Tips for talking to teenagers about coronavirus

It’s almost impossible to think about much else, with the non-stop barrage of coronavirus updates, school, and shul closings. The quick spread of the virus around the world feels unprecedented, and I think it’s safe to say that none of us have ever experienced anything quite like this before; communal life and daily routines coming to a complete standstill!

As adults we can rationalize that our parents’ and grandparents’ generation successfully lived through the spread of polio and the Asian flu pandemic. But how do we calm our children?

Here are some tips for helping teens reduce their anxiety during this complicated time.

  1. Remind them that children and young adults seem less likely to get sick from Covid-19. According to a report published Feb. 28 by the World Health Organization, “disease in children appears to be relatively rare and mild, with those under 19 years making up only 2.4 percent of the total cases.”
  2. Reassure them that that they know what to do to protect their immune system and to reduce the chances of getting sick. Reinforce what they can control: wash hands for 20 seconds, don’t touch eyes, nose or mouth, and keeping distance from people who are coughing.
  3. Create new routines and schedules. Keep them busy with their zoom classes and with other home activities.
  4. Assure them that the current situation, like their school being closed and social distancing, is the best way to keep people safe.
  5. Limit news updates. Listening to the news nonstop will increase anxiety and prevent kids from focusing on other aspects of their lives. It’s best to turn off the news for most of the day and evening, listen to their questions, help correct misinformation and put it into context for them.
  6. Let them shop with you (online or in the supermarket when it’s not crowded) for fun foods and snacks to store, as you would before a big snowstorm or hurricane. Having their favorite snacks will make this a fun time and can help them feel more prepared.
  7. If travel plans (for Pesach or other social gatherings) are cancelled, discuss openly and share your own disappointment with them. Explain that this year, the risk of traveling isn’t worth it, but you will find another way for your family to have fun.
  8. Model a calm response. Try to appear relaxed and project a sense of calm when discussing this topic. Children will take their cues from parents. This will help them to navigate this unusual situation and can serve as a template for navigating future difficulties.
  9. Provide comfort and validation. Teens, like younger children, are also feeling frightened, confused, and vulnerable by this “new normal”. It’s OK to let them know that you’re also feeling confused by the situation and that we will all help each other through this unusual time.

Lastly, discuss the 4 A’s for reducing stress and anxiety triggered during this unsettling time:

Avoid the stressor – we can avoid Covid-19 through social distancing

Alter yourself – try expressing your feelings in stead of bottling them up

Adapt to the new normal – reframe how you see things and focus on the positive (no rushing to school early in the morning, getting more sleep, online classes are more relaxed than in the classroom…)

Accept the things you can’t change – Don’t try to control the uncontrollable, you can only control your own behavior and reaction.

Stay safe and healthy!

Dr. Foger

About the Author
Dr. Tani Foger has worked in the field of education, both in Israel and in the US, for over 35 years. She is an experienced educator and psychologist, with particular expertise in special education, second language acquisition, student learning styles, teacher consultation,social skills, and parenting. She is the Founder and Director of "Let's Talk” - Guidance Workshops for Moving Forward and Conquering the Challenges in our Lives. Dr. Foger is a skilled facilitator offering workshops for all ages at all stages.
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