COVID-19, physical distancing and self-isolation: teenage feelings
Teenagers probably have many and mixed feelings about COVID-19, physical distancing and self-isolation. Teenagers are also more connected to media than any other age group and might be finding it hard to make sense of all the COVID-19 messages that they’re exposed to.
For example, teenagers might feel:
- sad or frustrated that they can’t hang out with their friends and see their extended family
- worried that they or someone they love will get sick
- scared – or relieved – that their studies have been interrupted, especially teenagers in Year 11 or 12
- disappointed that sports, musical performances, work experience placements, birthday parties, school formals and other big events have been cancelled
- scared about getting the virus, particularly if they’re still attending school or part-time work
- overwhelmed by constant coverage of COVID-19 in the media and on social media.
Teenagers will cope better if you talk with them about what’s happening and how they feel about it. It’s also good to talk with teenagers about where they’re getting their information from and how reliable it is. The steps below can help you work through this situation with your teenage child.
1. Make time to talk about COVID-19, physical distancing and self-isolation
Find the right time to talk with your child. A good time might be around the dinner table or while you’re preparing dinner together. When your child is ready to talk, try to give your child your full attention.
If you’re working from home, you might find that your child wants to talk while you’re working. You won’t always be able to stop, and that’s OK. It’s fine to let your child know that you can’t talk right now. For example, ‘I’m in a Zoom meeting at the moment. Can we talk at lunch?’ Just make sure to follow through later.
2. Use a calm and reassuring tone
If you can stay calm when you talk with your child, you set a good example. It also helps your child feel calmer and encourages your child to keep talking with you.
You might be feeling stressed or upset about the situation yourself – that’s natural. If you can, try to take a few deep breaths before you talk. This can help you feel calmer.
3. Find out what your child knows about physical distancing and self-isolation
It’s a good idea to start by asking your child what they know about the situation and whether they have any questions. For example:
- ‘Yes, everyone needs to stay at home now. Do you understand why we have these new restrictions?’
- ‘I saw you watching that news report about department stores closing. Do you understand why that’s happening?’
- ‘That’s right. People returning from overseas are being quarantined in city hotels. What do you think about that?’
4. Explain physical distancing and self-isolation
This is about sticking to the facts, focusing on the positives, reassuring your child that this situation won’t last forever, and explaining what your family can do to help. For example:
- ‘COVID-19 spreads very easily. Because people don’t show symptoms for up to two weeks, anyone could be spreading it without realising. When we all stay home, we slow the spread. This protects people who are most at risk.’
- ‘Physical distancing means staying at home as much as we can. Our family can still go out for a walk to get exercise, if we keep at least 1.5 m away from other people.’
- ‘The good thing is that staying at home is a chance for us to spend more time together when we’re not working or doing classes. When we finish our work, we can go for a bike ride together.’
- ‘We don’t know how long things will be like this. But it won’t be forever!’
- ‘I know you’ve heard about your friends still meeting up. We need to follow the government’s instructions and stay at home. You can video call your friends instead.’
5. Tune into your child’s feelings about physical distancing and self-isolation
Some teenagers might be OK with staying at home all the time. But some might be frustrated, worried or upset. Other teenagers might still be working or going to school. They might be scared if they feel they can’t keep a safe distance from other people.
Ask your child how they’re feeling and listen to what your child says. Let your child know that their feelings are OK. You can also ask your child what they need to feel better. It might reassure your child if you share your own feelings and let your child know what you’re doing to cope.
- ‘I know you’re disappointed because you can’t go to netball at the moment. It’s OK to be disappointed, but we might both feel better if we do some exercise. How about we throw the ball to each other instead?’
- ‘I know you’re frustrated that you can’t see your best friend at the moment. Why don’t you video chat with her right now and see how she’s going?’
- ‘It can be hard having everyone in the house together all the time. It’s natural to feel a bit frustrated. It’s important to be patient and speak nicely to each other, rather than shouting.’
- ‘Not knowing when this will end is hard. I’m finding it helps to set small goals, like jogging around the block each day. This way I feel like I’m making progress towards something!’
- ‘I know you want to keep earning money, but I can see you’re concerned about being around so many people in the supermarket. Why don’t we sit down and talk through your options?’
We don’t know how long the COVID-19 pandemic and physical distancing will last, so you might need to check in regularly with your child while the situation goes on.
If you’re concerned that your child might be experiencing teenage anxiety or teenage depression, phone your local GP, who can help you or refer you to local mental health services that are offering telehealth consultations. Your child can also call Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800, Youth Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636, and eheadspace on 1800 650 890.
6. Discuss media coverage of COVID-19, physical distancing and self-isolation
It’s good to talk with your teenage child about where they’re getting news and information about COVID-19 from – government websites or apps, news websites, social media and so on. It’s also worth talking about how different news media and social media platforms are covering the pandemic.
You could ask your child whether they’ve noticed any differences among platforms. For example:
- Are some media sources or stories more fact based than others?
- What sources or stories seem trustworthy?
- How can you tell whether a source or story is reliable and trustworthy?
- Are any platforms using click-bait just to get users?
- Are some just interested in showing distressing scenes?
It’s also worth looking at how much media about COVID-19 you and your child are both seeing. If you have the facts you need, it’s often best to switch off or switch to something else.
Because teenagers are used to consuming a lot of social media, they might find it really hard to stop. You might need to talk with your child about how it isn’t helpful to see distressing news over and over again. And if you switch off, your child might be more likely to switch off too.
Teenagers with disability, chronic health conditions or other additional needs
If your teenage child has a disability, a chronic health condition or other additional needs, they might be anxious about getting COVID-19 or getting severe symptoms or complications. Teenagers with additional needs are more likely than their peers to experience anxiety.
Talking can help teenagers with additional needs who are experiencing anxiety, just as it can help teenagers without additional needs. In particular, you can support your child with additional needs by acknowledging their worries or anxieties and listening actively when your child wants to talk about feelings.
It’s also important to make sure your child has reliable information about how COVID-19 might affect them and their health condition. Teenagers can get a lot of misinformation about their conditions from the internet or friends.
It’s a good idea to seek advice from your GP or specialist about whether your child has a higher risk of getting COVID-19 and what extra precautions your child might need to take.
About physical distancing
Physical distancing is a way to slow the spread of COVID-19. COVID-19 spreads easily through sneezing, coughing and contact with infected people or objects.
The best way to do physical distancing is to stay at home.
If you need to go out for essential items like groceries, you need to go to work or you’re going out to exercise, you should keep at least 1.5 m away from other people and limit your time in public.
Physical distancing is sometimes called social distancing.
By staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re helping reduce your family’s risk of getting COVID-19. You’re also protecting your friends and your community.
Self-isolation is when you stay at home and avoid close contact with other people for 10-14 days, depending on your state or territory. You must not leave the house or have any visitors.
The rules about who needs to self-isolate are changing all the time. If you need to self-isolate, your state or territory health service will contact you to tell you what you need to do during self-isolation to protect others from infection.
Australian, state and territory health department websites have the latest and most reliable information and advice about COVID-19, physical distancing and self-isolation. You can also call the Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080 or Healthdirect on 1800 022 222. Or download the Australian Government’s Coronavirus Australia app.