Helping Teens Make Healthy Choices During the Pandemic

The stereotype surrounding teens and risky behavior is one that, in this case, is well-founded.  Teens often don’t consider the consequences of their actions, even when they are well-informed about the risks.  Or if they do consider the possible negative outcomes, somehow those consequences don’t get factored in to their decision making.

This trouble with incorporating risk into their choices, coupled with the strong drive that adolescents have to connect with their peers, makes navigating this pandemic an especially fraught time for this age group.  It can be incredibly tempting for them to disregard the precautions of social distancing in order to stay close with their friends.  Further, they are likely to be well aware of the news reports that suggest that their age group is likely to be at lower risk for serious consequences if they are exposed to Covid19.   

Here are four strategies for helping teens to navigate this new landscape of needing to maintain safety precautions to help prevent the community spread of Covid19:

  1. Talk with them in advance. Talk with your teens about how to handle situations that they may encounter where they know that they should be more cautious (e.g. should keep their mask on), but others around them are making different choices.  If they have something already primed to say or do when facing this type of challenge, they may be more able to access that strategy when the time comes.  
  2. Teach them to check in with themselves.  Teens can be coached to do a “gut check” with regard to any decision making about risk that they may have to do.  Often times they “know” when something isn’t a good idea, even though they may have a difficult time accessing and/or acting on that knowledge.  Helping them to tune in to what their body may be telling them (as opposed to focusing on potential embarrassment for being the only one wearing a mask, for example), may help them to make better decisions for themselves.  
  3. Strategize about how they can maintain healthy connections.  Teens are better equipped than some age groups to utilize digital methods to stay engaged with their friends.  Consider allowing more leeway than you might normally with regard to their use of social media during this time.  In addition, help them to identify peers and activities that are likely to be safer (e.g. friends who will follow the rules, social plans that are outside) if they are going to socialize in person.  
  4. Help them to channel their energy.  Teens often have very strong desires to DO SOMETHING.  Help them to investigate ways in which they can stay engaged socially by helping out in their larger community, in their neighborhood, or even right in their household.  Along these same lines, it might help to remind them that they are doing their part to help others by following the rules and staying safe.  

Kathleen Boykin McElhaney, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist