Care and Feeding

I’m Worried My Teen’s Strange, Unnecessary Habit Is Going to Cause Her Major Social Problems.

There’s really no good reason for this.

A young teenager wearing a mask doing schoolwork.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Ridofranz/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 14-year-old daughter still insists on wearing a mask in any and all public spaces. COVID is no longer a big risk for us in our area, our family and all of her friends are up to date on all vaccinations, and none of our friends and family are at high-risk. My daughter is one of the few people in her school that still wears a mask each day, but not primarily to protect herself from illness.

She has told me that part of the reason why she prefers to wear a mask is that it conceals her facial expressions, and eliminates some of the social anxiety she feels about talking to others. While I fully understand this (both my husband and I are introverts ourselves), I do think it is necessary for her to re-learn how to interact with people without something covering her face, especially since wearing a mask will become less and less socially acceptable as we move further away from the pandemic years.

In addition, she appreciates that wearing a mask hides some of her acne struggles. While she does have an established skincare routine, she often experiences breakouts (like most teens) which cause her a great deal of embarrassment. Although she knows (and I have told her) that wearing a mask limits air circulation to the face, causing more breakouts, she insists that she still wants to wear one. Part of her embarrassment appears to be exacerbated by the fact that most of her peers wear makeup (which covers the skin troubles that I assume that nearly all teens have), leaving them with the illusion of perfect skin, while my daughter has no interest in touching any sort of makeup product whatsoever.

Every time I suggest that she can try going to school for a day (or even just until lunchtime!) without a mask, she comes up with some kind of excuse for why she shouldn’t. It is clear that she feels very strongly about this, and is incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of taking her mask off.

How can I help my daughter be more confident in herself, and know that she doesn’t need to hide her face with a mask?

—Going Maskless

Dear Going Maskless,

Hold up, have you been watching my 12-year-old daughter? You basically just described her—up until recently, anyway.

To tell the quick story, we also live in a low-risk area for COVID and everyone in our family is vaccinated and boosted, but for most of the academic year she insisted on wearing a mask to middle school. Similar to your daughter, she’s an introvert, has the typical skin breakouts of an adolescent, and has no interest in wearing makeup. Despite all of my best efforts to change her mind, she wore masks for months to conceal herself and to avoid being the center of attention. Finally, I realized that she wouldn’t wear one for the rest of her life—and if it made her comfortable, I wouldn’t push it. Lo and behold, about a month ago she decided on her own that she would stop wearing a mask and hasn’t put one on since. Her reason? “I just don’t want to.”

The moral of the story is I feel confident that your daughter will make the change on her own when she’s ready. It could take nine months of the school year, like it did for my daughter, or it could take longer—but it’s not like she’s going to walk down the aisle on her wedding day wearing one. The more she hangs out with her friends, the more she’ll realize that going back to the pre-2020 way of life when masks weren’t as prevalent will be something she will want to be a part of. Not to mention, she will definitely draw attention to herself if she’s one of the small few wearing masks in public, and I’m sure she doesn’t want that.

I’ll note that you should make sure your daughter is evaluated by a mental health professional if you feel that her social anxiety is severe. But right now, I think she’s just going through a phase similar to the one that my daughter went through. Don’t pressure her and don’t bring it up for a little while and see how it goes. I have a feeling this will run its course.