Face masks and COVID-19: requirements in Australian states and territories
Check your state or territory health department website for advice about whether you and your teenage child should wear a face mask where you live. It’s important to stay up to date because recommendations and requirements might change quickly in your local area.
How teenagers might feel about face masks during COVID-19
Teenagers might have mixed and varying feelings about face masks. For example, teenagers might:
- be OK about wearing face masks
- not want to wear face masks
- feel uncomfortable, silly, embarrassed or ‘weak’ wearing face masks
- feel anxious about not wearing face masks or want to wear them, even where it’s not required
- have questions about why they need to wear face masks
- not have strong feelings about face masks at all.
For both teenagers and adults, face masks can be confronting or overwhelming – a constant, visible reminder of how COVID-19 is still affecting our daily lives and communities. Also, when people wear face masks, you can’t see their facial expressions, and this can be unsettling. It can affect the way everyone interacts with others.
In areas where face masks are required, teenagers will usually adjust to wearing masks. It will help them to know that they’re playing a part in protecting their family, friends and the broader community from COVID-19.
Talking with teenagers about face masks
Teenagers will cope better with face masks if you talk with them about what they need to do and how they feel about it. It’s also good to talk about where teenagers are getting their information from and how reliable it is. This can help teenagers adapt to the situation and reduce any anxiety.
The steps below can help you get a conversation started.
1. Plan a time to talk
A good time to talk about face masks might be while you’re doing something together, like going for a walk, preparing a meal or during a family activity like playing a board game. It’s a good idea to think ahead about what you want to say, so you’re ready to talk if an opportunity comes up at another time.
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. A few deep breaths before you talk can help you feel calmer.
3. Find out what your child knows about physical distancing and face masks
It’s a good idea to start by asking your child what they know about face masks and whether they have any questions.
- ‘There was an announcement today that people are now required to wear face masks in our area. What do you think about that?’
- ‘Lots of people were wearing face masks at the supermarket today. Do you understand why?’
- ‘I know there’ve been some videos about face masks on social media. What do they say?’
- ‘Have you and your friends been talking about face masks at all? What do your friends think?’
4. Explain the situation with face masks in your area
It’s important to be clear about the requirements or recommendations in your area, and explain how face masks help to reduce COVID-19 spread. You can also talk about the importance of getting information from reliable and trustworthy sources.
- ‘We need to wear face masks now when we leave home. Let’s check the health department website to find out exactly what we need to do.’
- ‘Health experts say that we should wear face masks when we can’t keep a safe distance from other people. It seems like a good way to get extra protection for ourselves and other people.’
- ‘I saw this great video from the university about how different kinds of face masks reduce droplet spray from our noses and mouths. Can I send you the link?’
- ‘I think it’s a good idea for us to buy some face masks. Let’s have a look at what face masks are available online.’
- ‘Can I show you this government video on how to put on, wear and remove a face mask? It’s really helpful.’
5. Tune into your child’s feelings about face masks
Ask how your child is feeling about the situation and listen to what your child says. Let your child know that their feelings are OK. It might reassure your child if you share your own feelings and let your child know what you’re doing to cope.
- ‘I get that you feel embarrassed and uncomfortable about masks. I felt like that at first too, but I got used to it after a few wears. I’ve been reminding myself that the sooner we slow the spread, the sooner we can get out and about again.’
- ‘It’s natural to feel worried about not wearing a mask, now that more people are wearing them. It doesn’t matter that it’s not the requirement here. I’m happy to get one for you if you want to wear one’.
You might need to check in regularly on your child’s feelings about face masks. Keep letting your child know that you understand their feelings, and remind them that they’re protecting their family and community by wearing a mask.
Talking to teenagers with autism, learning disabilities or developmental delay
If your teenage child is autistic or has developmental delay or learning disabilities, your child might need developmentally appropriate information. Social stories or visual supports might be particularly helpful for autistic children or children with learning disabilities. You could ask your child’s health or disability professional to help you develop something specific for your child.
If you or your child feels very anxious, it’s a good idea to get help. Speak to your child’s GP, paediatrician or school counsellor. Teenagers can call Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800, Youth Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636, and eheadspace on 1800 650 890. You can get support for yourself by talking with your GP, or calling Lifeline on 131 114 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.
Your teenage child doesn’t want to wear a face mask: what to do
In some parts of Australia, teenagers are required to wear masks. Or you might want your child to wear a mask even when it isn’t required – for example, because you have a family member with a health issue.
In these situations, it can be really difficult if your child doesn’t want to wear a mask, gets angry or upset about wearing a mask, or refuses to wear a mask.
Negotiating with your child can help. Here are some basic negotiation steps:
- Listen to your child. This will help you understand why your child doesn’t want to wear a mask. For example, ‘I see. You’re worried it’s going to make your acne worse’.
- Remind your child of why they need to wear a mask. For example, ‘If Alli gets COVID-19, she could get really sick, so we need to do everything we can to keep her safe’.
- Give your child some choice if you can. For example, ‘Sure, you can wear a black face mask’.
- Be clear about what you can and can’t compromise on. For example, ‘OK, you can stay at home when we go to see Alli. But if you’re coming with us, you have to wear a mask’.
- End on a positive note. For example, ‘Thanks for talking that through with me. I understand where you’re coming from now. I’m glad we were able to work things out’.
Being a role model is one of the most powerful ways to influence your child’s attitude to face masks. This starts with wearing a face mask yourself. It’s also about staying calm, sticking to the facts, getting your information from reliable sources, and focusing on the positive things about face masks.
Physical distancing, face masks and teenagers
Physical distancing is a key way to protect your child from COVID-19 and prevent the spread of the virus in your community. Physical distancing includes:
- staying at least 1.5 m away from other people when possible
- using good hand hygiene and personal hygiene
- staying at home if you’re sick.
Face masks can be part of physical distancing when recommended or required by health authorities. They act as a physical barrier to the spread of COVID-19 when you breathe, talk, cough or sneeze.