#childsafety | Talking to Teens and Tweens About Coronavirus

What should parents do if their teens and tweens, with easy access to information on their phones and laptops, develop anxiety over what they have heard about the coronavirus?

Daniela Raccanello, an assistant professor of developmental and educational psychology at the University of Verona, Italy, found herself using some of her professional advice with her own 7- and 10-year-old daughters when their school in the Padua region closed last week because of coronavirus.

“It is key to help children continue their lives as normally as possible, but at the same time be aware of what is happening,” Dr. Raccanello said. “Keep them busy with their studies, and reassure them that the current situation, like their school being closed, is the best way to keep people safe.”

“The virus’s origin, the quick spread around the world, the allure of this novel disease is everywhere,” she said. “Turn off the news and really find out what your kids know about the virus.”

“Answer their questions, and if you don’t know the answer, be honest. You can research the answers together,” Dr. Mogel said.

Dr. Bromfield cautions that parents should not falsely reassure kids by saying things like “you’ll be fine” or “everyone’s going to be fine.” Instead, parents should try to understand what their children are feeling.

“Parents should have one leg in the worry and one leg in the place of constructive help, comfort and validation of how hard it is to be experiencing this,” Dr. Bromfield said.

He compared it to other recent catastrophes that have been in the news, such as the bush fires in Australia.

“For parents, it is easy to imagine a 3- or 4-year-old crying when they see a koala bear burned and alone,” he said. “I think we forget that a 17-year-old still has a little bit of that younger child in them, and they too are frightened and vulnerable.”

Dr. Mogel suggested passing along the words one teenager recently used in talking about the virus to her: “She said people with stronger immune systems should take more responsibility to keep people with weaker immune systems well.”

She added, “It’s also a good opportunity for parents to reinforce what they have always told their kids: Get a good night’s sleep, get some sunshine, eat well and make sure you wash your hands.”

“Explain that part of why we take certain precautions, like 20-second hand-washing before snacks and lunch, not sharing food and utensils, and so forth is that we’re protecting vulnerable people. It’s a community effort,” Ms. Turgeon said.

“Tell your kids that this year, the risk of traveling isn’t worth it, but you will find another way for your family to have fun,” Dr. Damour said.


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