As the world begins to reopen and kids are abuzz with that special energy that goes hand in hand with summer, parents may be wondering exactly how we’re supposed to adjust to this “new normal” while keeping our families safe from COVID-19. No one wants to keep their children on lockdown but what’s the best way to approach some of those everyday summer situations that suddenly feel fraught with peril?
Walter Rosenfeld MD, chair of pediatrics at Goryeb Children’s Hospital and the medical director of pediatrics for Atlantic Health System specializes in adolescent medicine, which he has been practicing for more than 40 years.
Rosenfeld said that by becoming knowledgeable about the current health situation and advisories and by asking the right questions, parents will be better equipped to make smart decisions –and lead their children toward good decision-making too.
Kids and Teens Want (and Need!) to Be Social
Rosenfeld said that it’s only natural for kids and teens to want to go out and socialize with their friends and not be with their parents all the time. But reintroducing the idea of socializing needs to be done with care.
“We’ve cooped them up, we’ve told them that they can’t be out,” says Rosenfeld. “Now, as we move forward, we need to help ease them back into the world, but in a safe way. We have to be very thoughtful about safe practices,” he says.
“After that, it’s a matter of sitting down with your adolescent and having a discussion,” he says. “Try to be a good listener. I know we all want to jump in and give our best advice and your advice may be the right advice. But start by listening, having your son or daughter feel like they were heard and then give rational reasons of why one thing they want to do is ok, but the other thing may not be ok.”
But Will My Child Get Sick?
“One of the fortunate parts of the COVID-19 pandemic is that children and adolescents are affected to a much lower extent than older adults,” says Rosenfeld.
Parents should take heart that it’s rare (though not impossible) for children to be hospitalized with coronavirus and that the numbers for kids are much lower than for adults. Still, this fact can make kids, especially tweens and teens, feel like they are invulnerable. Again, it comes down to having a family discussion about the risks and safety precautions that not only keep kids safe but also the people they interact with, from store workers to grandparents to friends and their parents too.
Summer Rules – Get Outdoors!
Rosenfeld said that when it comes to social activities, getting together with family and friends outdoors is definitely the way to go.
“Summertime is a great time for people to be outdoors…and I think we should facilitate kids being able to be outdoors and do as many activities as they safely can,” said Rosenfeld.
Parents should abide by the rules or get as close to them as possible, he said. That means careful handwashing and staying at home if you’re sick.
“Even if they feel it’s just a mild cold you need to isolate and not be with other people,” says Rosenfeld.
Water Activities FTW!
Of course, most parents are wondering if it’s safe for kids to go to the pool and the beach. Rosenfeld said that getting in the water is generally safe.
“It’s very unlikely to become infected in the pool or the ocean,” he says. “The problem is you may forget how close you’re getting to someone else.”
Remember if you do hit up the beach or the pool to practice social distancing.
Sending Kids to Summer Camp?
When it comes to camp, many parents are wondering if it’s safe for kids to go. Rosenfeld said that it’s important to ask the right questions of the camp before signing up.
Rosenfeld said are some good questions to start with include: ‘What kind of protections will be in place?’ and ‘What are their plans should someone become ill?’
If parents are comfortable that a camp has a solid plan in place, then it’s up to them to decide whether or not the child should attend.
What About Summer Jobs?
When it comes to allowing your teen to work, Rosenfeld that there’s no blanket yes or no to this. Instead, he advises parents to help their teen ask the right questions of potential employers.
“Will there be protection? Will workers like your son or daughter as well as the people they’ll be interacting with, be wearing masks? Will there be opportunities for handwashing or at least hand sanitizing? How close are they likely to get to people?” says Rosenfeld.
Rosenfeld said to ask what the employer’s plan is if someone does become ill, and how they will manage that in terms of notifying other employees.
Many of us have been eager to allow our kids to finally visit with grandparents. Rosenfeld said that with the right precautions, you can minimize older adults’ risk.
“It goes back to some of the basics like good handwashing,” says Rosenfeld. He also emphasized that it’s important to remember that a family member could still spread COVID-19 even if they have only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.
“Parents need to be thoughtful about this to make sure that we don’t have a resurgence of infections,” he says.
Although all the new information we’re dealing with on a daily basis can be daunting, Rosenfeld says that summer fun and social interactions should not be forgotten this year. After all, enjoying life and interacting with others makes for happy children – and happy parents, too.
“Have social interactions even if they need to be modified,” he says. “We all want to get out and there are now opportunities to get out, even though we need to take some precautions. Try to embrace that and do the best you can.”
Walter D. Rosenfeld, MD, FAAP, FSAHM, is the Chair of Pediatrics at Goryeb Children’s Hospital at Morristown Medical Center and the Medical Director for Children’s Health at Atlantic Health System. In this role, he oversees more than 100 pediatric specialists at Atlantic Health System, along with pediatric residents and medical students.
Dr. Rosenfeld’s expertise in adolescent health has led to numerous research, writing and public speaking opportunities in the areas of effective communication in adolescent healthcare, adolescent sexuality, risk taking behaviors, eating disorders, substance abuse, obesity, the Internet, and the link between physical disorders and mental health.
A fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Rosenfeld is also a fellow and former director of programs for the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine and a past president of the North American Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology. Past roles include being the inaugural Chairman of the Board of Atlantic Medical Group, a multispecialty physician and advanced practice providers group with more than 1,000 members. In addition to his position at Goryeb Children’s Hospital, Dr. Rosenfeld has been a clinical professor of pediatrics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School since 2002.
Dr. Rosenfeld received a BS degree from the University of Wisconsin and earned his MD from Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia. He completed a residency in pediatrics at Babies Hospital of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (now Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York), and a fellowship in adolescent medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University.
He and his wife Lynne Rosenfeld are most proud of their two young adult children who keep them real and give them perspective every day.