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Explaining The Seriousness Of COVID-19 To Your Teens

My own daughter has left me furious.

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Back View Of A Group Of Stylish Teen Girls
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Teens everywhere are having a difficult time with this pandemic and sheltering in place. While some have struggled with fear and anxiety about COVID-19, others have been resistant to understanding the severity of this deadly disease and why they must stay home.

In the beginning weeks of quarantine, my almost 17-year-old daughter begged me to let her meet her friends at the park to hammock together. Being an extrovert, the isolation was making her feel lonely and depressed, and she desperately needed the connection. I allowed her to go on this rare occasion, as long as she practiced the mandated social distancing guidelines.

A few hours later, she called to say they had stopped at the drive-through to grab something to eat and she would be home soon. I heard voices in the background and asked if she was in the car with her friends, to which she replied, “Yeah, we parked and got in one car to eat, but we have the windows open and we won’t be here long.”

I was furious and told her that was not OK and to come home immediately. My girl clearly didn’t understand the seriousness of this pandemic. Since then, I have tried to have many conversations with her about what is happening with the virus, but she isn’t interested in the details. She doesn’t want to consider the threat of any of us being infected with it, either. I have been frustrated with her for not wanting to learn what is going on in our world during these unprecedented times. It’s as if she is living in denial, unwilling to accept the severity of our circumstances.

This has been perplexing to me because my daughter is responsible, thoughtful and respectful. She is also a sensitive and emotional person, so I expected her to be more concerned about how this is affecting so many lives. But I’ve finally figured out four reasons why my girl and perhaps other teens, too, are resistant to understanding the gravity of this pandemic and why we must stay safe.

They aren’t willing to face our new reality because they don’t have the capacity to take on the overwhelming emotions that go with it.

Teens who are extremely emotional and sensitive might be trying to protect themselves from having to think about millions of people suffering and dying excruciating deaths. It’s just too much for them to take in, and their reflexive response is to shut down. I believe my daughter is acting in defense of her mental health because she can’t handle processing the tragic circumstances we are living in.

They might not have the ability to conceptualize the magnitude of this pandemic because their life experiences are limited.

Our teens are still learning how to manage their own personal struggles and develop coping skills in their day-to-day lives. They are young and naïve and simply can’t wrap their minds around the enormity of a global catastrophic event in their limited perspective. I can’t expect my daughter to have the ability to grasp something even adults are struggling to comprehend.

If they haven’t been personally impacted by the virus, they assume it won’t affect them. Teens are self-absorbed and often have little interest in anything outside of their worlds. They are still learning how their behavior has consequences. If the virus hasn’t infected anyone they know, they might have difficulty understanding the gravity of this disease and how contagious it is. Gratefully, my daughter hasn’t learned of anyone we know being infected, so I must share other personal stories to make this real for her.

They have a natural tendency to rebel when told they must do something they don’t want to do.

Almost everything in our teens’ lives has been taken from them while they are grounded indefinitely. Of course, they will put up a fight when forced to let go of it all. They are dealing with a lot of loss and grieving the life they once knew. They are sad and confused and angry about many important events and celebrations being canceled, and they don’t know when or if their lives will ever resume. I must be patient with my girl when she complains about these restrictions and realize how difficult this must be for her.

In order for us to have productive conversations with our resistant teens, we need to remember all of these reasons why they act the way they do.

As for my girl, she doesn’t need to know all the statistics of deaths around the world or the economic toll this has taken on our country. She doesn’t need to understand the scientific complexities of the disease. She doesn’t need to read all the tragic stories of people suffering and dying alone. It’s all just too much for her to process right now.

Instead, I’ll approach her with patience and limit the information I give her when I talk about the pandemic so she doesn’t shut down. I’ll remember she is learning how to cope in an entirely new world with limited skills. And I will help her understand enough information to keep her and the rest of our community safe while enforcing the restrictions necessary to do so.

But most importantly, I’ll remember her life has been turned upside down and she is trying to survive in a world she doesn’t comprehend. More than anything else, I must understand the enormity of what she is going through and give her the love and support she needs.