School’s out for summer – parenting your teen during COVID-19

By Amy Khan
June 30, 2020

Insights from Dr. Amy Khan, executive medical director at Regence (and parent of a teenager)

Above: Summer can be a perfect time to embark on a new project, skill, or take up a new hobby. Beekeeping, anyone?

With summer in full swing, many parents of teenagers are feeling challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic. With seasonal activities cancelled or postponed, our disappointed teens have more time on their hands. Some are unclear about ways to stave off boredom or descend into video games. Many are frustrated by restrictions in time spent with friends or simply having fun. 

Naturally curious, adolescents are developing a sense of identity, honing social skills through peer interactions, and test-driving independence. During this time, their brains are still developing, especially the part that maps to good decision making and thoughtful planning. Predictably, this means typical teens may be impulsive or take risks without fully considering the consequences of their actions.

These factors are all coming into play this summer as COVID-19 cases spike in several areas, creating concern for many families with preteens and teenagers. As parents, we can help our kids by engaging them in planning how to keep themselves and others safe, have fun and thrive this summer.

It’s clear that mom or dad’s role as the family coach or team leader is especially critical this summer. Parents can start by talking with adolescents about feelings such as loneliness or isolation and acknowledging their frustrations. Then, establish a family planning committee to brainstorm safe activities, aimed at keeping your teens in the game. Help them identify healthy options, clarify expectations and confirm responsibilities for behaviors that reduce disease transmission risks.

By regularly sharing what we know about COVID-19 and the consequences of becoming infected, we can help teens to better gauge risks. It is helpful to call out how they can protect family and friends at greater risk due to age or medical vulnerabilities. Reinforce teenager support by role modeling recommended behaviors; physical distancing, wearing a face mask, and regularly washing hands.  

Don’t forget to plan for and make time for fun!

  • Get outside where the air is fresh and sun shines. Physical distancing is easier when we walk, hike, run, bike, paddle or swim. Don’t forget the glue that holds families together – camping.
  • Make lasting summer fun memories by going to the drive-in theatre and on picnics. Punctuate birthdays, holidays and anniversaries with creative celebrations; try a virtual family reunion!    
  • Zoom parties with friends can include interactive games, competition or dancing. Many favorite games can be played through videoconferencing too, like Codenames, Heads Up! and Battleship.

Mark the summer with accomplishment

  • Encourage teens to embark on a project, acquire a new skill, take up a hobby or learn to play an instrument. Lifelong pastimes can be developed if not kindle future careers; the sky’s the limit…beekeeping, anyone?
  • How about tackling a new language, learning to type or code, or taking an online class? These activities can help stretch the braincells and support your teen’s educational success.

Broaden teenage perspectives

  • Giving back to those most vulnerable or struggling can bring a sense of purpose and connectedness for your teen while helping them to look beyond their needs and build resilience.
  • They might volunteer at the community garden or animal shelter, make phone calls to seniors or shut ins to help brighten their days, or tend to a neighbor’s yard

If your teenager is struggling emotionally or acting out

  • Don’t hesitate to ask your doctor or behavioral health counselor. Most care providers are conducting virtual visits over the telephone or online.
  • Check out available community resources for teens and their families as well as behavioral health and wellness resources online and in apps.
  • Regence offers behavioral health resources for teens too including MyStrength app, which offers self-service emotional support and help to develop coping skills.

For more information about resources related to COVID-19, visit