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On the Highway of Life With Your College KidMarybeth Bock, MPH
My college freshman returned home from school today, a mere two months after his college journey began as a spring admit in January.
Moving back home in the midst of a global pandemic was most certainly not part of the plan. His school joined with the majority of colleges and universities that made the decision to transition current students to online instruction.
These carefully considered decisions were made in response, of course, to the COVID-19 crisis. Not everyone agrees with the timing of these decisions, and tensions are running high. This is an extremely stressful time for all of us.
How we handle ourselves during this crisis, and the behavior we model in the weeks and months ahead, will have a lasting impact on our children. What can we do to help support our college students during this unprecedented situation?
You cannot turn on the TV or open up Facebook without a barrage of COVID-19 related news. XM radio even has a free channel 24/7 devoted to the outbreak. It is good to be informed, but obsessing about it is likely to cause undue additional anxiety. Talk about the realities of the outbreak with your teenagers, but don’t make it the only topic of conversation.
Is your "quaranteen" giving you a hard time about social distancing (as mine was)? Have them watch the news for one hour (or more). My college freshman’s attitude completely changed after watching coronavirus coverage on TV.
The CDC is a credible and invaluable resource but not the only one. Your city, county and state websites will have up-to-the-minute information and recommendations; you can sign up for email newsletters, and from your U.S. senators and representative, too.
Share information with your children, and talk about it what it means to you and your family. By this time, you have probably seen the “Flatten the Curve” chart. Make sure your child has seen it too. Kids will likely continue to see reckless behavior on social media channels, and celebrities flaunting their lifestyles while wearing designer face masks. Address this with them and let them know it is not okay.
I know this is easier said than done. Like most people, I've started working from home and have increased my hand washing to an almost obsessive nature. I have about a month’s worth of supplies in my house.
I continue to check in on my elderly parents to make sure they are as prepared as possible. Numerous people I love have underlying health conditions and I am scared.
I have shared my concerns with both of my children (ages 18 and 22). It’s okay to let your older kids know if you are scared. Reassure them that, although we can’t always control a situation, there are steps we can take to prepare for the best outcome. Whether it’s making sure you have enough food or stocking up on toilet paper (yes, I did that too), show your kids what you have done to get ready. Ask them for their ideas on how to further prepare.
You may have noticed an increase in social media fights and interpersonal friction surrounding the coronavirus outbreak. There are heightened stress levels across the board.
Kindness and compassion will go a long way. It’s okay if people think you are over-reacting, or under-reacting. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Try and separate fact from opinion and refrain from emotional posting.
Kindness is essential to supporting public healing.
Remind your students one of the kindest things they can do as young people is to do their part in helping slow the spread of this virus. Young people often think they are invincible. It is true that grim statistics for the coronavirus have been concentrated around the older population, and those with underlying issues. Much of the risk lies in the possibility of younger people (even those who don’t show symptoms) spreading the disease, without knowledge, to a more vulnerable population.
This is part of the thought process behind much of the closures, as it encourages social distancing. Social distancing has been shown to slow the spread of the disease and preserve community health resources for those in need.
While most people are focusing on physical health strategies, don’t forget to take care of your family’s mental health. From the high school senior, now unable to attend their admitted student days, to the college senior who could be looking at missing a commencement ceremony: it is a big deal.
It is a real and complicated disruption full of unknowns, the likes of which most of us have not seen in our lifetime.
Stress reduction is particularly important during turbulent times. Apologize to the kids if you lash out in frustration. Be sure to carve out some “me” time, and encourage your teen to do the same. Share coping strategies with your children. A walk around the block can do wonders. Even sitting outside to get some sunshine has been shown to boost spirits. Maybe you can do an online yoga class together, or watch one of your favorite 80’s movie. Encourage them to FaceTime with friends and family, particularly with grandparents who may be in isolation.
The COVID-19 disruption is a harsh life lesson. Teenage brains are still developing, and they may sound very self-absorbed during this time, focusing how everything is affecting them. It is important to validate your teen’s feelings and to try and impart to them the bigger picture; the global impact of the pandemic, and their role in supporting their community’s efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus.
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