I don’t think I’m the only parent worrying right now about teens and social distancing.
Take the current lockdown rules. It’s as if someone sat down and tried to come up with a set of rules that would be impossible for teens to stick to.
- Only meet up with one person at a time.
- Stay two metres away from that other person.
- Only meet up in wide open spaces
I mean – have you met a teenager?
Since lockdown rules changed, we’ve probably spotted about ten groups of people out and about in our small town and the surrounding area. Without exception, the groups were teenagers of about Flea’s age. We knew quite a lot of them by name.
Half a dozen boys on bikes. A group of kids sitting on the bench at the village green. Three girls taking a walk down the promenade. And oh so many young couples holding hands and embracing. Nobody social distancing. Because they’re teenagers, and hormones and human sexuality are a powerful combination to try and overcome.
It’s exasperating but at the same time, I do think it’s sort of understandable.
Social distancing is hard for teenagers.
Teenagers are hard-wired to want social connections with their peers. They like to hang out in groups. They are hugely physical with their friends. Even more so with boyfriends and girlfriends.
As a parent, this means lockdown involves huge, scary amounts of trust.
If Flea is leaving the house alone to meet a friend, I have to TRUST that she will stay 2 metres away from that friend. I have to trust that it’s just one friend she’s meeting. I have to trust that if they go into a shop, they will social distance, they will use hand sanitiser, they will not touch things and put them back on shelves.
Giving my child that trust is SO much harder when she routinely sees adults around her breaking the lockdown rules. They’re ignoring government and scientific advice because they think their behaviour is safe. So what’s to stop a teenager assuming the same thing?
We Need to be Role Models for our Teens
In some ways, I think the current stage of lockdown is harder for teens than adults.
If I go for coffee, it’s not unusual to visit one friend at a time. It’s not a huge hassle not to hug a friend, when I see them. It’s not boring to just go for a walk.
That isn’t your average teen’s social life.
So I hope you’ll forgive me for being just a bit frustrated by adults breaking lockdown rules.
I’ve said before, on Instagram, most people don’t set out to break rules. Instead, I think they do the mental gymnastics needed to convince themselves the rules don’t apply to their situation.
- “Well, we were outside, and it was just for an hour, which is basically social distancing.”
- “When the grandchildren visit, it’s really just the same as them being at nursery.”
- “Well, there’s two of us and we have two visitors, so that’s each of us meeting one person.”
Here’s the thing. These people know, in their heart of hearts, they’re not doing the right thing. They’re taking a calculated risk on not being infected, and not being caught by the police and fined £100.
They might be right. Let’s hope they are. Although the risks ARE real – check out this post for a rundown of the risks associated with various activities. Although it might make you think twice about ever going to a restaurant again.
To an extent I don’t mind if Steve from number 69 goes out, meets his mates, and gets sick. He might end up infecting other people, which is a problem. But even if that doesn’t happen, he’s still making my life more difficult by breaking lockdown rules.
You Breaking Lockdown Rules Makes My Life Harder
My first problem with Steve the fictional barbecue guest is this. His rule breaking turns me into the sort of person who thinks about writing a letter to the local paper, or phoning that anonymous tip line.
I do not want to be that sort of person.
I won’t actually do those things. It’s just unkind. Besides, the police and Crimestoppers have enough to do without worrying about these tiny breaches. But I am still sad, and frustrated, and I don’t like it.
My second problem is what Steve’s behaviour tells my teen.
I’m telling my teen to ignore every impulse that tells her to have a big get-together with her mates with hugging and playing around and snogging and sharing drinks.
Steve’s behaviour is telling my teen not to worry about it. To make her own choices, based on her own preferred interpretation of the rules.
How am I supposed to tell my teenager to stick to the rules when, all around her, she sees adults breaking those same rules?
We can’t just tell teenagers to follow the rules. We need to show them that WE follow the rules. Don’t you think?