What to Do if your Teen is Ignoring Pandemic Shutdown Orders

The stay-at-home orders across the country have been met with a variety of reactions from the public. Some people are eager to follow the directives, while others believe the restrictions are an overreaction. This can cause a lot of tension in homes if family members don’t agree on the lockdown. Just last week, in Atlanta, GA, a stepfather argued with, and then shot and killed, his stepson, a teenager who broke the stay-at-directive to spend time with friends.

The pandemic has been a difficult adjustment for everyone, including adolescents. Almost overnight, teens lost what they value most — their autonomy, independence, and social connection. They may feel adrift without a structure or routine. Many teens are also out of part-time work, so they aren’t earning any money, another source of independence. And of course, they too are worried about what the future might bring.

While many teens have been following the isolation requirements, others have ignored them. All over the world, countries watch in dismay as they see groups of teens gathering together or sneaking out at night to spend time with boyfriends or girlfriends. For teens who are following the stay-at-home orders, they feel left out when they see photos on social media of friends hanging out together. They also feel restless, bored, and eager to get away from their parents.

If you have a teen at home, then you’re likely to see a wide range of emotions – they might be mourning the changes in their life, they might struggle with depression, they might be angry over the unfairness of the situation, or they might be defiant and rebellious and break the stay-at-home orders. Wherever your teen falls on this continuum, there are some ways you can help your teen. The challenge for parents is to make clear to their teens the gravity of the situation while still letting them enjoy some degree of independence and a social life while at home. Here are some ideas:

Explain the Risk

Many teens and college students underestimate the risk COVID-19 presents. As a result, they feel the restrictions put in place throughout the country are exaggerated and unnecessary. In addition, teens place a different value on risk than adults do, and right now, they might feel that their need to hang out with their friends outweighs the chance they could get infected.

If your teen doesn’t see the novel coronavirus as a threat to their own health and well-being, the number one thing you can do is provide facts to debunk this misconception. Give your teen statistics that prove this is not just a virus that is killing “old people.” Provide data that shows that everyone is susceptible to the disease and teens have died from COVID-19. Also, remind them that sheltering in place is not just about protecting ourselves, it’s also about not spreading the virus to others whose life might be at risk and not overwhelming our health care system.

Before you talk to your teen, make sure you understand the facts by verifying what you hear from several sources. Don’t rely on any one source, even if you really trust it. Then communicate the facts to your teen clearly, and on their level. Be honest, answer their questions directly, and tell them if you don’t know something.

Finally, sometimes it helps to use your teen’s love of media and culture to your advantage. Find celebrities your teen respects who are in favor of social distancing and send them links.

Acknowledge Feelings

No matter what your teen is feeling, don’t dismiss their emotions. In fact, you should let your teen know that strong emotions are a normal response to difficult situations. You should not try to talk them out of their feelings or shame them for reacting a certain way or offer bland platitudes. Yes, even if they don’t want to obey the lockdown orders, you should not shame them. Listen to your teen and work to understand their perspective, even if you don’t agree with it. Acknowledge that their feelings are valid.

Provide Structure

A bored, unhappy teen is an accident waiting to happen, and it can be an additional factor that propels them to break the stay-at-home orders. All human beings need structure. It provides a sense of purpose and security. However, getting into a power struggle with your teen about a daily schedule will only make things worse. This pandemic has robbed teens of their sense of autonomy. Creating a structure is actually an opportunity to give them a sense of control. After explaining why a routine is important to our mental health, let them brainstorm how to fill their days. There should be time included for academics, chores, and physical activity, but there should also be times for relaxing, connecting with friends virtually, and enjoying something together as a family, such as a board game or movie night. It’s really important that your teen has social connections built into their day – whether that’s quality time with the people in their home or virtual get-togethers with their peers.

Give them Space

When we are confined in close quarters with the same people all the time, it’s important to allocate time to spend together and spend apart. Both are equally important. We need moments to connect through fun quality time. We also need to give each other space, especially teenagers. It’s very important that you make sure your teen has space to be by themselves at some point every day. They also should have some privacy whenever they talk to friends on the phone or online. It’s vital that they have social connection with their friends daily, so encourage it by offering them a space where they can connect away from everyone else. If they have their own room that shouldn’t be too hard, but if your teen shares a room, work out a schedule so they have some alone time. Scheduling time alone is probably a good idea for everyone in your family. If your teen never has any space at home, it will push them to get out of the house.

Teach Healthy Coping Skills

We all have coping skills when we get stressed. Some of them are healthy, such as yoga or drawing, while others are unhealthy, such as drug abuse or rebellion. Teens need to have an arsenal of healthy coping skills to use whenever they get stressed. This is the perfect time to teach them these habits:

  • Breathe. When we are stressed, our body naturally takes faster, shallower breaths. By consciously taking slow, deep breaths, we communicate to our body to calm down.
  • Exercise. It releases tension and energizes us. Encourage teens to do something active every day during the lockdown. This can mean working out, bike riding around the neighborhood, jogging, dancing, taking the dog for a walk, or even shooting hoops in the driveway.
  • Get creative. Artwork or journaling can be an excellent stress reducer. For many people, the process of painting, doodling, taking photographs, writing, sculpting, or creating a collage can be calming. For teens, getting creative on social media apps, such as TikTok, can even be a stress reliever.
  • Read. A good book can be an excellent distraction. Sometimes we need just a little escape from our own situation to feel rejuvenated and ready to tackle the problem.
  • Meditation or Yoga. Mindfulness, which is an integral part of meditation and yoga, has been proven to relax people and improve moods.
  • Playing music. Music has been shown to speed healing, calm anxiety, and reduce depression. Listening to a favorite song or practicing an instrument can be a great stress reliever.
  • Find humor. Laughing is a good way to take a mental break from problems and relieve stress. Encourage your teen to watch a funny video on YouTube or tune into a hilarious TV show.


Be Kind

In close quarters, we all need to be as kind as we can to each other. Pick your battles wisely and don’t let arguments escalate. If you catch yourself bickering, let it go for now. Bickering never leads to a solution but is sure to bring everyone down. And, remember that sometimes our kids need the most love when their behavior makes it the most difficult for us to give it.

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