Ask the Expert: Navigating COVID-19 with Tweens and Teens

Navigating COVID-19 with tweens and teensParenting isn’t always easy. Within our current pandemic, you could say it’s even more challenging. Here is some expert advice for navigating the current times with your tweens and teens.

Even well-seasoned parents have been in uncharted territory over the past several weeks. With schools closing and special events canceled, many tweens and teens are missing out on valuable social interactions. This has left many parents wondering the best ways to support their health and emotions. If this includes you, you’ll want to read below for excellent advice from New York Times bestselling author Cara Natterson, MD.

Dr. Natterson is a pediatrician, consultant and New York Times bestselling author of puberty and parenting books. Her newest book Decoding Boys: New Science Behind the Subtle Art of Raising Sons, was released in February 2020.

A graduate of Harvard College and Johns Hopkins Medical School, Cara trained in pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco. She began practicing medicine in her hometown of Los Angeles, joining Tenth Street Pediatrics in Santa Monica where she cared for thousands of infants, children and teenagers. Eight years later, Cara founded Worry Proof Consulting, a practice that gives parents time their primary doctors often don’t have to cover medical, behavioral, and parenting issues in depth. Cara also began traveling the country speaking to both kids and parents about taking ownership of their health and wellness. Whether in the office or on the stage, she has a unique ability to make cutting- edge research understandable, even entertaining. We asked her about a vulnerable demographic at times like this: teens and tweens.

Q. For many, this has been an extremely stressful time — on top of the current pandemic many parents have to balance distance learning for their children along with their own work obligations. What are your tips for helping tweens and teens create and maintain a daily rhythm? 

A: Schedules are key for most people — but imposing your schedule on your tween or teen may not do the trick. Older kids are fully capable of creating their own schedules – they just need a little reminding about some of the self-care that can easily fall by the wayside (think: daily exercise, healthy eating, and even the obvious things like showers). Tweens need more scaffolding than just a hint here and there, so for this age group, sit down and work on a daily schedule together. And regardless of how old your child is, make sure to set a bedtime because sleep is one of the most important care strategies of all.

Q: When it comes to health, friendship is just as important as nutrition and physical activity for teenagers! How can teens navigate “social distancing” in the weeks ahead? What tips do you have to help them deal with special events they might miss out on, such as graduation or prom?

A: I really love the advice to use the term “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing,” because no one expects – or wants – kids to be socially alienated from one another. They absolutely do need their friendships, and these can be cultivated through video chats and virtual hangouts. Now with the major milestone events that are going to be missed this year, a Zoom call cannot really replace a graduation ceremony or a prom. So have frank conversations with your kids about the disappointments built into current circumstances, and then do the best you can to plan an alternative to mark the occasion. There isn’t much more to offer. But there’s a lot to look forward to down the road once this is over – and our kids will certainly appreciate those events more than ever.

Related: TikTok? WhatsApp? Discord? What Your Teens Are Doing And Online Safety Tips You Should Know

Q. For teens, especially boys, puberty can be an extremely difficult time for communication. This difficulty can be compounded for everyone right now. Can you share a few tips for how to open those lines of communication and trust? 

A: It’s so true that boys often go quiet during puberty. The science isn’t there yet, so we don’t know why, but parents almost uniformly describe some sort of physical, emotional, or verbal retreat (sometimes all three). What’s interesting is that with a shelter-at-home policy in place, some parents feel like their boys are emerging from behind closed doors a little more than they used to. Perhaps it’s that they are home all day, so they don’t need to return home and shut out the world for a bit; or maybe the togetherness has solidified communication within some families. Whatever the cause, if this is happening in your home you can enjoy it. For parents struggling to communicate with their kids despite 24/7 contact, stick with the approaches that work even without quarantine: give your kids your undivided attention when you are with them (i.e. put down your phone); really listen to them and ask questions; and if the door is shut often, knock and try to engage frequently. Yes, they need privacy some of the time, but they also need connection, and right now you are the one physically present and able to provide it.

Q: It’s likely many are hoping to avoid extra trips to the doctor right now. What can we do to keep our children healthy and what do you advise should an illness or injury occur?

A: Call your pediatrician to see what they recommend. Most offices are postponing regular check-ups for kids older than 18 months. But that doesn’t mean your doctor is inaccessible. They are available by phone or video chat, and want to help you manage all of the routine issues that will come up independent of coronavirus. If you’ve got an illness or an injury in the home and think you need to go in, call first! Because doctors are trying to keep non-COVID patients separated from COVID patients, they may be able to help you handle something via phone that in the past was seen in the office.

Photo: g.feketa/Shutterstock


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