‘I think My Son’s Crush Is From an Anti-Vax Family. Should I Drive Them Apart?’
"He wants to take her to the high school dance. I’m worried about what he might bring home"
Dear Care and Feeding,
How can we navigate teen dating in the time of COVID? Our family has been very diligent with proper precautions, and we’re all vaccinated.
Unfortunately, we live in a state that has banned school mask mandates and other mitigation measures. We also live in a particularly red ZIP code, surrounded by anti-vaxxers.
My son “James” is in high school and really likes a girl named “Kayla.” He’d like to take her to a dance in a few weeks. We think Kayla’s family may be conservative Christians, a group with one of the lowest vaccination rates. James doesn’t know whether Kayla is vaccinated, and he’s nervous to ask because he doesn’t want to cause a rift.
We’ve told him to ask her in a low-key way, but if we find out she’s not vaxxed, what are we to do with that information? Tell him to break it off? That he has to ask a potential date her vaccination status up front? That’s easy to do for adults, but a kid doesn’t really make their own vaccination decisions.
We don’t want to make his adolescence even more weird and difficult than it already has been, but we’ve worked so hard to keep our family safe. We also don’t want to create an impression that we’re policing his relationships based on religion, if that turns out to be a factor. What is fair to do in this situation?
—Perplexed About Pandemic Puppy Love
I think you’re right that while aspects of pandemic dating are also complicated for adults, the whole thing is much worse for teens. Even pre-vaccination, adults could try to carefully form pods based on their relative comfort and risk analysis, and ask one another about vaccination status, mask wearing, and other COVID safety measures. But so many of those decisions are made by parents, not kids, and there’s not a great way to bubble with anyone when you’re going to high school every day.
If Kayla isn’t vaccinated, if she doesn’t wear a mask at school or take other COVID precautions, I know you probably won’t feel good about James going to the dance with her. Maybe you’d even be tempted to put your foot down and say they shouldn’t hang out alone. But I will point out that that’s a very hard line to draw, and all but impossible to enforce. I do think it’s fine for James to ask Kayla if she’s vaccinated—it has nothing to do with policing anyone’s religion, because it’d be good info for him to have regardless of her family’s beliefs. It’s her right not to answer, of course, but if she gets upset with him for asking, that might be a warning sign he should note before going out with her, no?
Ultimately, no matter what you say, if they want to see each other, they’re probably going to see each other, during normal school hours at the very least. You might try to make sure that time is spent as safely as possible, especially if Kayla isn’t vaccinated—outdoors if possible, masked when not, etc. Talk with James about the stakes: He’s not immune to COVID, neither is Kayla, and he doesn’t want either of them to get sick or make others sick.
Acknowledge that you know it’s hard and feels unfair to have to factor COVID risk into his social life, but he’s not alone; responsible people everywhere are behaving and making decisions differently than they would otherwise. Be as accommodating as you can when it comes to things you know are safe—i.e., don’t take him to task if he spends more time talking to her or other friends on the phone. Emphasize that for the sake of the rest of your family and everyone else you’re in contact with, he needs to tell you if he does anything that exposes you all to additional risk.
As for the question of whether or not James goes to the dance with Kayla, I know it feels like a weird decision for you to be involved with at all, but COVID has changed a lot of things. You can try to find out what, if any, COVID measures are in place for the dance. If I were in your position, I wouldn’t feel good letting my kid go to a packed indoor dance with large numbers of unmasked people right now, regardless of their date’s vaccination status.
But I’m not facing this particular decision; you are, and I think all you can do is approach it as you would any other pandemic-era decision: Discuss all the risks and variables that apply to you and your family’s situation, and then make a call you can live with. It might not be the exact same call another parent makes. But you’re the only one who can consider all the factors involved, weigh the benefits against the possible cost, and make the choice that feels, if not great, then the best one you can make in this situation.