Young people and COVID-19

Relating in the “new reality”

Young people of varying ages – from the earliest stages through  the “age of awareness” on through adolescence and young adulthood – are in a somewhat different position relative to adults with respect to the global pandemic. Many young people are skeptical about the seriousness of this public health issue. Some have weathered rather intense childhood and seasonal infectious diseases and have endured directly much more in terms of restrictions placed on them in society and by the challenges of childhood and adolescence. 

They may see their own past experiences as more serious phases than an epidemic that seems so intangible. And classically, young people have less sense of their own mortality than do adults, and so their sense of the need for caution is often less. Others are far too young to understand much except the concept of “sickness”. Those in the intermediate stages of awareness may be in the best position developmentally to learn and promote health. 

In some ways, it is important for adults to unify all age-related perspectives to present to young people an accurate picture of our reality in a way that helps to instill calm while ensuring protection for the public. Institutions such as the Mayo Clinic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and the National Association of School Psychologists offer guidelines on how to navigate these waters. 

Especially for younger children and pre-adolescents, one recommendation is to keep stress at bay. One way to do this is to keep to a schedule: Change itself is inherently stressful, and even a small amount of regularity within this change can bring a sense of reassurance and calm. This may be more important as virtual classrooms give way to more relaxed summer schedules. It may help to sit with children and devise a schedule to set reliable parameters. Involving them in the design can also help give children a sense of control that they may feel is missing, given the restrictions that society is experiencing. 

Another is to model good habits, including hand-washing and hand-sanitizing, and mask-wearing. Safe distance can be explained relative to children’s interest (“Keep a basketball player’s height between you” or “entire alligator’s length”, for example). Children can be asked to explain back what rituals are important, and why. Involving children is a good way to help them become good stewards of their own health and of others. Children are often excellent teachers of other children (and of adults!), and so bringing them into activities that promote good health may be a “gift that keeps on giving”. For example, they may design their own hand-sanitizer and then teach friends their craft on video. 

Socializing with other children whose parents are responsibly coaching in COVID-safe practices is healthy. Caregivers may ensure these practices are in place by communicating explicitly with other caregivers, watching children play, and asking children afterward to describe how their play went.

And, importantly, this is also a special family time, one of the “hidden” blessings to be grateful for, as health is maintained in the process. Different ways to get to know family members can certainly be devised as part of play activities. A dynamic of this type may not again be seen in mainstream society, and it can be embraced as a new, if temporary, opportunity. With encouragement and guidance, young people, too, will adjust and thrive during these very challenging times.

Be well.
– Charley Rowe, coordinator, Holy Cross Health and Wellness Ministry

Sources and resources:
National Association of School Psychologists
U.S. Center for Disease Control
Mayo Clinic:
Helping Kids Cope with the Covid-19 Pandemic
- Indepth Information: Helping Kids Cope

Tags: Helping kids cope with Covid 19, Children and Covid 19


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