Help Teens Remain Connected With Peers While Staying at Home
By Barbara Greenberg
THIS IS AN UNUSUAL TIME for all of us. It is particularly difficult for teens, who thrive when they feel connected to their peers and have a sense of belonging.
Normally, you’d struggle to limit your teens’ time spent on social media and in the virtual world. But in an odd turn of events, this is a time when we as professionals are grateful that teens have access to social media.
There are many reasons why you should not only allow but encourage your teens to stay engaged with their peers via FaceTime or similar platforms. For one, you certainly don’t want your kids to feel isolated. Feelings of isolation can lead to anxiety and depression, and exacerbate those existing issues.
Also, keep in mind that social distancing, also referred to as physical distancing, doesn’t mean the same thing as emotional distancing. Yes, your teens must maintain physical distance from peers, as well as others outside your household. But they can and should stay emotionally connected with their peers.
This is not only fun, but it gives them the opportunity to sort out and discuss the feelings they have about the current state of events in our world and in their world. It is important that they understand that others are feeling the way they are. No one of any age wants to feel alone.
Teens I talk to not only look forward to virtually connecting with individual peers but enjoy group video chats as well. Teens are also staying connected to their peers by playing video games together online. Some use the video-sharing social networking platform TikTok and create their own short videos, often dance videos. Used properly, this can be fun and engaging. Talk to your kids about how they will be engaging with their peers.
I am not at all suggesting that you allow your teens to have unlimited access to social media. I am suggesting instead that you strongly consider being somewhat more lenient than usual. Of course, it’s important to encourage your teens to call friends or video chat with them, rather than to simply scroll through their friends’ social media feeds, because connecting is key.
Make it your business to check in with your teens and find out how they are connecting with their peers. Are they finding their interactions uplifting or are they, for example, looking at the Instagram posts of an ex to see what the ex is posting? Clearly, positive interactions should be encouraged, while, say, passively checking on a past love interest should be discouraged.
To the best of your ability, make sure that your teens are neither getting cyberbullied or cyberbullying. Ask them who they are communicating with because you certainly don’t want your teen to start a relationship that may be inappropriate with someone who they don’t know.
In my experience working with parents and teens, I find that if parents ask enough questions, kids are eager to discuss what’s going on in their lives. Take the temperature of your child’s moods. If your child seems out of sorts, make sure to talk to your child about what is upsetting him or her. My guess is that it will be related to a social interaction that is, or in some cases isn’t, taking place.
As your teen’s most important role model, make sure that you are staying connected as well. Your teens are home from school and they are watching you. Model connection, not social isolation.
It’s also crucial to model balance. I’m not advocating that teens should be on screens 24/7. Being appropriately lenient during this difficult time doesn’t mean letting digital connectivity displace all other activities in their lives.
Encourage your teens to take a walk, get some exercise, and to consider reading a book or writing in a journal. While staying connected will prevent feeling socially isolated, alone time will prevent too much social interaction and social fatigue. As always, balance in life is key to good mental health.
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