'My teenage son is ignoring the social distancing rules. What should I do?'

Our reader is concerned that her 17-year-old son is flouting the rules and putting her elderly mother at risk. She turns to The Midults

Our reader's 17-year-old son has been flouting house rules in lockdown
Credit: Martin Tognola

Dear A&E,

I’m worried my 17-year-old son has gone wild and I’m not sure how to rein him in. Lockdown meant he had to leave sixth form early and I felt for him as he didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to his friends. He was then glued to his PS2 and wouldn’t even go out for a walk.

Now he’s gone to the other extreme. He’s always off ‘out on his bike’, which I know is code for meeting his mates. He reassures me he’s safe and keeping his distance, but I’m worried he’s not. He’s drinking and last weekend he didn’t get home until 3am. My elderly mother lives with us, so I’m obviously worried for her. Short of grounding him, which will lead to world war three, I’m not sure what to do.

End of My Tether

Dear End of My Tether,

The thing is, your son is doing exactly what he should be doing at the end of sixth form – really it should be a firework of a summer. Poor him. He’s probably untethered in a way that’s unnerving to witness, having had his life derailed and yet still being driven by the usual teenager impulses. As psychotherapist Philippa Perry puts it in her parenting self-help manual The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read: ‘While impulsivity exercises their emotions, their capacity to think, “That’s a bad idea,” has not yet caught up.’

She suggests a three-step approach to potential harmony. First, define the problem. Maybe start with something like, ‘I feel worried/scared when you go out because 
I am still concerned about Covid-19 and 
your grandmother remains at risk.’ Note 
that you are talking about your feelings not his shortcomings.

Second, find the feelings behind the problem. So that might involve you saying, ‘I totally understand that you have lost this summer, all your plans and hopes and the fun, and I understand that you should be having the time of your life.’

Next, try brainstorming solutions with him. Can you keep your mother separate from him? Can he avoid all contact with 
her? Can he be fed at different times and 
use his own set of cutlery and dishes to 
minimise the risk of infection? (Not to mention the endless disinfecting.)

Work through the issue together and, most importantly, initiate these conversations when he is neither angry nor hung-over – and when you are neither angry nor hung-over. We always get our timings wrong when it comes to kids: strike while the iron is cooling.

The best you can hope for is that he will hear you, take some responsibility for himself and exercise caution. It’s not perfect, but it’s something.

Do you have a dilemma that you’re grappling with? Email Annabel and Emilie on [email protected] All questions are kept anonymous. They are unable to reply to emails personally.

Read more from The Midults: A complete guide to coping with unlockdown and the new social distancing etiquette