Whether your child will be back in the classroom full-time, part-time, or at all and what safety measures your child’s high school will take to limit the transmission of COVID-19 may still be up in the air. What we do know is that in-person school will look different in different parts of the country. No matter where you live and what your local community is doing, keeping your child healthy and alive are the most important things you can do as a parent. The key things to model for kids of all ages? Calmness, flexibility, and a willingness to care enough about others to take the necessary steps to keep everyone safe.

Hopefully your teen is already fully vaccinated. If not, now’s the time. While there are some breakthrough Delta-variant infections for fully vaccinated people, the latest research shows that unvaccinated people are at far greater risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19. And since so many people remain unvaccinated and because vaccinated people can still transmit the Delta variant, the best protection for ourselves and others is for everyone to wear masks inside and around large groups (read: at school). Research suggests that teenagers are as likely as adults to transmit the virus to others, yet brain science tells us that their ability to weigh consequences is still maturing. So you and your teenager may not have the same ideas about what risky behavior looks like. Plus, teens have an essential, developmental need to connect with their peers. If this sounds like an impossible paradox, that’s because it is. The key thing to remember is to foster an environment of mutual respect and regard by listening to your teenager and spending time together. That will make it easier to have productive conversations about what makes the most sense for your family. And remember that even when it seems like your teen is tuning you out, they’re listening and taking cues from you about how to handle this next phase of the pandemic.

Dating! Kissing! Sex!

Teenage sexuality was already complicated — and that was before kissing could be a major health risk. How you respond to this moment will likely be a very personal one, based on a number of factors including your family’s vaccination status, your teen’s stage of development, whether or not they already have a boyfriend or girlfriend (and their vaccination status), and your family’s values. Whatever the case, your child will no doubt appreciate your effort to see the issues from their perspective as well as your own (and the CDC’s.) It’s valuable to keep in mind how essential peer relationships are to teen development and look for ways to help your child have as many safe social connections to other teens as possible.

Large group gatherings

Teens want to hang out together in groups, but this can be one of the most dangerous behaviors your child can engage in. Especially if the gathering takes place indoors without masks (and especially with unvaccinated people).

Helping your teen understand the natural consequences of big gatherings is an important first step. If they read some stories about how large gatherings of young people have turned into outbreaks and how the participants have regretted their actions, they may be able to see your perspective. Even with the stakes so high, it remains important to empathize with your teen. This is a tough time to be a young person! One possibility is to collaborate on how to solve the problem. Ask your child what they would do in your position. Then work on solutions together.

Vaping and smoking puts your child at risk

Vaping or smoking have never been healthy habits but now researchers worry that they’re especially dangerous given the fact that they damage the lungs and potentially put smokers at greater risk for COVID-19 complications. Need a simple argument to help your child begin to kick the habit? This article is designed to start that conversation.

Look for the silver linings

Children of all ages around the world are experiencing the stresses and uncertainties of the pandemic. And we as their parents are feeling the pain of every virtual celebration and missed rite of passage. In the midst of this stress and sadness, it’s worth remembering that young humans are supremely adaptive: they are creatures of change and creativity and make-do-with-what-you-have.

In this time, many teens have been discovering treasures that will last their whole lives. They’re learning that they have reservoirs of resilience, siblings they love, abilities to learn new things they never thought they could learn. One teen starts a journal or learns to play an instrument. Another volunteers at a food bank or gets their first job. Children are adapting to the world as it is, not as we have hoped it would be for them. And in this, they are better suited to the moment than we are. So as you move into this fall with all of its unknowns, notice the small wins your child is no doubt experiencing and celebrate them. Because those will be the learning moments that stick.

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Updated: August 11, 2021