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Difficult Conversations: Young adults and the coronavirus pandemic

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Posted at 7:57 PM, Jun 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-29 20:57:14-04

Playing the “blame game” in the pandemic era shuts down the conversations that need to be had, especially if, as some are suggesting, that the behavior of young people is responsible for the increase in positive covid-19 test results.

“No,” says 22-year Brennan Higginbotham of Lafayette, “pointing the finger and blaming? It’s going to put up immediately a wall of defense.”

But with COVID-19 numbers rising in many areas, or with the lines flattening but not declining, 22=year old Brennan Higginbotham says a conversation needs to be had.

“We have to be opened-minded and receiving of it, and think, ‘hey, maybe these older people do know something about what they’re talking about,” explains Higginbotham.

But how do you have that conversation? Not with a lecture, says clinical psychologist Dr. Amy Cavanaugh.

“Instead of us saying ‘you should social distance or you should not go out with your friends, you have to acknowledge, ‘hey I get where this is frustrating for you, you’re sad, you can’t be with people, how can we go about making this better for you?’”

Cavanaugh adds, empowerment is the key to getting young people to take that extra step in pandemic protection. Make the solution theirs; get their buy-in.

“It is hard,” continues the Lafayette-based clinical psychologist, “but I think young people are also very creative, can come up with other solutions; they’re also technologically savvy, they’re more adept at texting, and social media and zoom calling.”

Something else that can jump-start the conversation or perhaps bring down the walls, says Cavanaugh, is when the older adult is authentic, sympathetic and empathetic. “Saying, ‘I’m frustrated with this, I’m anxious, I’m sad, I know you are too, how can we get through this together?’”

Dr. Darren Strother concurs, adding that when we talk with young people about the need to change behavior, don’t do what we’ve done in the past. “So, we say things like ‘be safe’ or ‘make good decisions’, and it’s too vague to carry any value,”

Real Specifics. Details of risk. That’s what has to be said, says Strother.

“Explain there’s a spectrum of risk and within that spectrum we’re going to have to respond differently. So, what we need to do is understand the conditions that would increase risk and would we should do when we meet those conditions.”

“For young adults and teenagers that would like ‘if you go there, can you do these things? And if you can’t, what should your response be?’” continues Strother. “But we need to have an objective conversation about what those conditions are.”

Selflessness has to come into play, concludes our 22-year old—thinking about masks and social distancing, thinking about the other guy.

“Because it’s not happening to me, it’s not happening to my family,” says Higginbotham, “we don’t want it to be happening to you or happening to your family, but we have to be smart in order to prevent that.”

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