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How to Support Your Teen in Social Distancing

By Melanie Johnsen, LCSW

Social Dis­tanc­ing – two words we nev­er would have put togeth­er, but have been hear­ing side by side for months now. Being inun­dat­ed with new infor­ma­tion day after day, hour after hour, has been tire­some for many. Our con­cerns go beyond our­selves as we think about our teenage pop­u­la­tion at a cru­cial point in their social and emo­tion­al devel­op­ment. What does this mean for our teens? What does it mean for them to be social­ly dis­tant from their friends? How can we keep them safe with­out ignor­ing this impor­tant time of development?

Being an ado­les­cent is dif­fi­cult enough with­out a pan­dem­ic, but here we are. What can you do to help your teen under­stand and fol­low social distancing?

What is social distancing?

Social dis­tanc­ing means keep­ing a 6‑foot dis­tance from oth­er peo­ple. Also called phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing”, a 6‑foot dis­tance is about two arm’s length apart. Accord­ing to the CDC, keep­ing a social dis­tance (and lim­it­ing gath­er­ings to 10 or few­er peo­ple) is the most effec­tive way to help pre­vent the spread of disease. 

How can I explain it to my teen?

Teens may not nec­es­sar­i­ly take social dis­tanc­ing seri­ous­ly. It may be that they think you are being over­ly cau­tious or pur­pose­ful­ly keep­ing them from their friends. At this age, the part of their brain that helps them to think through con­se­quences and be less impul­sive isn’t com­plete­ly devel­oped yet. In addi­tion, teens are at a point in their lives where they are devel­op­ing their iden­ti­ty. Teens also have a sense that they are invin­ci­ble. Tak­ing all of this into con­sid­er­a­tion, the fol­low­ing are some sug­ges­tions on how to talk with them about what social dis­tanc­ing is and why it’s important:

Prac­tice patience, under­stand­ing and sympathy. 

They have missed out on oppor­tu­ni­ties they will nev­er get to have again. They need sym­pa­thy from you and time to grieve the loss of these moments in their lives. 

Give your teens pos­i­tive affir­ma­tions and rein­force­ment when you find them doing some­thing well. 

If they are upset about social dis­tanc­ing but are abid­ing by the rules any­way, then a pos­i­tive affir­ma­tion may be some­thing like this, I know this is real­ly dif­fi­cult for you; I’m proud of you for tak­ing the time to under­stand the impor­tance of social distancing.”

Pos­si­bly the most impor­tant piece of help­ing your teen in social dis­tanc­ing is fol­low­ing it yourself. 

Mod­el how to social dis­tance, talk about your own chal­lenges of not see­ing friends in the way we are used to and dis­cuss ways you’ve prob­lem-solved with dri­ve­way din­ners, using tech­nol­o­gy and more. 

Talk with your teen about what social dis­tanc­ing means and how they can prac­tice it while still being able to spend time with their friends. 

Have a con­ver­sa­tion with them about com­pro­mise: maybe they can’t spend time out­side of the house with their friends, but can have a social dis­tanced gath­er­ing with them in your yard. 

    The Insti­tute for Per­son­al Devel­op­ment (IPD), a mem­ber of DuPage Med­ical Group, pro­vides men­tal and behav­ioral health ser­vices to help indi­vid­u­als achieve long-last­ing emo­tion­al, men­tal and phys­i­cal well-being. If you would like to learn more or sched­ule an appoint­ment, please call 8159426323 or vis­it IPDhealth​.com.