Safe socializing in the time of COVID-19

If you’re the parent of a tween or young teen, you undoubtedly are familiar with some form of this scenario: Your child wants to go to a party/concert/game. You’re concerned because of all the unknowns. Who is vaccinated and who isn’t? Will the kids mostly be outside, or will they be crowded indoors? What’s the masking situation at the event? Still, you don’t want to deprive your child of opportunities to socialize with friends. How do you decide what to do?

It’s difficult for parents to know how much responsibility a preteen can shoulder, and in the age of COVID-19, autonomy is even harder to achieve. Kids have been spending more time at home with their parents and are eager to get back to the activities they used to do with friends. Moreover, preteens and young teens need opportunities to be independent to help them grow into self-sufficient adolescents and adults. But even with an effective vaccine, parents might be wary of giving their kids the freedom they seek, fearing their child may engage in behavior that could compromise their or their family’s health.

For starters, it can help to pause and try to see things from your child’s point of view. Your daughter who is building her case for why she should be allowed to go to a concert may also be nervous about the venue and become defensive when you ask reasonable safety questions. This can set the stage for an argument, or it can be an opportunity to express empathy and communicate openly.

Try to ease the tension by expressing that you understand your daughter’s dilemma. You can say something like, “I understand that it’s frustrating to want to hang out with your friends when it might not be safe.” Talk it through, and consider telling her you are willing to take the blame and be the “bad guy” if she wants to pin the need to be outdoors and wear masks on you. Let her know you’ll do whatever you can to help her see her friends in a safe way. Could they ride bikes together? Hang out at the park? Be open to any ideas she has.

Another strategy is to offer your child more opportunities to assert his autonomy at home. Are there choices you can offer your child that have not been left to him before? Maybe you can give him more say over how or where he studies or who controls the remote. Of course, these concessions don’t make up for time missed hanging out with friends, but having some new freedoms at home might help him feel better.

Remember, you and your kids are not alone in trying to navigate the social landscape amidst a pandemic. Each situation is different, and although every conflict might not end in a smooth solution, it’s important to remember that there are ways we can comfort and support our preteens and teens. Listen to what they’re feeling, validate those feelings, and then be direct about how you can work together to make this situation bearable.