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What to Do if Your Quaran Teenager Leaves Home Without Permission

Life has likely drastically changed for you and your teenager as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.  School has moved to online and virtual platforms, proms, sports and graduations are cancelled and jobs are furloughed, lost or deemed essential.  State and county-issued stay-at-home orders have advised that you and your teenager protect yourself from exposure and help “flatten the curve" by social distancing. 

While it varies state to state and county to county, the most recent social distancing recommendations include 1) staying in your home as much as possible, 2) only leaving home if you do not have symptoms and have not been exposed to someone with symptoms for essential activities (work, pharmacy and grocery trips), 3) wearing a mask or face covering in public, 4) ensuring six feet of distance between yourself and others, 5) avoiding all physical contact and 6) washing hands frequently. 

As a parent, you are tasked with ensuring your teenager follows social distancing recommendations.  But what should you do if your “quaranteenager" leaves home without permission? 

Before your teenager leaves the house:

  1. Educate: Sit down with your teenager and provide rationale for social distancing practices.  Let them know it is important that we act now so that life can return to normal sooner rather than later.  Make the threat personal by talking about your teenager's relatives or friends who may be especially vulnerable to the infection (age 65+, asthma, diabetes, etc.).  Describe your state's legal ramifications for not following social distancing protocol (some states are issuing fines and/or jailing violators) and answer any questions they have.  If possible, make sure your teenager has access to their own mask or facial covering.
  2. Validate: Give your teenager a chance to express their feelings about social distancing without your rebuttal.  Whether they're angry, annoyed, sad, scared or ambivalent, let them feel and express their feelings and validate with statements like “it sounds like you're feeling…".  Share your feelings, too.  Let your teenager know this is an unprecedented and uncertain time and everyone is having a reaction and trying to cope.  We want our teenagers to know their feelings are accepted, while also communicating that certain behaviors will be expected. 
  3. Make it hard for them to leave: Hold/hide car keys and prevent access to other forms of transportation (bike, skateboard, use of Uber or Lyft apps, etc.).
  4. Reinforce stay-at-home behaviors:  Provide rewards for stay-at-home behaviors.  Let your teenager access their electronics, preferred foods and facilitate social contact through virtual means (Google Hangouts, HouseParty, Skype, etc.) within reason based on your family needs.
  5. Know where your teenager is: Apps like FamiSafe, Life360, Glympse and Find My Kids have GPS features that will tell you your teenager's location. As much as is possible, transparency is important with teenagers, therefore we recommend talking with your teenager about the use of tracking apps prior to engaging them.

If your teenager leaves the house:

  1. Remain calm.  When in trouble, most teenagers expect parents to be angry, upset and even yell at times (all of which you may actually be experiencing). You are much more likely to get the behavior you are hoping for out of your teenager (calm and agreeable) if you approach them with a similar demeanor. You can still communicate your concern for their safety and your disappointment with your teenager's choices, and it will be safer to do that when they are back in your care.
  2. If you know where they are: Go and get your teenager.  They may resist coming with you.  If you have contact information for your teenagers' friends or their friends' parents, utilize those resources to locate and to help your teenager return home. 
  3. Contact the police for assistance.  If you contact 911 and let them know your child has left home without permission and you are unaware of their whereabouts, they will provide you with their recommendations for finding your child safely.

Discuss consequences when they return home and remove future means. If your teenager took their car or a car, hide the keys in a hard to find place (but don't forget where you put them!). If your teenager left in the middle of the night, require them to sleep with their room door open or remove their door completely (privacy is something that can be earned back with a demonstration of trustworthy behaviors).  Increase checking in on them throughout the day/ night (even if you must set an alarm for every couple of hours).  You can also implement a removal of privileges (computer, phone) and/or assign additional chores/responsibilities around the house.​