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April 24, 2020

Fostering Independence During Social Isolation


As a clinical psychologist who specializes in anxiety, my caseload has never been busier. But it’s not because of people who fear COVID19 will spread. It is because parents and college-aged children are having a tough time transitioning to social isolation at home. It’s hard! The teens and young adults I have spoken with are kind-hearted, even though at times their behavior can come across as rude or even mean to their family.


Here are some pointers to help foster independence in your college-aged child:

  1. Allow others to become authority figures on safety guidelines- Rather than preach the importance of isolation to your child, insist they watch the nightly news, or follow national and local government websites for recommended safety measures and information about COVID19. When you hold firm on safety measures that need to be taken in your household and community, cite government guidelines rather than making a personal request.
  2. Friends matter more than family at this age- and that’s natural. This is how it is supposed to be! It is not personal if they Facetime with friends all day and yet barely speak with you. Your child is not being selfish; it is developmentally appropriate to be attached to friends and to value time with same-aged peers.
  3. Your child is used to living alone- Yes, they might live with a roommate, but they are probably used to more privacy than is afforded to them in a full house where nobody is leaving for chunks of time. Allow for privacy where they cannot be heard or seen.
  4. Relax the rules- Safety expectations cannot be relaxed, so allow some give and take in other areas. Don’t waste time fighting over simple tasks if your child refuses to comply. Give one warning and then allow the natural consequence occur. For example, if your child refuses to help clear dishes- simply have them eat on the same dishes for the next meal. Chances are they will complain but quickly wash their dish. Remember, at school they get to choose when- and if- they complete their chores.
  5. Be aware of symptoms of Anxiety and Depression- These disorders thrive on idleness. If you are concerned, seek treatment. Most therapists are providing video sessions. If your child is not willing to attend therapy, you can seek parent sessions to learn how to best support them.