This may come as a shock to some of you, but I am not a medical doctor. I am not a scientist, and I have no background in the field of infectious diseases. However, I know my stuff when it comes to our nation’s young people. As CEO of the nation’s largest youth prevention organization, I have the opportunity to interact with thousands of teens each year. And while I hate to clog the internet with yet another opinion about COVID-19 and our current health crisis, I want to make an observation: our teens are scared.
In our frenzy to get prepared, to share and repost, to discuss and debate, and simply try to understand what is happening during this pandemic, we’ve neglected the fact that, while everyone—adults included—is confused about what to believe, this public health crisis might be especially troubling for a young person. For most adolescents, this is their first taste of global panic. They don’t remember the fears of 9/11 or other episodes of our history which have surprised and terrified us. All our teens see is the adults they love and trust running for the hills to buy hand gel and masks.
I challenge you to take a break from restocking your doomsday bunker to sit down with the teen in your life and have an honest conversation. Tell them you’re scared. Tell them you’re not scared. Just tell them the truth. Help them understand where you are getting your information and why you feel this way. Talk about simple acts that they can do to be safe. Follow the CDC recommendations for the latest actions you as a family can take to keep each other safe.
Develop a plan for if one of you does get sick. Do some research together and help your teen know that you care about them and together, you will be there for them, come what may.
Again, I’m not a doctor, but I am someone who has looked into the eyes of thousands of youths this month and seen one thing: fear. As a caring adult in the life of a teen, we each have a responsibility to calm those fears—not through pipedreams of utopia but instead education and love. Starting that conversation will make your youth feel better, and if we’re honest, I bet it will make you feel better, too. For now, start talking and keep washing your hands.