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Talking to Adolescents about Coronavirus (COVID-19)

March 31, 2020

Young adolescents may focus more on the loss of their social life.

by Mary Ann LoFrumento, MD, pediatrician

Young adolescents (ages 12-15) are going through an egocentric phase of development and the world seems to revolve around them. They may focus more on the loss of their social life and disappointments about parties, team sports, and canceled graduations. This is normal.

They are going through a lot of changes: physical, emotional and especially hormonal. Being adolescents, at this stage, they are pushing away from parents and depending more on their friends and outside activities such as sports and the arts to help them find their own identity. Not having access to these outlets, and spending a lot of time with their parents and siblings, can get very stressful. They also might not think they are susceptible to any problems with this virus, which can make restrictions even harder to manage.

Older adolescents (ages 15-19) are entering the stage of abstract thinking, but they are not quite there yet. They can understand an issue but still may see that problem in black and white terms. As they get older, they begin to think abstractly and can see things from multiple angles.

Tips for Adolescents
  • Get the facts straight. Make sure they have the facts right and refer them to reliable sources for information. Remind them that information from social media should be double checked.
  • Set rules of the household together. Enlist their opinions on rules and schedules and make sure they know it is their responsibility to get their work done for school. Try not to helicopter. Make sure they know what you expect. Respect their homeschool environment as you request them to respect yours. Give them household chores.
  • Routines still matter. The same way we keep routines the same for younger children, it is important for parents to keep the usual rules for teens in place during this time. It will make them feel secure and safe, even if they don’t let you know that.
  • Be straight about their role in containing COVID. This a great opportunity to discuss responsibility to your family and also to your community. Use facts with your teen about the risks involved in not practicing “social distancing” and not working to “flatten the curve.” Express that you trust them to do the right things and be a part of the team. Be up front that they too can get sick from this virus.
  • Enlist their help! Nothing conveys that they are part of the team more than empowering them to act on their ideas. Let them decide what they want to do and help them if they need it.
  • Be patient. Your teen may have a lot to say about all of this. This is an excellent time for listening without judgment. If you show respect for your adolescent's opinion and can discuss points without getting into a verbal confrontation, you will demonstrate to your teen that you respect and accept them as an individual.
  • Respect goes both ways. Even in extraordinary times, there are limits on the ways they should be allowed to express their opinion. They should also understand the consequences of their actions.

Read guidance for other ages and stages of development >