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Back to School and Teenagers

Updated: May 29, 2020

Child Mind Institute released a very relevant article called Teenagers and Reopening that we would like to share with you! We will briefly explore some of their key concepts and ideas which will hopefully help you in supporting your teenager going back to school during this uncertain time.

We have been in lockdown for two months and I’m sure some parents and teens are rejoicing knowing that they will return to some normality as schools’ kind-of reopen. However, some parents and teens are overwhelmed and anxious at the thought of more people, more movement and an increase chance of getting in contact with Covid-19. It is, therefore, crucial to get teens to take safety seriously and to ensure that they are following the rules.

It is also important to acknowledge the developmental phases of teens as they feel for an increasing need for privacy and independence. During this phase, they tend to push boundaries and kick against parents who enforce limits. This is normal behaviour for a teen and these potential ‘challenges’ are important in shaping their behaviour and self-concept. However, the big dilemma; how can parents respect their needs while still helping them (and everyone else) stay safe?

Here are some key approaches identified by Rae Jacobson from Child Mind Institute which are worth considering in helping your teen stay safe!

Hear your teen out

“The first thing is always to try to understand where your teen is coming from,” says Lindsey Giller, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. It is easy to dismiss their concerns that seem unimportant to you. However, to a teen, wearing a mask in public or not being able to see their girlfriend for two months is a big deal! It is important to keep open lines of communication so that you have a clear idea of their needs and therefore it will make it easier to establish rules that they can easily follow.

Empathise and validate

School, assessments, socializing and normal looks very different today than it did in the beginning of the year. Expectations have changed considerably, and teens are likely to feel a deep sense of unfairness during this time. With a big question mark looming over matric dance, school traditions and matric exams, teens will probably feel frustrated and even angry. It is important to hear them out and sympathies with them. Allow them to rant away and complain about how everything has changed and try to understand their perspective. That validation, adds Dr. Giller, “can get them to a place where they’re more accepting of whatever you say next.”

Create Perspective

The last two months have felt like two years! But the reality is that restrictions haven’t been in place for all that long. For teens, it probably feels like 20 years and they may even catastrophize the current situation, thinking that this will last the rest of their lives. It is therefore important to reframe the situation and assure them that although we still have a few more challenging months ahead, this won’t last all of their life (even if they are adamant that it will).

Stick to the facts and use credible sources.

As a parent, you are likely to constantly remind your kids about the necessary precautions they need to take on a daily basis. You may even be tempted to do it every day as they leave home to go to school. It is challenging to not get frustrated as you get a simple “okay mom” with an eye roll and some attitude. It is important to remember that it is not what you say but how and when you say it! As you know, teens push against lecturing and overanxious behaviour. Using a word like “if you don’t wear your mask, everyone in this family could die” is not helpful or accurate. So, stick to using factual information and have age-appropriate conversations with your teens. Instead of lecturing, have a conversation for example: “what precautions did you take today? Did you forget something(their mask), it’s lying on the table? Do you feel safe at school? What precautions do your teachers take? etc.

Link independence and safety

Sooner or later, your teens will be going out and seeing their friends, one way or another. “Parents really want to be able to trust their teens,” says Dr. Macchia from Child Mind Institute. “and teens want to get some of their freedom back.” Therefore, it is important to brainstorm with your teen ways in which they can be independent and safe. The more willing they are to take safety precautions seriously, the more freedom they will be able to have. Try buying/making a mask that is ‘cool’ and matches their style and personality. You can also make a list of outdoor areas where they could safely meet their friends.

Tricky situations

Prepare for them! It is easy to ensure that your family is following the necessary safety rules, however, your teen (and family) may come into contact with others who are not following any safety plan at all. Therefore, it is crucial to remind your teen of your family values and why you as a family are adhering to the social and safety lockdown rules. Try and create a family mantra which explains why you as a family are doing what you are doing. Maybe it is to protect your grandmother who is already sick or maybe a family friend who is susceptible to getting sick. It may also be helpful to practice with your teen ways in which they can respond when they find themselves in situations where safety precautions are not a priority.

Above all, remind your teen (and yourself!) that though we’re in the middle of a very difficult time, this crisis, like so many others, will pass. We’re all on the same team and what we do now will decide what happens next.

Jacobson, R., 2020.Teenagers And Reopening | Child Mind Institute. [online] Child Mind Institute. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 May 2020].


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