Imagine being a teen in 2020 – a year when going to school, playing sports and hanging out with friends looks a lot different. COVID-19 is challenging the way we create and maintain relationships – social norms that are essential to our overall mental and physical health.
“We are social beings,” said Jessica Jackson, LIMHP, CHI Health mental health therapist. “There’s a fundamental need for inclusion in groups, being around other people and having relationships. There’s evidence that there’s mental and physical effects on the brain and body when our need for social interaction is not met.”
Jackson said social isolation can cause learning and memory to become hindered and bring on increased feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.
“Kids and adults can become worried or scared, so they avoid social situations instead of being educated on safe ways to social distance,” Jackson said.
The important thing to know is you can still be with friends and socialize safely – whether it’s an in-person or virtual activity.
“Being open to trying different ways of communicating like talking on the phone or using Zoom can help fulfill
a person’s social needs,” Jackson said. “It may feel uncomfortable at first, but it could actually be enjoyable once you try it.”
Social distancing is just part of the puzzle. It can be hard for kids to take it seriously and understand why it’s necessary.
“Anytime there’s uncertainty, there’s going to be anxiety – not only for kids, but also for adults and families,” Jackson said. “Pay attention to that and talk about how kids are feeling, fears they’re having and why we social distance.”
Jackson said setting and enforcing boundaries in the household, leading by example and having open dialogue are the most important steps parents can take.
“Kids look to parents for security and safety, so be aware, stay calm, be a good role model and provide reassurance,” she said.
What if your kids’ friends aren’t taking the same precautions as your family?
- Talk with your children – sometimes their friends may have different beliefs and that’s okay
- Teach your kids not to point blame, but acknowledge differences among others
- Listen to your children’s concerns and validate those feelings
- Make the decision that is right for your family