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Helping teens (and the rest of us) navigate mask wearing



Educate your family members on using empathy to convince others of the importance of wearing masks

teens, COVID-19, masks, empathy

We’ve all heard about the ways in which COVID-19 health protocols have been politicized in recent months. How do we talk to our teens about safety measures that protect our families’ older and more disease-prone members without being seen as obstructive or, heavens forbid, political?

Jessica Castillo has written in Teen Vogue about what responsible teens can do when they encounter people who will not only wear a mask, but question why they’re worn in the first place.

“It can be difficult to find common ground with someone who refuses to wear a mask for whatever reason. Maybe they falsely believe the coronavirus isn’t that serious, even after hundreds of thousands of people have died due to complications linked to COVID-19,” she writes.  “Whatever their reasoning, Julia Marcus, an epidemiologist and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, believes that talking to someone with empathy is likely to be more effective in convincing them to wear a mask then shaming them for their actions might.”

Marcus’ advice is to be honest. “I’ll just say it: I don’t like wearing a mask. I find it uncomfortable,” she said. “It’s a constant reminder that I’m living in a pandemic, which I’d rather forget.” She notes that talking about why someone finds wearing a mask difficult — whether it’s the way the loops might irritate the back of your ear, or feeling like breathing is more difficult — allows for problem solving and finding more comfortable options together.”

Castillo adds that family physician Dr. Michael Richardson believes in using a practice called humble inquiry, which focuses on both building trust with the other person and asking questions. “Instead of telling someone what to do right away, you want to explore why they’re doing it, and what is the reasoning behind their behaviors, in a very unbiased and nonjudgmental way,” he says. He suggests that the mask wearer mirror someone’s statements back to them as questions, thereby creating deeper conversations that go beyond roadblock statements like, “I don’t want to.”

“Our country is very divided right now,” Whitney Goodman, a licensed family therapist, told Teen Vogue. She recommends trying to separate your own worth from the other person’s behavior as best you can.

Because masks will likely be part of our public lives for at least the next few months, if not years, Castillo reiterates that it’s important to create good habits, express and enforce your personal limits as soon as you can, and learn how to discuss and navigate the limits of those around you.




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