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Bright Futures

Articles and Updates from Phoenix Children's

June 24, 2020, Jenni Rogers, MS, CCLS, CTRS
Navigating Teen Friendships and Social Distancing

Parenting teens often poses a unique challenge as you walk the fine line between encouraging independence while also trying to protect them from consequences only you can foresee. Add to that the ongoing need for families to determine their own rules and restrictions during COVID-19 – especially given the recent spike in cases in Arizona – and differences become more noticeable. 

Some families continue to social distance and don’t intend to change course in the near future. Others venture out for dinner and shopping and attend get-togethers with friends and family. These differences can lead to difficult and uncomfortable situations for teenagers and their friends.

Navigating the Gray Area
Some teens have been hanging out with friends throughout the pandemic. Others are at the opposite end of the spectrum, where they exclusively use mobile and digital platforms to connect with their peers. For the most part, kids are subject to their parents’ rules when it comes to social distancing.

Luckily, teens have a lot of experience navigating differences like these. From curfews and homework to holidays and religious traditions, every teen’s family handles life a bit differently. It’s only natural that people are handling social distancing differently, as well. 

There is only one “rule” for teens about social distancing – to honor one another’s differences – though there are a variety of recommendations that may be helpful. Here are a few tips to empower your teen in conversations with friends, particularly if they feel alone, pressured, or defensive about your family’s social distancing style.

Avoidance
This tip is exactly what it sounds like: simply avoid the situation. If your family is continuing to abide by social distancing guidelines and your teen doesn’t feel comfortable saying no outright, it’s perfectly fine to empower them to have other plans, like, “I’m hanging out with my family tonight” or “I have work to do at home.” You can also help your teen by giving them an out: “My dad said I can’t right now.” 

Direct Communication
It’s also fine to be direct in saying no to friends’ invitations to hang out. The recommendation here is to use “I” statements to ensure the friend doesn’t feel judged or criticized. Your teen can try something like this: “I would be really worried about going out because my dad is immunocompromised,” or, “I would love to come over, but I would disappoint my parents because it would mean breaking my family’s rules.” 

It’s a tricky time right now as we all create rules and boundaries for our families amid COVID-19, but these simple guidelines should prove helpful as your teen navigates one of the most important areas of their life: friendships.

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