Under the current circumstances, this question may make you think twice and read it again as the majority of us are on “Stay at home” orders. With COVID-19 barreling down on the world and we are being encouraged to practice social distancing, the last question most parents would ask a teenager is “are you staying social”. However, let’s put it into perspective.
Yes – it is important to practice social distancing to stay safe and healthy!
Yes – teenagers are social creatures by nature and thrive on their interactions with others; chatting, hanging out, trying to fit in.
Yes – socialization is essential to keeping a good perspective, to a positive mood and mental stability.
Yes – you can still be social while practicing social distancing!!!
As their developing brains grapple with the “new normal” that many of us experience, understanding the necessity of it, they are still drawn to relationships with their friends, teammates, and classmates. Their mental health may already be stretched as they struggle with the loneliness, isolation, and possibly fear that they may be experiencing. The fact that they have been separated from their social groups during this very precarious time in their lives, as teenagers, can be detrimental to their health.
While teens may not have displayed any signs of mental illness previously, it is very common for high levels of stress and anxiety to bring on symptoms of depression, substance use and abuse, and eating disorders. Although teens may “appear” to be handling the Shelter in Place well, they are certainly missing their friends, relationships, and classmates.
However, it is possible for teens to stay connected with friends and family to help them to remain positive and to maintain a healthy mental state under these unusual circumstances. Although the times are tough and no one necessarily wants to stay isolated, there is an advantage to the timing of the virus. Had the situation occurred twenty years earlier, the isolation and loneliness would be far more severe and difficult to manage. The digital age gives us the opportunity to connect with our loved ones and even people around the world by a variety of means. While it is not that personal interaction that we all crave, we do have the ability to connect with other humans as often as we like.
Tips to stay connected
- Video calls. With Skype, Facetime, Zoom, Snap Chat, Google Hangouts and a host of other digital video conferencing platforms available, there should be no reason that teens cannot still “see” their friends. Granted, there is nothing like physical contact with another person to boost your mood but this may be the closest thing that a teen can have to a hug from their best bud. Maybe an “air hug” will do! What a great way to check in on grandparents as well. Get your teen engaged with teaching the grandparents how to use their devices for an added twist on the communication. Grandparents would love it too!
- Stay connected for special events. Social distancing implies that teens should stay at least six feet apart. Encourage your teen to stay connected for special events such as a friend’s birthday. Arrange for teens to “visit” their friends by doing a celebratory drive by and waving from the car. What better way to brighten a friend’s mood on their birthday than to see a parade of cars with excited teenagers waving, shouting, honking horns and displaying signs!
- Host a movie night. Arrange for friends to watch a particular movie on a given date/time or even use video conferencing for everyone to “watch” a movie together. Everyone can bring their own snacks and drinks to the viewing party! It may be fun to designate a theme or outfit for the event like a pajama party!
- Video games. While most parents are trying to limit or reduce the amount of time that teens spend in front of their screens and video games, it can also be a way for them to interact and engage with their friends. It may bring a smile to your face to hear your teenage boy actually laughing for the first time in weeks when he “hears” his friend’s voice on the other side of the screen.
- Take a virtual tour. The internet opens up the world to teens to things that they may never have thought possible before. Maybe they want to take a virtual tour of the college that they are thinking of attending? They can arrange with a counselor not only to take a virtual tour but to also speak with a student or administrator through video conferencing to get the inside scoop about the school they are considering. Maybe a group of friends wants to visit Europe? Arrange for a virtual tour of the world of famous landmarks, museums, cathedrals, parks, zoos.
- Social media. While a lot of still pictures are posted on social media, many apps can be used in real-time. Encourage your teen to connect “live” versus simply posting pictures and waiting for “likes”. This can certainly be a more isolating and detrimental activity as the anticipation of that smiley face or thumbs up creates more stress and anxiety.
- Heart to heart. Of course, teens would much rather be with their friends than their parents most of the time. However, as a captive audience, this may be a great time to be social as a family. Give them your undivided attention and help them to understand that you are all in this together and you are willing to actively listen to their concerns and fears.
- Spend time together. Families tend to pass like ships in the night. Between soccer practice, dance recital, gymnastics, and marching band, social gatherings and school, teens are rarely home. The only time that you may all sit together for dinner may be in the car, scoffing down pizza in between events. Use this time to get social together. Many great conversations are started over dinner together at the table and laughs over a board game.
- Podcasts. Teenagers can get connected with other teens around the world again because of the amazing advances in technology. Podcasts, usually in the form of audio or radio platforms, allow teens to listen and learn about any subject they are interested in and even communicate live with others on the show. Technology gives us the ability to shrink the gap between us, allowing us to connect with others around the world.
It is our duty to practice social distancing yet for many people, teens in particular, who are accustomed to a different lifestyle, it may be very difficult to accept that they cannot see their friends. They may be struggling with the lack of physical activity, the additional time on their hands, boredom, even too much family time! Be sure to encourage your teen to stay social, to communicate with their friends and loved ones and to reach out to others who may be feeling lonely and isolated!
As parents, we may all be struggling with the “new normal” that we are exposed to. However, staying connected and social is not advise only geared towards teens. For you to be able to help guide your teen through the social and emotional stresses that they may be experiencing, you need to make sure that you are healthy and in a good place mentally and emotionally as well. Have you asked yourself, “are you staying social?”
If you are concerned that your teen may be experiencing mental health issues triggered by the isolation and stress of the times, it is imperative that you reach out to their pediatrician for guidance. While the above suggestions are useful in helping teens to stay connected and to communicate with others, it will not resolve the symptoms of underlying mental health issues. After an evaluation, more than likely through a virtual or teleconference, your doctor may refer you and your teen to a facility like XXX Treatment Center for additional help and resources.
Just because we are isolated does not mean that we have to be alone! There is help. There is a community! We are all in this together and will get through it together. Remember that everyone is in the same position with no one having more access to social interaction than others. Teens, especially vulnerable at this time of their lives, must realize that the lack of social connections is no reflection on them, their ability to fit in or be liked. It is the nature of the beast at the moment. The situation has a leveling effect. All teens are in the same position!
Understanding this does not necessarily make it any easier. But, staying connected, getting social and communicating can help to ward off some of the ill-feelings, sadness and emotional stress that can arise from the situation. The “stretching” that is occurring will make us more creative in the ways that we communicate, more appreciative of our time with loved ones and friends, and thankful for the lives that we live!
Stay safe, stay healthy, stay social!!!