My 13-year-old son went out for a bike ride the other day. And naturally, I sent him with a mask and some hand sanitizer. I reminded him about needing to stay six feet away from people, and how I wanted him to exercise, but I also wanted him to stay safe. And in true teenager fashion, he nodded, eyes glossy in that “I know, Dad” sort of way that teens get when they think they have everything figured out, even in the middle of a pandemic.
About 20 minutes later, he called me to say that he had stopped by a friend’s house and wanted to go inside and play video games. We had discussed this sort of thing previously. He was allowed to talk to friends in the neighborhood as long as it was outside, and he maintained social distancing. However, he was not allowed to go in their homes or cars.
I reminded him of the no-friends’-houses rule, and he started arguing with me (because he’s 13). He went on about how we go to the grocery store with masks, and he didn’t see how that was any different than him playing video games with his friend, sitting next to him on the sofa, and eating snacks. He also told me that his friends’ parents told their son that this whole COVID thing is a big sham, and that it’s not worse than the flu, and obviously he’d rather listen to his friends’ parents than his own, because then he’d get what he wanted.
We went back and forth for a while, me explaining to him that this “COVID thing” is very real, and that over 180,000 Americans had died from it. Then I went on about how staying safe means mitigating risk, and going to the grocery store is a risk we have to take to get food, and how we hardly even go into the store anymore because we do curbside pickup.
Then I told him something that really ticked him off: “Playing video games at your friend’s house isn’t an essential risk.”
He got so offended, you’d think I’d just told him that his friend was a no-good loser, and that he shouldn’t ever hang out with him again. Which isn’t what I was saying at all, obviously, but when you’re 13 you hear things differently than normal people.
I don’t want to speak for all parents raising a teenager in the middle of a pandemic, but I have to assume that this all sounds very familiar. Explaining COVID-19 safety to my teen has to be one of the most complicated and argument-ridden things I’ve ever done.
My son is a pretty good kid. He does well in school, and he helps out around the house with minimal complaint. I am lucky in the fact that I can trust him to follow the rules, and before he might break one, he will call me and ask for permission. He also has good friends, even if some of their parents are COVID-19 deniers.
But this 2020 summer on quarantine has been the most boring thing he’s ever experienced, and he really wants to spend time with his buddies. So I suppose it should be natural that he’s spent most of the summer finding any way to poke a hole in the safety regulations his parents are trying to enforce. He asks a lot of questions that honestly, at times, I don’t have the answers to. He has set sail on a lot of arguments, all of it coming out in a long list of grievances over how lonely he is, hopeful that he will find some way to get around the rules he doesn’t particularly want to follow.
To be fair, I don’t really like following COVID-19 safety rules myself. I’d much rather have my son riding around town with his friends, playing games at their homes, and dreading the impending school inside an actual classroom. But that isn’t the reality of right now, and so I have to help him understand how to stay safe for himself, his family, and his community. So I’m being a stickler about all of it, and my son is not digging it. Not at all.
Raising a teenager in the middle of a pandemic means setting forth a bunch of new rules and expectations, along with a number of limitations. And those safety rules have changed and adapted as new information has come forth about the virus. Explaining that to my son has been pretty difficult, particularly when many of his friends’ parents are not on board with following the same rules. All of it is a new form of frustration for parents in 2020, and by the time I got done arguing with my son over the phone about playing games inside his buddies house, I was good and tired.
Ultimately, he relented, and we settled on a compromise: he could come home and play Roblox online with his friend, and that seemed to work for him. But I have no doubt that the longer this pandemic lasts, the more I — and parents of teens everywhere — are going to find ourselves locked into similar arguments.
Let’s just add this fact to our list of 2020 grievances. As if it weren’t long enough already.