The Current

Show teens news and statistics to encourage social distancing, Ontario parent urges

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada continue to grow, public health officials are urging young people to stay inside and avoid spending time with friends, even outdoors.

‘I prefer kids that are anxious and alive than kids that are dead,’ says Erica Ehm

Erica Ehm, right, says she has been helping her daughter, Jessie, left, weather social distancing — while making sure she stays indoors. (Submitted by Erica Ehm)
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One Ontario mother is asking her children to watch the news, and read the statistics, to encourage social and physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I know that there's a lot of talk about kids and anxiety, but I prefer kids that are anxious and alive than kids that are dead," said Erica Ehm, the founder of website YMC.ca.

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada continue to grow, public health officials are urging young people to stay inside and avoid spending time with friends, even outdoors.

As of Monday afternoon more than 2,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed across the country.

In his strongest language yet, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warns Canadians to follow social distancing measures and says the government will enforce the rules, if required. 3:18

Ehm has been firm with her teenage children, keeping them at home for the time being. She says it has been difficult for the pair.

"At first they thought I was an alarmist because I was freaking out really early ... my son got quiet, and my daughter got angry, and they both thought that I was a lunatic," she told The Current's Matt Galloway.

But with the pandemic growing, Ehm's 16-year-old daughter Jessie says she's taken the tough approach to heart.

"I'm really scared of myself, but I think my friends are more just pissed off about it," she said. "I've just been staying inside, trying to kill time, whatever, and my friends are more trying to find ways to get around it and go to their friends."

'Young people do get this'

Speaking to Galloway on Monday, Dr. Peter Donnelly, president and CEO of Public Health Ontario, was unequivocal about the disease's impact on teens, saying they're not immune.

"Young people do get this, and sadly, some of them end up really sick," Donnelly said. "So it's important for their own health that they get it and they follow the instructions and do this stuff. Tough stuff."

Dr. Peter Donnelly, president and CEO of Public Health Ontario, speaks at press conference on the status of coronavirus. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

He adds that it's important for young Canadians to follow social and physical distancing rules to protect older and vulnerable Canadians.

He believes that "altruistic" young people will do their part to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"I know they care about their grandparents. I know they care about their elderly neighbours," Donnelly said.

"There's something here about young people being an asset and being able to keep older people in society safe."

While teens may be holed up in their homes at the moment, Donnelly stresses this is about physical distancing — not cutting ties socially.

"I have three lovely young nieces back in Scotland and their mother's always on the case: girls, get off the phone," he said.

"This may be the first time ever that my sister law is going to be telling them, get on your phone."

Guide teens along

On a private Facebook group that Ehm runs for parents with teens, many have been looking for advice on how to deal with frustrated and bored teens.

"The common thread many parents were saying is: 'my kids are so angry at me, they're swearing at me'… and the other parents would respond and say, 'stay strong, stay strong.'"

"It's important for us as parents to tell our kids what is going on and we're the boss," she said.

Jessie admits that she's found her mother's approach "annoying" at times, but acknowledges that she has been forced into a position, thanks to the outbreak, where she's the "bad guy."

For teens stuck at home, looking for something to do, Jessie encourages parents to be "sensitive" and offer suggestions on how to pass the time.

"Just try to help them — guide them along — and find the next best thing to do," she said.


Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Ines Colabrese and Kaitlyn Swan.

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