With the Delta variant increasing COVID-19 cases across the country, face masks are still a part of our everyday lives. Wearing one is a simple and effective way to reduce the spread of the virus and keep our communities healthy.
But as pandemic fatigue sets in, children and adults alike may grow tired of taking precautions such as wearing masks. For teens facing peer pressure and increasing independence, it can be challenging to follow mask recommendations.
If you're wondering the best ways to discuss the importance of wearing a mask with your teen, check out the advice below from Jenny Francis, M.D., MPH, a pediatrician with the Adolescent and Young Adult Clinic at Children's Health℠ and Associate Professor at UT Southwestern.
When should teens wear a face mask?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that anyone age 2 and older who is not fully vaccinated wear a face mask in public indoor places. With the recent uptick in cases, the CDC also recommends that vaccinated individuals wear a mask in public indoor places when in areas of substantial or high COVID-19 spread (you can use this CDC map to check cases in your area). Wearing a mask inside in public can help maximize protection against the highly contagious Delta variant.
Additionally, given the increase in COVID-19 cases, the CDC recommends that all students wear a face mask while in school regardless of vaccination status.
Generally, your teen doesn't have to wear a face mask outdoors. However, people should consider wearing a face mask in crowded outdoor spaces if they are in an area with high COVID-19 cases.
How to encourage teens to wear a mask
Before diving into the face mask topic with your teen, try to remember where they're coming from and what it was like when you were their age. Even before the pandemic, teens faced enormous pressure from friends, school and parents. Now, mask-wearing and social distancing have piled on top of these pressures and created more social challenges.
"Talking to a teen about wearing a mask is different than talking to a child about wearing a mask. You need to be more prepared for if they say ‘no' and don't want to wear it," Dr. Francis says. "It's more about conflict resolution and knowing how to motivate them to see the importance of masking."
It's also important to keep in mind that all teenagers are different. Some may take comfort in a mask's protection; others may struggle with what feels like a restriction. Remember that teens are at a stage in brain development where they're more likely to take risks and be impulsive. Coaching them through difficult scenarios and giving them support can help prepare them to make healthy decisions.
1. Have open-ended conversations
Communication plays a critical role in any teen-parent relationship. Having an open-ended conversation about wearing masks is a great place to start.
"Always be open and understanding. Try to see where your teen is coming from," says Dr. Francis. "If you can find the reason why they don't want to wear the mask, address those concerns specifically."
Here are some tips to keep in mind when talking to your teens about masks:
- Don't rush the conversation. Approach the subject when you know you'll have time to talk. Try bringing the topic up at dinner, on a walk or during a long car ride. It's important to leave room for all your teen's questions.
- Listen and hear your teen's point of view. Ask open-ended questions about wearing masks and the concerns they have. How do they feel about masks? What situations do they feel comfortable/uncomfortable wearing a mask? Let them talk and avoid interrupting or lecturing.
- Don't be judgmental. If your child disagrees with you, remember to stay calm and respectful. Hear and acknowledge their concerns and arguments before responding with your own.
- Normalize the topic. Talking about masks, COVID-19 and your teen's health and safety should be an ongoing topic of conversation. Keeping it top-of-mind, rather than avoiding the subject, can help teens feel more comfortable asking questions or sharing concerns.
- Help them think through challenging situations. Work with your teen on how to handle scenarios where other people may not be masked. Remind them that it's not up to them to enforce masking but that they can control their own actions and make a difference by wearing a mask.
2. Share facts, not fear
When it comes to COVID-19, information and guidelines can change as the pandemic evolves. And with many teens finding news and information from friends or social media, misinformation spreads fast.
Make sure you're checking in with your teen and sharing facts from trusted sources like the CDC. This information can help them better understand why they should wear a mask and that it's not just another rule coming down from their school or parents.
Consider asking your teen questions like:
- Do you know when or where you need to wear a mask?
- Do you know how masks help?
- What do you know about the Delta variant?
- What have you heard on social media about masks?
- What do your friends think about face masks?
3. Focus on the greater good
Altruism, or concern for others, can be a major motivator for teens. If teens are not as worried about their own health, focusing on how masks help "the greater good" can be a winning argument for parents.
"There are a lot of teens who make decisions because they know that they can improve the lives of others," Dr. Francis says. "Find out what your teen cares about and show them how masking can help."
When talking to teens, remind them that wearing a mask can:
- Protect friends and family members who may be at risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
- Help individuals who may feel anxious around people who don't wear masks.
- Reduce the spread of the virus and help us get back to life "as normal" quicker, which will benefit everyone's mental health.
4. Emphasize self-expression
Appearance and self-expression are a significant part of a teen's life. Encourage your teen to rock their mask by helping them find a design that shows off their unique style and creativity. Just make sure the mask follows CDC guidelines and doesn't include anything that would make it hard to breathe (like sequins or vinyl).
- Crafty teens can decorate masks with tie-dye, fabric markers and iron-on patches or letters. If your teen knows how to sew, encourage them to make their own masks.
- If you know how to sew masks, take your teen to the craft store to pick out a fabric or design they like.
- Browse websites like Etsy to find design-your-own-mask kits.
- Find local stores or online retailers who sell masks with different designs and allow your teen to pick out some that suit their style.
5. Model healthy behavior
Teens learn from their parents and family members, so lead by example and wear your own mask. You can also show how to positively engage with individuals who don't wear masks by treating them with respect and staying calm. These actions will encourage your teen to do the same and focus on how their own actions can make a difference.
If you're having trouble coping or processing your own emotions about the pandemic and masks, try to do so with your own support team. Everyone is feeling challenged right now, and you need your own outlet to express feelings and concerns so that you can best support your child.
Remember conversation before criticism
Above all, try to stay positive when talking to your teen about wearing a mask. If you find they still won't wear a mask, keep the conversation going. Ask them why and hear their concerns. And when they do wear a mask, thank them and acknowledge that it's been difficult, but that their actions are making a difference.
"It's about understanding why they're not wearing it, rather than demanding that they wear it," says Dr. Francis. "It's better to talk through the problem than to get angry about it."
More COVID-19 resources
Children's Health is committed to remaining a trusted source of health information and care for you and your family during this time. See tips to help young children wear a face mask and find more resources to keep your family healthy at the Children's Health COVID-19 hub.
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