In National Crisis, We Need Our Teenagers’ Best


The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 140 · Duration: 00:18:54

In National Crisis, We Need Our Teenagers’ Best

What do you do when you when your teenager, now home from school due to the virus, expects to go hang out with friends?

In National Crisis, We Need Our Teenagers’ BestToday we’re hearing from Lindsay from Upstate NY and Lindsay writes:

My 16 year old daughter’s school has closed down for a two week break due to the Corona Virus and I’m struggling to get her to limit her social activity. She insists on going out to meet friends. Her younger brother is more of a nerd, his language not mine, and is happy to be with friends on his gaming computer. She says that the virus isn’t dangerous to kids and none of her friends have it anyway. How can I get my daughter to curtail her activities and stay home?

Thanks for your question Lindsay. It’s an important one for several reasons. First of all, this isn’t extended vacation or early spring break. This is a closing of the school to stem the rapid transmission of COVID-19. Sure, it’s to protect students and staff from getting the virus, but even more importantly, it’s to stem its rapid transmission so that the health care system can manage the inevitable high demand for services and save lives. And even though the school buildings are closed, students still have schoolwork to do.

Empowering Your Teens During This Difficult Time

So Lindsay, let me respond in a couple of ways. First, you’re going to need to set limits with your daughter. In today’s family world, hierarchy and authority are seen as yesterday’s parenting style and there is this belief that if we’re reasonable with our kids, they’ll cooperate. I suggest being reasonable is always a good thing and explaining things is also a good thing so kids learn the reason for the limits we set. Explaining however, is not to be confused with arguing. So when your child or teenager asks for an explanation, and then counters your reasoning with their own, what we have is an argument so if that happens, don't go down that rabbit hole.

I’ll give an example of how to have the conversation with your daughter in a minute but here are some ideas for dealing with this national and global crisis we’re all facing with your children and teenagers.

We don’t want to create fear and unproductive worry in our children. Neither do we want to go about things in a state of denial and be part of the problem and not the solution. So we want to be calm and intentional in what we do and what we share with our kids. That way they’ll understand the problem at an age appropriate level, they’ll know healthy things to do, and doing them will be empowering.

We don’t want to create fear and unproductive worry in our kids. Neither do we want to go about things in a state of denial and be part of the problem and not the solution. We want to be calm and intentional in what we do and what we share with our kids.Click To Tweet

The message is, yes there is a dangerous virus out there and we have jobs to do:

  • Not to spread it,
  • To make ourselves as healthy as possible to fight it,
  • To help those who need the help,
  • Take the challenge of sudden change and make the best of it.

To avoid needless worry, don’t have the TV on all day. The same news repeats and it creates anxiety as announcers give more data that point to disaster. Watch one news show focused on the virus a day, and then discuss it with your family and decide the best ways to deal with the information as a family.

What Your Family Can Do To Stay Healthy

There are things families can do that are directly helpful to addressing the situation and there are things families can do that can take positive advantage of the situation. Let me give some examples.

Directly helpful should include:

  • Avoid contact with others
  • When we need to be out, keep a safe distance
  • When touching things like a gas pump handle, shopping cart, door handles, etc, don’t touch your face after
  • Thoroughly wash your hands as soon as possible.

You’ve likely heard all of this before. Here are some things I haven’t heard talked about. Google “foods that support a healthy immune system.” That way, you can eat in a way that helps your immune system fight the virus if you contract it. Plus, doing something positive for your health can be empowering. You’ll find lots of foods that your kids have already declared they don’t like such as broccoli, garlic, onions, and many varieties of greens. Chicken is on the list, too so it’s not all foods most kids don’t like.

Now, given that the foods aren’t on their favorites list, you and the kids can look up recipes with those ingredients and find creative ways to include them in dishes. Broccoli goes well in a quiche dish and with some cheese, even your kids will love it. Pesto is a great way to get garlic in your diet and everyone loves pesto, don’t they. You get the idea.

Exercise is also an important part of immune health so going outside into nature, going for a bike ride, or exercising to an online guided exercise video.

If we are going to be home, which we should be, kids can stay connected with each other on the internet using apps, texting, FaceTime and for some, video gaming. We’re going to have lots of time at home. Without a plan, that will leave us bored, or in some kids’ cases, turn them into video zombies. We need to help our kids make a plan.

Here are some things that can go on the plan for lots of home time in addition to cooking new healthy recipes and exercising.

  • Sort through closets, drawers, and desks and get rid of things not useful and organize things that are.
  • Do art projects. Set up space and do projects you used to like to do, always wanted to try, or are willing to challenge yourself to try. Take out the judgment and enjoy the experience. It can be incredibly relaxing.
  • If you play or want to learn to play a musical instrument, use this time as an opportunity to get to a new level. There's lots of help on YouTube.
  • Work on a skill or project you care about. For instance, practice a foreign language, there’s lots of apps for those. I use Duolingo most days.
  • Write a story you want to tell. A creative writing piece or a personal story.
  • Read books that you usually don’t have time to read.
  • Play family games, such as cards, board games or puzzles.
  • Plant a vegetable garden, or simply work in the garden and get ready for spring blooms.

Parents, It's Time To Be Leaders

So Lindsay, this is a time for strong parental leadership. It’s hard because we don’t want to raise anxiety and we don’t want our kids to live in denial and put themselves and others at risk. In your daughter’s case, she needs to grasp the seriousness of the situation and act within healthy parameters.

Here is a way you can talk with your 16 year old. I’ll call her Emma.

Emma, no you’re not going out to meet up with friends, absolutely not. This is extremely important and it’s way more than just keeping you from getting the virus.

Let me explain. As a nation we are dealing with an extremely contagious virus with a much higher death rate than normal flu viruses. It’s estimated that between a fifth to a third of all Americans will get this virus and that means that deaths could be in the hundred thousands.

If the virus spreads very quickly, there will be many people who are seriously at risk of dying; patients who can’t get into the hospitals to get the care they need to survive. How would we feel if Nana were to get sick and there was no room in the hospital for her and she died? That would be really horrible right?

That’s what we are trying to do; not spread the virus so fewer people get sick and fewer people die.

Many people have it who don’t know it yet, we simply don’t know because we haven’t been testing and some people may never know because their symptoms are light. Yet they carry it and can infect someone else, even without knowing it. So it’s extremely important that we limit social contact, particularly unnecessary social contact, and when we are around others, including our friends, we don’t hug and kiss, we stay back a few feet and use an elbow touch, or touch our hearts or some symbol of love and affection. This is different than anything we’ve seen before in my lifetime. The last time there was something like this was in 1918 and in that flu, half the population of New York City died.

So this is a big deal and you and your generation are going to make all the difference in how this goes. If you kids use your social media to gather, rather than in person, it will go a long way to saving lives and managing this crisis. This is a time when we all need to be patriotic and think more about what we need to do to help our country and save lives rather than what we want to do as individuals. If we work together as a country, we’ll get through this sooner and safer. This is a kind of test for the character of America and we all need to do our part to make ourselves proud.

If your friends are planning to meet together, I’d like you to use your leadership skills and encourage them to get together on a video platform instead.

In the mean time, I want our family to make a plan for how to use our time productively, even when we aren’t doing work or school work. There are important things we can do to make ourselves healthier, projects we can do, games we can play, even some things we can do for others who are older and at higher risk than we are.

First off, let’s be sure to talk to Nana every day and check on how she’s feeling. Who else in our family and neighborhood could use our help and support?

Sound good, Lindsay? The idea here is be strong, positive, and appeal to your daughter’s values and sense of purpose.

So parents, and folks who work with teens and families. This is not a time for business as usual, it’s a time to come together as a nation, regardless of your nation. This is our time to show our best. Let’s let our kids know this is a time to react like “the greatest generation” who came together to fight WWII. Not just those who went to war, but those who supported them, rationed and went without, volunteered, went to work in factories building airplanes other supplies. It was a national effort where everyone came together as one.

Today, let’s be the next “greatest generation” and defeat this enemy. As adults and parents, let’s inspire our kid’s best. When it’s all said and done, and the danger is behind us, we’ll be a better nation and be better families and communities for our efforts.

As adults and parents, let’s inspire our kid’s best. When it’s all said and done, and the danger is behind us, we’ll be a better nation and be better families and communities for our efforts.Click To Tweet

Thanks for tuning in today everyone and special thanks to you Lindsay for offering up your extremely timely question.

If you are a therapist who works in a behavioral health treatment program and would like to talk with me about improving outcomes in your program, come on over to my website and shoot me an email or give me a call. I’ll be happy to talk with you.

Please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.

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