Nobody knows exactly how or when our children will be back in the classroom or what safety measures schools will take to limit the transmission of COVID-19. What we do know is that when in-person school resumes, every aspect of the school day will probably be affected. The key things to model for kids of all ages? Calmness, flexibility, and a willingness to take the necessary steps to keep everyone safe.

The latest research suggests that teenagers are as likely as adults to transmit the virus to others, while brain science tells us that their ability to weigh consequences is still maturing. So you and your teenager may not have the same ideas about what risky behavior looks like. Plus, teens have an essential, developmental need to connect with their peers. If this sounds like an impossible paradox, that’s because it is. The key thing to remember is to foster an environment of mutual respect and regard by listening to your teenager and spending time together. (As if you had a choice!) That will make it easier to have productive conversations about what makes the most sense for your family. And remember that even when it seems like your teen is tuning you out, they’re listening and taking cues from you about how to handle this crazy new normal.

Take this thing off!

Rules at school will vary, but in general it’s good practice to wash or sanitize your hands before you remove your mask, place it into a designated paper or plastic bag while you’re not wearing it, and wash your hands again after removing it. Before masking up again—you guessed it—wash your hands!

Dating! Kissing! Sex!

Teenage sexuality was already complicated—and was before holding hands (much less kissing) could be a major health risk. How you respond to this moment will likely be a very personal one, based on a number of factors including your child’s stage of development, whether or not they already have a boyfriend or girlfriend, and your family’s values. Whatever the case, your child will no doubt appreciate your effort to see the issues from their perspective as well as your own (or the county health department’s.) You may not think, for instance, that your child’s boyfriend is part of your natural germ circle. Your teen may disagree vehemently. There is no right answer here, but it’s valuable to keep in mind how essential peer relationships are to teen development and look for ways to help your child have safe social connections to other teens. This might mean choosing to pod with your teen’s sweetheart’s family, if their relationship is that serious and stable.

Large group gatherings should be off the table

Teens want to hang out together in groups, but this is likely one of the most dangerous behaviors your child can engage in. Especially if the gathering takes place indoors or without masks, it puts the whole family at risk. Depending on your parenting style, you might choose different ways of enforcing this. You could communicate any signs that your child is going to parties will result in serious consequences, such as losing access to their phone. The problem with the zero excuses approach is that it can backfire and erode your relationship with your child.

Helping them understand the natural consequences of big gatherings is an important first step. If they read some stories about how large gatherings of young people have turned into outbreaks and how the participants have regretted their actions, they may be able to see your perspective. Even with the stakes so high, it remains important to empathize with your teen. This is a tough time to be a young person! One possibility is to collaborate on how to solve the problem. Can you speak to the parents of your teen’s friends to get on the same page and provide a united front? Is there a family or two your family could pod with? Ask your child what they would do in your position. Then work on solutions together.

Vaping and smoking puts your child at risk

Vaping or smoking have never been healthy habits but now researchers worry that they’re especially dangerous given the fact that they damage the lungs and potentially put smokers at greater risk for Covid-19 complications. Need a simple argument to help your child begin to kick the habit? This article is designed to start that conversation.

Looking for the silver linings

Children of all ages around the world are experiencing the stresses and uncertainties of the pandemic. And we as their parents are feeling the pain of every virtual birthday party, missed playdate and lonely day of less to do. In the midst of this stress and sadness, it’s worth remembering that young humans are supremely adaptive: they are creatures of change and creativity and make-do-with-what-you-have.

In this moment many kids are discovering treasure that will last their whole lives. They’re learning that they have reservoirs of resilience, siblings they love, abilities to learn new things they never thought they could learn. One teen starts a journal. Another child creates a basket of goodies for the delivery people. A middle schooler gets to spend some quality time with his typically overworked father. Children are adapting to the world as it is, not as we have hoped it would be for them. And in this, they are better suited to the moment than we are. So as you move into this fall with all of its unknowns, notice the small wins your child is no doubt experiencing and celebrate them. Because those will be the learning moments that stick.

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Updated: August 17, 2020