British Columbia·Point of View

Are rules made to be broken? How parents can help kids understand why some people don't follow pandemic rules

As we continue to ask our children to follow provincial health orders, what about the adults who don’t? Is it time to impose a stern time-out on the people who don’t comply?

Kids have to follow a lot of rules. What about the adults who don't?

While children are expected to follow pandemic protocols every day, it is quite possible they are witnessing adults in their day-to-day life who are not. (Martin Bureau/AFP via Getty Images)

This story is part of Amy Bell's Parental Guidance column, which airs on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.

From the time our kids are very young, we impose a lot of rules on them.

From "Don't put that up your nose" to "Never talk to strangers," children's lives are fairly well dictated not just by social rules, but the rules imposed by their families. There's an expectation that they'll not only learn from these rules, but be kept safe.

These guidelines can help children navigate society and blossom. Without some rules, chaos reigns!

And that can be true for society at large. There are many unspoken and explicit "rules'' we all follow to keep some semblance of calm and respect for each other. So when people who seemingly choose to disregard the health orders set out across British Columbia, how can parents help their kids navigate this behaviour? 

Of course, there are many degrees of rule-breakers.

There are people who are attending anti-mask rallies, there are those choosing to let their children have indoor play dates — and many shades of grey in between.

A police officer steps in during an anti-mask protest at the Vancouver Art Gallery in August 2020. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

And that's hard for many kids to understand. For parents like Brandy Barker, it's about focusing on what matters to their families and how they want to conduct themselves right now — not how others conduct themselves. 

"I'm pretty honest and I just say some people are just not interested in a society that functions and feel their desires or needs or more important," said Barker. "We talk a lot about how that's not the kind of people we want to be, and how empathy works, and how sometimes something sucks but you're doing it for the greater good." 

Not everyone is in the same boat

So what does motivate someone to feel provincial health orders should not apply to them?

There's a huge amount of privilege involved when someone thinks they are above wearing a mask for no reason other than their personal preference. Same for those who will yell and harass those who do wear masks or get vaccinated. 

But privilege exists on many levels, and we don't always acknowledge that. Especially our own.

East Vancouver mother and psychologist Katherine Martinez does a lot of work with families dealing with anxiety and mood disorders. She thinks helping children identify their own privileges can help them understand why some families are making different choices.

"Deciding to send your child to school if they've got the sniffles ... wasn't a big issue and suddenly now it's a big issue. But what if you have to send them to school so you can go to work to pay the rent?" said Martinez.

Students are pictured during a break at Earl Marriott Secondary School in Surrey, B.C., in January 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Of course, one great privilege in society is being white.

Many people of colour will talk about the separate rules they feel apply to them due to their backgrounds or skin colour. Indigenous people are facing backlash for receiving the vaccine before other groups, and there's been a huge increase in anti-Asian racism during the pandemic.

This has led some people to feel they don't have the luxury to be lax when it comes to the provincial health orders; that they are already under a tremendous cloud of scrutiny simply because of who they are. 

A B.C. health care worker administers a COVID-19 vaccination to a member of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation on Thursday, March 25, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Psychologist Valerie Caldeira has also been helping families struggling under the stress of COVID. She personally understands the extra pressure some people may be feeling.

"From an ethnic background, yeah there are a lot of these racist acts that are happening," says Caldeira. "I imagine that people might try to stay under the radar to prevent themselves from harm."

Mental health factor 

There has also been a dramatic increase in mental health issues related to COVID-19, leading some people to feel that in order to improve their mental health, they have to make a choice between what the experts recommend they do and what they know will help themselves or their family members. 

Martinez says the pandemic protocols focus on our bodies more than our minds, and that balance needs to change.

"There may be situations where they've got pre-existing mental health concerns or new emerging concerns," says Martinez.

Following the rules can protect someone's physical wellbeing, but their psychological wellbeing might be jeopardized.

We follow these rules for the greater good of those around us, even when it's hard. But we never know what's going on behind closed doors, on so many levels.

Once these restrictions ease, our children will get back to their play dates, and we'll be sharing the soccer field with some of the parents we may have labelled "bad apples" without knowing all the facts. 

Life will go on with all its many rules — but the importance of kindness and empathy should never be ruled out.

Amy Bell speaks with Michelle Eliot about the challenge of setting a good example when there are so many bad ones out there. 8:10