Five Tips for Helping Teens Follow COVID-19 Protocols

It’s easy for parents to think their teenagers know what they’re doing. They sure act like they do. For instance, do you assume your super-responsible (or not so responsible) kiddos are taking COVID-19 precautions seriously, always wearing a face mask, using hand sanitizer and social distancing at school, work, or with friends?

Well, maybe you shouldn’t.

I know, because I’m guilty of not sharing some really important information with my kids. When our younger daughter was in her late teens, she brought a parental failing to my attention. One that I shouldn’t have missed.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me not to drink and drive?” she said, popping into our bedroom one night to let us know she was home safe

“Because I thought you knew better,” I said, shocked by the question and stunned at my dereliction of duty. I had thought this was common knowledge, that you don’t get behind the wheel if you’ve been drinking. We knew of people who’d died in DUI accidents. If she hadn’t picked up the message from her parents’ example, surely, she’d have gotten it from a school health class, driver’s ed, or on TV. But she was right. I never had “the talk” with her. Or with our three other children. I suspected that one of her friends had been drinking and driving, because our daughter didn’t have a car. The thought of it scared me to death.

During these times of unchecked community spread of COVID-19, parents need to make sure they’re having “the talk.” And repeating it until their teens “get it.”

After COVID-19 was recognized in Taiwan in early 2020, health authorities stepped up prevention and intervention activities to help stop the spread in schools and universities. “At the individual level, suggested preventative behaviors included: i) maintaining good personal hygiene, ii) developing a healthy lifestyle with proper diet, regular exercise, and adequate rest, iii) ensuring adequate ventilation at home and in the office, and iv) wearing masks, especially for those with preexisting respiratory tract infections.” (

The CDC’s Parent Resource Kit for the Social, Emotional, and Mental Well-being of Adolescents during COVID-19 offers ideas for helping teens through the hard-hitting challenges they’re facing: The loss of a breadwinner’s job, for instance, the loss of school classes, teachers and activities,  changes in their daily routine, and the loss of special events that mark important milestones, like prom and graduation. (

Not sure if your teen is complying with your family protocols? Here are five ideas to help them accept reality, and to keep everyone safe.

  1. Buy or make different mask styles for your teenager to try out. Supply them with several of the type they agree to wear. Demonstrate (yes – demonstrate!) how you want them washed. (Masks should be double-thickness if possible, one layer should be made of high-quality quilter’s cotton, the other layer a synthetic.) Make sure to have an “in” and “out” mask basket for use by the door.
  2. Create a family protocol list for exiting and entering the house. Post it on the door. Daily protocols should include hand washing upon coming home. Also, disinfecting cell phones. (Unplug and turn off. Then wipe with 70% alcohol and a cotton ball or a clean microfiber cloth sprayed with disinfectant.) Leave shoes at the door.
  3. Set up a protocol table, a card table for instance, near an entrance or in the garage. This can serve as a place for your mask in-and-out baskets, disinfectant wipes, and extra hand sanitizer for on-the-go. Teens can deposit any items they’re bringing into the house on the protocol table, as a reminder that they have a responsibility to wipe things down with disinfectant wipes. Hang coats instead of tossing them on the couch or bed. Provide a place where they can air out.
  4. If their school, sports or group activities have been cancelled, make sure you are empathetic about their loss. Talk to them about it. Dealing with COVID-19 is mentally exhausting and the isolation can cause depression in teens. It’s devastating at that age to have to give up what you love. Help them realize that it will end. And make sure they’re still getting physical activity. (YouTube channels offer a plethora of options, including dance and yoga.) Do fun family activities together. Take a hike. Roast hot dogs on a grill. Make food for an elderly relative. Watch a favorite old movie or TV series together. Play a trivia game. Hang a world map and learn foreign countries together. Help them stay connected!
  5. If you don’t feel comfortable with your teenager riding in their friends’ cars, due to possible COVID spread, just say no. You will need to arrange transportation that you feel is safe. If you do allow them to share rides, make mask wearing mandatory. And following the family protocol. The same goes for eating with friends. Say “no” to sharing food. As much as they may like splitting a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos with their best friend, eating with people outside the family is another way the virus can spread.

Your teen may not appreciate that he or she is living through a once-in-a-lifetime event. You can help them understand the severity of COVID-19 by watching videos about the 1918 Spanish flu, listening to the words of hospital nurses, or people who’ve lost loved ones. Accepting the reality of the situation is the first step to taking action. It going to end, tell them. And we are all looking forward to that day. FFG

Fighting Miller Moths: A Symbolic Occupation in the Time of Coronavirus

Just when I’ve gotten used to masking up when I go out – which is not often – and dousing myself with hand sanitizer in an attempt to keep COVID-19 at bay, Nature has thrown my area of the country a strange and wild curve ball: miller moths. Not just a few, fluttering through backyards like butterflies. This is a huge number I’m talking about. Enough to keep you housebound. Or at least shielding your head when you go outside. They’re not dangerous. But daunting. Blinding if you stumble into a cloud of them and have to shake them off. And thoroughly disgusting if you find one under your pillow, as I did last night.


They’re so profuse, in fact, that my husband can’t tend his garden. I suggested that he wear the orange emergency poncho that I keep in the car trunk. It has a protective hood, zips to the neck, and practically falls to the floor. The moths would then bounce off him as he waters his green beans and zucchini, instead flying into his hair Continue reading

One Mom’s Tribute to Cokie Roberts

I never knew Cokie Roberts personally. But I felt like I did. As a young mother back when National Public Radio was just a fledgling network, Cokie’s reporting fed my mind, which in those days was usually preoccupied with diapers, keeping track of a preschooler, and getting meals on the table. The pioneer broadcaster died on Sept. 16 at age 75.

With a steady, rational voice – which is more than I often had – she brought me news of events that I had no idea were happening in this country. After becoming a mother, I pledged allegiance to fuzzy blankets, digger trucks, afternoon naps, and Tommee Tippee cups of apple juice.

I first heard Cokie’s voice in the 1970s, while living in an old adobe house in the wilds of New Mexico. I would tune our G.E. table radio to KUNM, our NPR affiliate, and the world came tumbling in. News of Washington – light years from the tiny hamlet where we chose to live, combined with the smell of piñon logs crackling in the wood stove. I was in heaven.

Cokie and her NPR colleagues lit up the connections in my mommy brain. The country was just getting over the war in Vietnam and President Nixon’s resignation. Then came Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. We all needed hope. “All Things Considered” gave us an in-depth look at reality. Not hyperbole. But calmly presented news. More importantly, the reporting made me feel less isolated. It was news as I’d never heard it before. And I was hungry for it.

Across my entire writing career, which was at times sporadic and other times intense, I raised four children, often homeschooling some or all of them, and later on, became a remedial reading teacher. As a features writer, Continue reading

The Importance of Visualization for Young Readers

Does your child “make pictures” in his mind when he reads? This is an important question. Why? Because the ability to make mental images – to visualize – makes a difference in whether or not a child enjoys reading, and whether or not he truly comprehends. Let me describe a phenomenon that happened the other day. The moment the light bulb went on for a child.
Most second graders I teach read simple chapter books. But one boy in the class I was subbing for had brought an impressive, thick book from home. A fantasy with a blood red cover. It was silent reading time, and I asked him to read to me, just a bit, to see how he did.  He read very well. Later in the day, he came to my desk wearing a quizzical expression. Something had happened. He said he’d been reading a particular sentence in his book, and all of a sudden his mind saw what the words were saying. All at the same time!
I understood at once what had occurred, and was overjoyed for the boy.   
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I witnessed the same phenomenon years ago, as private reading tutor. A first grader who struggled with reading had begun making progress with phonics. He was pushing through a decodable story I’d written about a little boy and a fireman. After reading the part about the fireman lifting the boy up to the driver’s seat in his fire truck, and letting him steer the wheel, the child, whose name I’ve forgotten, suddenly exclaimed, “I can see it in my mind!”
It’s an incredible moment when a child recognizes his ability to visualize what he’s reading. 
Parents can check to see if their child is “making pictures” in their mind. Have them read to you, nothing too hard. Something with very few pictures. Ask what the characters in the book look like. What does the house, or the scary woods look like? If they don’t know, take out a pencil and pad, and have them make a quick sketch of what it might look like. Or simply ask what a particular phrase looks like to them. A lady in a hat, for example. Have them tell you about the lady and her hat. Is she old? Young? Have floppy hat, or a ski cap? In time, any child’s ability to make mental images can improve. When it happens, you will know. Your child will fall in love with reading. FFG

The Birthday Cake My Mother Didn’t Make

When I found out that my mother had given birth to a boy – her sixth and last child – I turned my face into the wall and cried. Not tears of joy, but indescribable disappointment. At age nine, I realized the new baby would change the ratio of male to female children in the family – 4:2 – and skew the balance forever. I’d already learned that boys had way more power than girls.


My brothers, for example, had the power to mesmerize our parents weekend after weekend, playing baseball and soccer, while I languished in the bleachers wishing I were somewhere else. My brothers could slug me for absolutely no reason and then fake-whine that I had started it. And most irritatingly, they would bow their knees out a mile in the back seat of our station wagon, “man-spreading,” with no regard for their sister’s more modest tendencies.


As if it were not terrible enough to have another boy in the family, I learned that my brother’s Valentine’s Day birth had been a Cesarean delivery. To me, the word meant only that my mother would not be home from the hospital in time for my birthday, only four short February days away.


A feeling of grief settled in my stomach. Even the teachers at my school reminded me of the latest enemy-addition to our family: “I hear you have a new baby brother!” they said with sickeningly sweet smiles. Up to that time, school had been my solace, my escape, where I could imagine being an only child – a kid whose parents reminded her to drink her milk, instead of yelling, “Shut the refrigerator door!”


My anxiety worsened by the day. No mom equaled no birthday cake. My dad – a well-meaning man who hammered nails for a living and created large, lasting structures – was by no means capable of measuring and sifting flour into a bowl for the purpose of making something that would be consumed in a day. Not without having a nervous breakdown.


And then, just before supper on my birthday. everything changed. Continue reading