compiling images, animations, and other elements. BrainPOP is offering schools free access while closed, so you might be able to access through your school district. Home users get a free month trial. After that, it’s $25 per month. 

Beanstalk is offering online classes in art, science, and more for preschoolers up to age 6 for free during the COVID-19 crisis. Their teachers are handpicked early childhood development experts, and there are countless classes to choose from.  

Scholastic Learn at Home digs into Scholastic’s extensive library to create engaging educational information to supplement online learning. Though not as academic as other resources on this list, each day has dedicated selections for PreK/Kindergarten, Grades 1-2, Grades 3-5, and Grades 6-9. Kids will love learning how emojis are designed, whether esports should be considered a sport, and how zoos are evolving with the times.

Even if you know all the tricks to write a paper in APA format or how to do long division, teaching French, Spanish, or any other foreign language may be outside your purview. That’s where Duolingo and Rosetta Stone come in. Depending on the language and how intensive the lessons need to be (and your budget), both programs offer easy to follow tutorials and coaching to help build your student’s skills. (Duolingo – Free; Rosetta Stone – plans start at $6.99/month) 

For a comprehensive list of online learning support and resources, the team over at staff at NewSchools Venture Fund, a philanthropic nonprofit organization, has developed a list of online learning resources with over 40 options across educational content and curricula, teaching tools and guides.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Take the Stress Out of Virtual Schooling

By Tracey Dowdy

As summer draws to close and more school districts are opting for online over in-person learning for the Fall, parents once again face the challenge of virtual homeschooling. As last Spring’s school closure taught us, finding a balance between work, home, and school to make distance learning work for your family requires patience and flexibility. The juggling act becomes even more challenging if one or both parents work outside the home. 

So as we head into the 2020-2021 school year, keep these principles in mind as you prepare your family for their new normal. 

Take a minute for yourself before you start your day. As Dr. Robert Puff says, “The first word in “alarm clock” says it all.” Instead of rushing headlong into the day, set aside a few minutes for self-care before you tackle caring for everyone else. Read something inspirational, pray or meditate, savor that first cup of tea or coffee of the day, and determine that no matter what the day brings, tomorrow is a fresh start. 

A second key is to plan your child’s learning schedule around your work schedule. It may seem obvious – and sometimes not feasible – but whenever possible, try to keep your schedule flexible for times they will most need your attention and schedule your work calls or tasks around their independent reading or subjects that are less demanding for your child. No one accomplishes much with constant interruptions, and both of you will end up frustrated and annoyed.

Give clear instructions. Whether it’s a clearly defined list of tasks or a detailed schedule of their day, most children will need structure to stay on task and accomplish their goals. Let your child know you’ll be checking to see if their work is complete to determine if they are hitting their milestones. 

Be rigidly flexible. Most children thrive on structure to move through their day yet others struggle to stay on task for long periods. Work with your child’s teacher to understand how they supported your child during in-class instruction and adapt those principles to at-home learning. Even the most academically gifted students will struggle with an assignment from time to time, so be flexible about when the task has to be completed. We all benefit from taking a break throughout the day, so consider whether this is a task best tackled later in the day when you both have the freedom to work on it with fresh eyes and a better mindset. 

Take advantage of teacher and peer support. Just because they aren’t face to face doesn’t mean your child’s teacher isn’t equally invested in your child’s success. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your child’s school for suggestions on tutoring, discussion boards, and a myriad of other resources. Be patient – remember that 100% online instruction is probably new for your child’s teacher, and they are doing their best to give your child the support they need. Just like you’re juggling your work/life balance, so too is your child’s teacher. A little kindness goes a long way these days. 

Parents, remember to be kind to yourself. These are uncertain times with demands on your family beyond what any of us could have anticipated. Everyone is struggling to some extent, and comparing how your family is coping against what you see online – especially on social media – is a shortcut to frustration for both you and your children. This is only a season, and like all seasons, it will pass. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Best Masks for Exercising

By Tracey Dowdy

While some still debate the efficacy of wearing masks, the fact remains that we are required to wear them in retail stores, offices, hospitals, and other public venues, and will be for the foreseeable future. 

As the states move through phases of opening, some gyms are beginning to re-open. As challenging as it can feel to wear a mask under normal conditions, working out while wearing a face-covering may seem out of the question, especially when health authorities don’t agree on best practices. The CDC recommends “that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” On the other hand, the World Health Organization disagrees, saying that wearing a mask while exercising is not a good idea because it can make it difficult to breathe, primarily because the face-covering gets wet from sweat and deep breathing can cause viral particles to accumulate on the outside of the mask. 

What’s a fitness-focused fella to do? Frankly, For your safety and the safety of others, it’s better to be safe than sorry and wear a mask indoors when exercising around people you don’t know. If you’re unable to wear a mask for medical or mental health reasons, it’s best to exercise at home or outdoors.

The good news is that companies like Under Armor and Adidas have developed masks specifically designed for working out. When choosing, you need to consider three things: fit, fabric, and antimicrobial properties. 

  • Fit – A properly fitted mask is your first line of defense. Remember, if you’re wearing an ill-fitting mask to work out, there’s a good chance it will move around, and you’ll have to stop to fix it, likely touching your face, something that should be avoided at all cost. Choose a mask that comfortably covers your mouth and nose with stretchy straps that loop around your ears as these tend to fit more snugly that the style that ties behind your head. 
  • Fabric – A cotton mask is great for a quick grocery store run or to pick up take out, but cotton soaks up moisture so your mask will become damp very quickly if you’re wearing it to work out. This can make it harder to breathe and can potentially promote bacterial growth. A better choice is a mask made of the same moisture-resistant fabric ou work out in like lycra or spandex. 
  • As I mentioned, sweat and moisture can be a breeding ground for bacteria, so choose a mask with a filter or antimicrobial coating if possible. While the filter or coating may not be 100% effective in killing a virus particle, the extra protection is still a good idea. 

Use these guidelines to choose a mask that offers a balance of comfort and protection for your indoor workout. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Getting Teens to Take Coronavirus Seriously

Many of us have accepted that summer 2020 will look a lot different from summer’s past. While no one is happy about that – ask Blake Mac Lennan – perhaps no group is more let down than our teenagers and college students. Summer is party season, and with COVID-19 restrictions in place around the country, finding ways to socialize in person safely has been met with varying degrees of compliance. 

Officials in Alabama warned of “COVID-19 parties”, where students who have tested positive for the virus are invited to infect others intentionally. While it may seem hard to comprehend why they’re so dismissive of the risks and potentially deadly consequences, Cameron Caswell (Dr. Cam) notes that most adolescents see themselves as invincible with limited ability to comprehend long-term effects. “They see bad things happen to other people, but never think those bad things could happen to them. So, no matter how many people get sick, it’s difficult for them to comprehend that they could get sick. And, even if they did, what would it matter? They’re young and healthy, so they’re not going to die from it, right?”

National Academy of Sciences psychologist and executive director of the Center for Scholars and Storytellers at UCLA Yalda T. Uhls, Ph.D. says, “Teens and college-aged kids live in the moment and are still developing self-regulation skills,” Uhls explained. “Their brains are still developing and their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps them think ahead, is not fully developed. They respond to risk and reward differently than adults and children, making them more likely to believe the risks don’t apply to them.”

So what’s a parent to do? How do we effectively communicate the gravity of the situation without causing them unnecessary distress? 

Start with a simple conversation to understand where they’re coming from. With social media being their go-to source for information, there’s a good chance, some of what they believe to be true isn’t. Before you address the behavior, you need to understand their beliefs. Use what they’ve heard on social media like the COVID party stories in the news as a teaching tool, but don’t be heavy-handed and use it as a scare tactic. Uhls cautions Don’t overdo the fear, or they will discount your caution, but be matter of fact and honest.” Remember, tone is everything. Young adults need to feel heard and validated – a lecture is far less effective than a conversation. 

Offer perspective. Teens and young adults tend to be the center of their universe, so it’s important to help them understand the big picture. Remind them, “This isn’t all about you.” The virus crosses age, gender, ethnicity, and every other boundary known and unknown. While young adults may not be high risk, grandparents, infants, and immunocompromised people depend on us to do our part and protect them. Wear a mask over your mouth and nose, wash your hands, and don’t touch your face. Make it your family mantra.  

One of the most effective tools in parenting is to model the behavior you want to see. The old cliche “Actions speak louder than words,” rings true. Your children are unlikely to follow the guidelines and protocols if they see you dismiss or disregard them yourself. 

Finally, don’t give up. Pediatrician Dr. Hela Barhoush says, “Conversations about coronavirus should be had at least once a week in every home, and these discussions should be kept simple, direct and reassuring. You want this information to come from you and not from outside sources where you can’t control what information is being fed them.” Wearing masks, washing our hands, and social distancing has become the new normal.