Impact of Social Distancing on Teen Mental Health

Parents May 15, 2020
When teens need to be socially connecting, we have COVID-19 forcing them to follow social distancing

Ever since the social distancing norm began due to Coronavirus, we are seeing a number of people couped up inside the houses, looking at alternative ways to continue with their ‘social’ lives. The introduction of ‘stay at home’ and ‘work from home’ for safety from COVID-19 has impacted teenagers to a large extent.

Teenagers go through an evolutionary phase from being close to parents to being close to their peers and friends. This is an extremely crucial time for social networking (offline!) which will define their likes, interests, motivations, behaviour and the kind of person they are for the next few years. This is the time they being to think for themselves, and start taking their own decisions, for example- career choices. Teens learn and practice social and emotional skills that are important now and for their success in future relationships. They learn conflict resolutions, seeking help, speaking up, forgiveness, voicing their opinions, sportsmanship – and this happens outside home during their face to face interactions with their peers.

Battling new challenges

Teens in India experience more stress and anxiety in terms of performance especially in terms of academics, extra curriculars, admissions and their future. Often, they face a peer/parental pressure of some kind to be more productive; and staying indoors is not helping. Kids these days are experiencing feelings of isolation and loneliness, and multiple bouts of boredom. For those who may consider this as a forced lockdown, may even start to resent their parents for not letting them take a walk or play with their neighbours. Mood swings and insomnia has slowly started to kick in. Technology via smartphone is a blessing but is not the solution to passing time, given that teens need to be exercising and playing outdoors often.

Many young people are feeling frustrated and robbed of highly anticipated opportunities, such as performing in the school band, or competing against the neighbouring school in the Model UN, and what not. Even though teens are quite adaptive and they have taken over to the shift of online classes decently well, the sudden shift may impact their learning and social abilities. There may not be enough time for all questions to be cleared, and worse, there may not be enough questions coming in at all.

How can parents/teachers support teens and young adults?

  1. Empathise, empathise and empathise– It is never enough for teens to feel understood. Although it may be obvious that people are staying at home to be safe, its always good to discuss and talk it out with teens. Teens are going through a number of issues, it is encouraged for parents to talk more and get teens to share their problems. A healthy discussion could go a long way in seeding the empathy beyond COVID-19. Understand their frustration over not seeing friends. Loosening rules about time spent on social media, for instance, will help compensate for the socialising time lost with school closings. Encourage them to face-time with their friends and most importantly- give them their privacy. Allow them some ‘downtime’ - Think of new ways in which they can connect with friends or party remotely. Express confidence in their ability to rebound from this phase.
  2. Take an active role in their remote schooling / online classes – Having friends around to help you with homework and group discussions is becoming a faint memory. With no separate physical space for learning, teens may tend to give less attention to online classes. It helps to give them a clean, distraction-free environment to take these classes, if space isn’t a luxury. Do take an interest and understand what they are learning and help them out if they are stuck. Despite your busy schedule, sit with them or talk about school and what they have learnt at the dinner table. Keep them motivated with learning.
  3. Foster healthy habits - Teenagers will do better during this stressful time if they get adequate sleep, eat healthy meals and exercise regularly. Do video workouts together. Keep a consistent schedule, as it is important to maintaining a positive mood and their ability to fulfil academic expectations. During weekends, encourage them to help you out with household chores and reward them with cashless pocket money using FamPay!
  4. Encourage mindfulness – Rather than fighting this, continue to talk with teens about the coronavirus and its consequences and encourage teens to accept the way they are feeling. Express confidence that they will move on from this phase. Remind them that its okay and this too shall pass. Help them look forward by shifting away from what was lost and identify ways to move on with plans and goals.
  5. Create support groups – Schools can create support groups with counsellors to help talk with teens and discuss their problems. It is important for teachers to monitor any changes in their student’s attitudes and behaviours. Teachers can take an extra effort to connect with their students with regular check-ins or journaling assignments to provide support that can go a long way.

Learning to adapt

India is home to approximately 250 million teenagers, more than 5 times that of the US. However, we are not so much paying attention to the fact of social distancing taking a possible toll on a teenagers’ health, behaviour, and academic performance, as much as the US is. While there is a lot of awareness being constantly generated and peer groups formed in the US, we are yet to see this traction here. However, we would like to mention some noteworthy initiatives such as Quaranteen Warmline and UNODC’s Lockdown Learner’s Initiative.

It’s not easy for parents and teachers of teens too. While you practice the suggestions above, do take care of your mental health too. Take a break and let them teens be. Not all is lost in this COVID- here are hidden gems of creativity being discovered during all of this. A lot of creative teens are using technology to stay connected, pass time, avoid boredom and display their talent. Teen platforms like Snapchat, Instagram and Tiktok can offer an outlet for teenagers to harness their boredom into collaborative efforts and self-expression.

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