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damage control

The question

I asked my teenage son to come back and live with me for the duration of this coronavirus crisis. He was living with his girlfriend and two other friends. I wanted him “under my wing,” so to speak, and quite frankly to keep an eye on him. He’s very social and I want to make sure he is self-isolating and the rest of it. He misses his girlfriend and wants to go back to living with her, but I don’t want to let him. I know they were still visiting with people. He’s really grumpy and angry with me, however in light of everything happening, I feel it’s my duty as a mother to keep him home. What do you think?

The answer

I feel you. Right now, I too have a climbing-the-walls, cabin-feverish, stir-crazy teen in my domicile. School has been suspended, and we’ve told him he can’t hang out with his friends.

He is a thoughtful young man. He gets what’s going on. He understands the critical importance of social distancing and self-isolation (and frequent handwashing). We’ve discussed it all at length.

At the same time, he’s a teenager. “Dad, if I don’t see my friends, I’ll go out of my mind.” “Can I have one friend over?” “Dad, what am I supposed to do?”

The way I’ve attempted to handle it is by trying to persuade him to look upon this “interlude of solitude” as an opportunity for reflection, introspection, meditation and all that sort of stuff.

(Easy for me to say, of course: As a writer, self-isolation is not exactly a big lifestyle change. Most of my adult life I’ve “worked from home,” i.e. sit by myself; type; make sandwich; type some more; press “send”; take nap.)

I even lent him one of my favourite books to buttress my case: Hermits: The Insights of Solitude, by Peter France.

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Mr. France was a successful British television producer who chucked it all to live an eremitical existence on the Greek island of Patmos. And he makes a persuasive argument for the healing and restorative effects of at least a period of solitude in one’s existence, citing hermits from The Desert Fathers (early Christian hermits) to Thomas Merton (The Seven Storey Mountain) to Henry David Thoreau.

Obviously, this is a tough sell to a teenager. Teens, like wolves, are pack animals. Trying to persuade one to enjoy and embrace a period of isolation “as an opportunity” is like placing a plate of kale in front of a shark and urging it to “look upon it as an opportunity to try something new.”

But my son has agreed to read the book, at least. For myself, I’ve looked upon this period of sequestration with him (wife still goes to work, with stiff restrictions) as a great opportunity: to spend more time together; to tutor him in the ways of righteousness; to bring him up to speed on the golden age of American cinema (the 1970s); and to get him into the kitchen more.

Madam, I urge you to do something similar. Look upon this as an opportunity to spend time with your son. On social media I’m seeing people playing chess/cribbage/what have you with their offspring. It’s good stuff. As a friend of mine says: “Seize the crisis.” And though it may not feel like it now, this will come to an end.

When? I don’t know. Unfortunately, I misplaced my crystal ball. But I’m definitely of the camp that the stricter and even more draconian we all are when it comes to social distancing and self-isolation, even in the face of the squawking of our loved ones, the sooner this whole crazy business comes to an end.

So, yes, unhappy though your son may be, stay the course. It’s battle conditions right now. Which is why I sign off with the words of the famous British Second World War slogan (as the population faced the threat of air attacks from the Luftwaffe): “Keep calm and carry on.”

The spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 continues, with more cases diagnosed in Canada. The Globe offers the dos and don'ts to help slow or stop the spread of the virus in your community.

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