“What you gonna do, report on me to the government?”
Do we have a snitch line? If we had one, I’d be tempted.
Why? Because the family politics of the COVID precautions are making the parenting of adolescents look like a walk in the park. A tea party with the queen at Buckingham Palace. A date with Nicole Kidman. Really.
Because parents of teens and young adults are struggling with too much fear, pain and frustration. The fear is because when they break COVID precaution protocols, we literally fear death. And we know they’re breaking the rules. No, I’m not being melodramatic. If they bring COVID home to us, we are at great risk. The pain is because we are incredulous – and sad – that they don’t seem to care enough about our well-being to limit their socializing. And the frustration is about the communication piece.
But first let me tell you a little story. A parent with whom I am close has been telling me since Labour Day that his son who is at Queen’s isn’t partying at all…. And that he only sees his girlfriend (just the one) and his room-mate. And that they also isolate. And that none of them see anybody else. Yup. And I’m the tooth fairy.
It reminds me of when both my kids told me, at age 16, that they hadn’t ever smoked weed. Later (much later) when they were adults, both told me – with a certain glee – that they had given me the only answer I wanted to hear. Annoying, educational – in that it taught me the scant power of prohibition. But not life-threatening.
The high stakes today turn family politics into something appallingly challenging. University students have a right to come home. Or do they? Young adults the same. How do we even talk to them about this? My experiences thus far are that the younger gen experiences us as “interrogating” them when we inquire as to their COVID precautions.
Do they care about the rules in place? Apparently not so much. The rules do not appear to motivate them to batten down the hatches. Do they care that their socializing endangers others? Apparently that not so much either. In the U.S., we see the writing on the wall. From a recent New York Times article reported that “since the end of August, deaths from the coronavirus have doubled in counties with a large college population, compared with a 58 percent increase in the rest of the nation. Few of the victims were college students, but rather older people and others living and working in the community.”
So what are we to do in the face of their intransigence? First seek understand. If your relationship with your young ones is strong enough to have difficult conversations, start asking questions. (If it isn’t, learn how to strengthen it.)
The asking of questions cannot and must not contain even a hair’s breadth of judgment. If your content and tone are 100% non-judgy, and it’s your lucky day. They’ll tell you not what you want to hear, but their truth.
Which is that socializing is like oxygen to young people. Most of them literally cannot live without it. To them, life without constant connection with friends is no life at all. Pre-COVID, we believed that young people spent too much time on-line and not enough in person. How wrong we were to believe that screen connection was a sufficient substitute for face to face connection. If we’d been correct, they’d be happy social Zoomers now.
But they’re not, and they wilt without frequent hang time with friends.
So how to manage the chasm between our need for safety and their need for socializing? If they don’t life in our house, we have a lot of loneliness to tolerate. It is unfortunately that simple. If they want to come home, we get to set our boundaries. And we must. In my house, this sounds like: “Yes, after you isolate for 14 days.” It sucks. More for us that for them. But it sucks less than getting COVID.
If they still live in our house and are refusing to stop socializing, I would advise draconian measures. Because you can’t win the fight, and losing it can have such tragic consequences. I would require my adolescent offspring to move to the basement (or not enter common space unmasked if we’re in an apartment) and I would deliver meals to their threshold. And pick up used tableware there. No bathroom in the basement? Designate a COVID one. No shower in the basement? Take sponge baths. My house, my life, my decision.