COVID-19: Encouraging Teens to Protect Themselves and Others

To get your teens to think about COVID-19 and the importance of protecting themselves and others, try Healthy Hassling.* The goal of Healthy Hassling is to push your child’s thinking by taking different viewpoints, asking hard questions, and pointing out problems with how your child may be thinking. Important: Healthy Hassling should only be used for things that kids actually have choices about – not about house rules. You can hassle about how to follow the health and safety rules related to COVID-19, but whether to follow them or nor follow them is not up for discussion.

What you can accomplish by hassling with your teen about COVID-19

    • Most importantly, you can talk about and agree upon COVID-19 facts (See below.). This will come in handy in future conversations with your teen and in setting rules about what is allowed and what is not allowed regarding safe behaviors.
    • You can agree about how hard the current situation is, which lets your teen know that you understand what she is going through.
    • You can show respect for your teen’s feelings when you stop the hassle if it becomes emotional and too hard. (You agree to do that before starting the hassle.) This shows your teen that you will do what you say you will and helps strengthen your relationship with him.
    • You can offer help without offering your own solutions. This shows your teen that you believe in her ability to think of solutions and builds her confidence in her own problem-solving.
    • You can avoid making yourself right and your teen wrong, which is  good for any relationship.

How to use Healthy Hassling

  1. Tell your teen you would like to do a thinking exercise with her, so she can exercise her thinking muscles and show you how sharp her thinking is on the subject of COVID-19 protection. Tell her the exercise is called Healthy Hassling and explain how it works.
  2. Because COVID-19 is a health and safety issue, you both need to agree to accept the following facts before you try Healthy Hassling on this subject.
    • The virus is very contagious.
    • People get the virus from other people.
    • The virus is spread through droplets on hands and face from sneezing and coughing.
    • Staying six feet apart from each other is necessary to avoid contagious droplets.
    • Some people who do not feel sick may have the virus inside of them and be able to give it to others.
    • All people, young and old, can catch the virus.
    • Some people get very sick from the virus and others only moderately sick.
    • Some people die from complications of the virus.
    • Older persons or persons sick from other things are more likely to be very sick or even die from the virus.
    • Lots of washing of hands with soap and water (or sanitizing with virus-killing sanitizers) is necessary to prevent catching the virus from or giving the virus to others.
  3. Ask your teen if he is willing to hassle about how to protect against the virus. Make sure you both understand the following rules:
    • We both accept the facts (above). If a statement conflicts with the facts, that statement must be revised. For example, “I won’t get the virus,” violates a fact. That statement would have to be revised. A revision could be, “At 16, I am at low risk for getting the virus.”
    • We both agree to say, “I’m done,” if either one of us begins to feel angry or upset about what is being said. The purpose of Healthy Hassling is to stretch our thinking. Neither of us will insist on being right or that the other is wrong.
  4. Don’t put down your teen’s responses no matter how unreasonable they may be. Your job is to matter-of-factly push back with a different way of thinking so your teen can think about whether his responses make sense or whether he needs to adjust his thinking. However, both of you can ask for a change in a statement if it doesn’t sync with the facts.
  5. Example of Healthy Hassling about COVID-19:
    Adult:   What if you are asked to go to a movie with a friend?
    Teen:    Sounds great. I hate beng cooped up all the time.
    Adult:   So, how would you protect yourself from the virus?
    Teen:    It’s just Santos. He’s not sick.
    Adult:   Fact check. People who do not feel sick may have the virus
    inside of them and give it to others. How will you revise your
    answer to be in line with that fact?
    Teen:    That stinks. I can’t go anywhere with anybody.
    Adult:   It does stink. These are hard times to put up with. Are you
    saying you should not have any connection to Santos?
    Teen:    I don’t know. I’m done. This is too hard.
    Adult:   OK. Thanks for thinking about these things with me. They are
    important things. Let me know if later you want to brainstorm some
    ways to get together with Santos that jive with the facts.
    (Some possibilities if teen wants to brainstorm: Show a movie outside on a
    sheet and sit 6 feet apart, FaceTime while both teens watch the same movie in their
    homes, substitute bike riding for a movie)
  6. Some things to say/ask to get the hassle started:
    • What if a friend offers to share his snacks with you?
    • What if you are invited to go to the beach?
    • What if our neighbor can’t get to the grocery store?
    • What if your girlfriend (boyfriend) invites you to her (his) house?
*Healthy Hassling” is from Self-Esteem: A Family Affair by Jean Illsley Clarke.
Other COVID-19 posts:
 COVID-19: What Your Teen Is or Should Be Thinking
COVID-19:  Convincing Loved Ones to Protect Themselves and Others  coming April 3, 2020 

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