Kids Safety 101
college students wearing masks

The New ‘Talk’ Parents Need to Have with Their Teenagers

In any other year, college students would be playing football, picking out Halloween costumes, or hanging out in their dorm rooms with friends this time of year. Instead, they are trying to grapple with a pandemic that shows no sign of stopping anytime soon.

Spike in Coronavirus on College Campuses

Having “the talk” with your older kids about coronavirus safety is essential. In August, young adults between 18 and 22 saw a 55% increase in positive cases after schools welcomed students back to campus. Even with some precautions in place, such as regular testing and hybrid online/in-person classes, schools are still a hotbed of transmission for this highly contagious virus.

According to reporting from The Guardian, colleges are most successful in preventing new cases when three things happen:

  • Control of foot traffic to and from campus
  • Comprehensive testing regime
  • Strong sense of community that encourages students to follow guidelines

Smaller schools are able to monitor cases through mandatory testing of the entire student body or random sampling of on-campus students. But the larger the school–and the more students there are living off campus–the harder it is to keep up with testing.

Incentivizing Testing on Campus

At the University of South Carolina, which has 34,000 students, it’s staggeringly difficult to keep track of asymptomatic spread. Students there are only tested if they appear symptomatic. To fight what Stephen Cutler, dean of USC’s College of Pharmacy, describes as “testing fatigue,” the school is offering free t-shirts to anyone who will consent to random testing.

“Our approach is strictly voluntary,” Cutler said. “I like it being voluntary. I like to believe people do the right thing … By taking responsibility and getting tested, it shows that they understand the spread of the virus and want to do their part.”

About 4000 students are randomly selected each week for testing. They’re offered a free t-shirt and entered into a raffle for other prizes that include tickets to a football game (should we be going to football games?), a tour of the university president’s home (weird), or a free meal plan for next semester (actually a decent prize).

Other big schools are trying similar programs, with raffles for gift cards and other prizes. Still, USC has reported almost 2,500 cases since reopening in August. Those students can take the virus home to their families out of state, spreading it through their hometown communities.

Talking to Your Kids About the Virus

Unfortunately, because of the ad hoc testing model and difficulty enforcing social distancing guidelines, the burden falls on individual students to make good decisions. That’s where the parents can make a difference. Talk to your kids about the virus, but don’t interrogate them or issue orders. That’s sure to backfire with willful teenagers.

Instead, talk to them about how they’re doing. Ask whether other students on campus are being safe and wearing masks. You won’t be there to police their behavior. You have to trust that they’ll make smart choices and support them.

Keep that line of communication open. And try not to panic. This is a tough year for everyone, and college students are struggling for some sense of normalcy.

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Erin Long