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Health & Safety

How to Talk to Your Student About Coronavirus


As the coronavirus crisis grows, official health and safety directives are requiring that Americans in most areas of the country stay home and socially distance ourselves to help keep our communities safe. 

Unfortunately, not everyone is taking COVID-19 seriously. Some young adults have been ignoring the CDC’s recommendations because they believe this disease is unlikely to harm them, that it’s only a threat to the elderly. 

However, a recent report from The New York Times revealed that 20% of hospitalized patients are 20 to 44 years old. In addition, young adults can spread the virus to older and more immuno-compromised people, like their grandparents. And the more cases there are nationwide, the more we will overwhelm our hospitals and endanger our healthcare workers.

Recently, the World Health Organization issued a statement outlining concerns that millennials aren’t taking the situation seriously enough. One of the first known infections in Kentucky happened at a “coronavirus party,” at which young people gathered to openly defy social distancing recommendations.

California governor Gavin Newsom has appealed to his state’s Gen Z and millennial population, saying it’s "time to grow up. Time to wake up. Time to recognize it’s not just about the ‘old folks,’ it’s about your impact on their lives. Don’t be selfish.”

Many college students understand the seriousness of the coronavirus. But both high school and college students have had their lives turned upside down, and this could cause them to feel anxious or resentful as one or two weeks of social distancing turns into one or two months (or longer).

Campuses are closed. Graduations and proms are cancelled. Summer internship and vacation plans are up in the air. Your student may be feeling stir crazy, and tempted to push back against restrictions.

All families are being charged right now with figuring out how to have ongoing conversations about protecting ourselves, our neighbors and loved ones, and the larger community from COVID-19. The situation is evolving rapidly, and no one is really sure what tomorrow will bring in terms of new regulations, lost jobs and general health and safety.

While this is a stressful time for you and your student, talking helps. Here are a few things to keep in mind when talking to your student about keeping themselves and others safe during this pandemic.

Our Actions Can Save Lives

If your student isn’t worried about heading out to meet friends because they don’t feel personally at risk, remind them about who they can protect by staying at home.

Your student could unwittingly bring the disease into your home, infecting other members of your family. If they swing by the store to pick up nonessential items, they could leave behind a trace of the virus that might get picked up by someone else who could be seriously affected by it. This kind of "community spread" is what we're trying to halt by heeding the mandate to stay home.

Studies show that most people don’t respond to numbers, they respond to stories. Bring up an example that will resonate with your student:

  • A person like your grandparent could get very sick, as the virus has been fatal for 15% of people 80 or older who contract it.
  • Someone like your uncle who’s a nurse could get sick and not be able to go to work to help others who need care.
  • A single parent who can’t afford not to work, like your neighbor, could be forced to stay home if they get sick, which could lead to losing income and not having a way to pay her next month’s rent or feed her children.

And be ready to counter some of their arguments about why it's not a big deal if they go out:

  • "It's just a few of us, and we'll be outside!" Some scientists are now advising that the six-foot rule doesn't provide adequate protection. Twenty-five feet is safer.
  • "None of us has any symptoms!" The latest research indicates that up to 60% of people infected with the coronavirus show few or no symptoms — one of the reasons it's spreading so rapidly and unpredictably.

Finally, you can also talk about how the more diligent we are about social distancing now the sooner we can get back to normal life. If we don’t follow the order to stay home, the pandemic may last longer — potentially even impacting your student’s fall 2020 semester.

We Relate to One Another's Vulnerability

Your student might respond with more compassion if you open up about how quarantine is making you feel. You're not happy about being cooped up, either. You're worried about friends and family members’ health. You may be stressed about having to work from home, or having your hours cut back, or potentially facing a layoff; or you may have a job that requires you to continue to go to your workplace, which carries its own risks and stress.

Instead of focusing the conversation on the sacrifice your student needs to make, talk about the sacrifices everyone is making to stop the spread of the virus, and acknowledge that it’s a challenging journey.

It's Normal to Be Afraid

Your student may act nonchalant about COVID-19, but that doesn't mean they're not a bit freaked out. For students who are anxious about the pandemic, the best thing parents can do is to be kind, non-judgmental listeners.

Discuss how the anxiety they might be feeling is a testament to the gravity of the situation. Communication between the two of you lets them feel heard and supported.

If your student is struggling with more severe anxiety, or if you recognize signs of depression, they can connect with a counselor at their campus counseling center which will still be staffed. There are also many quality remote therapy options, such as Talkspace, BetterHelp, Crisis Text Line and Teen Counseling.

Like adults, teens and college students who are struggling with loneliness, fear and anxiety might be more tempted than usual to use alcohol and other substances. If this is the case with your student, it might help for them to connect with a counselor, therapist or online support community. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website and helpline provides information and can connect you with local resources; your family doctor is also a starting point for finding help.

Brainstorm What to Do Instead of Going Out

Rather than focusing on what you can’t do right now, frame the conversation around what you can do with this newly found free time. 

Involve your entire family to come up with ideas to stay productive and healthy during the period of social distancing.

  • Schedule weekly video calls with friends
  • Learn a new language with an app like Duolingo
  • Buy flower, vegetable or herb seeds to start indoors in preparation for a summer garden (available along with planting supplies at hardware stores which are still open)
  • Make a list of movies to watch and books to read — aim high with Best Picture or Nobel Prize winners
  • Try meditation — an app like Calm makes it easy to learn the basics
  • Cook new kinds of foods
  • Do at-home workouts or yoga with online videos, or exercise outside in your neighborhood (if feasible)
  • Host virtual graduation parties

Some other tips for maintaining a sense of normalcy? Limit your news intake, stay on a regular sleep and meal schedule, and get dressed in the morning like it’s any other day.

Stay Home, Stay Safe

As a reminder, here’s how you and your college student can do your part to stop the spread of coronavirus in your community.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued the following strict guidelines that all Americans should adhere to, including:

  • Social distancing: When in public, keep a distance of six feet or more from others and stay home as much as possible.
  • Wash your hands regularly: Using soap and water for 20 seconds, or a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol when soap and water aren't available.
  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands: The virus can enter your body through the eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean surfaces in your home regularly: Doorknobs, handles, faucets, phones, keyboards, remote controls, keys and other regularly used items.
  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.

The more closely we follow these guidelines, the better it will be for the health of everyone.

CollegiateParent is Here for You

We've always been dedicated to providing our readers with helpful advice and information. As the coronavirus situation evolves, we’re focusing our efforts on sharing resources and personal stories to support you and your family during this challenging time.

Discover more coronavirus resources for parents and families here >

CollegiateParent supports you on your own personal journey during your student's college years. We answer questions, share stories and connect you to life on campus. Reach out to us at any time!
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