Most teens have been socially isolated for more than a year now. For some teens, it may have been even longer if they had previously self-isolated. Going back to school and some of the normal activities might be a challenge after being in social isolation for so long. Parents, caregivers, and family members can help make the transition a positive one.
Preparing for Social Interactions
Teens who have been socially isolated may need some help as they prepare to interact with peers in person again. Here are some ways parents and caregivers can help them prepare for real-life interactions again:
- Talk about feelings: Allow your teen to talk about their feelings about social reintegration and social anxiety. Being an example of this by talking about your own feelings will allow them to be vulnerable and to feel safe.
- Reassure them about their social skills: Remind them that they used to socialize in person. They did this before, and they can do it again. Emphasize that this is an opportunity to start over with friends and school interactions.
- “Practice” social interactions with family: Have family dinners, game nights, or video calls with extended family to practice social skills.
- Offer some structured social interactions: Where possible, invite a friend or two for an activity such as dinner or a movie, where you can be around for moral support. Small group interactions will help develop their confidence for larger group interactions.
Coping with Negative Social Experiences
Most teens have negative social experiences at some point. Interacting solely online may have given your child fewer negative experiences, which means they will need to learn to cope with in-person disappointments once again while interacting with peers. Parents and caregivers can help them cope in these ways:
- Discuss what bullying is: Be sure that they understand what constitutes bullying: emotional or physical harm, intimidation, or coercion by a person or group with perceived power, such as age or size. Remind them that this is unacceptable, and can and should be reported to an adult if it happens to them or to anyone else.
- Listen to their experiences: As parents and caregivers, we have adult problems to worry about. Your teen talking about how someone didn’t talk to them that day may not seem important. But listening is one of the most essential forms of support that you can give your child.
- Discuss solutions: As parents and caregivers, there is a tendency to want to solve our child’s problems. But it is far more empowering to allow them to solve their own problems. You can discuss possible solutions with your child, but it is best for them to solve their own social problems unless there is abuse or a serious issue.
- Offer emotional support: Asking your child how their day was, listening, and offering empathy for their social issues is a way to be supportive while still allowing them to experience the growing pains of negative social experiences.
Maintaining a Balance of Activities
Before COVID-19, parents did everything they could to limit screen time. Then, for a year, screen time was the only way to connect with friends. In a new poll conducted by Common Sense Media, about half of young people said social media has been very important to them during the pandemic for staying connected to friends and family. However, now it will be important to find a balance of activities and types of connection each day. Here are ways to do that:
- Limit screen time: As in-person school and activities re-open, it will be important to wean teenagers from their devices. This transition may need to be a gradual process, and encouraging other activities will help fill the time.
- Make time for friends every day: Find ways for them to spend face-to-face time with friends. This is essential for their mental health and development. Being able to interact with peers and problem-solve will be critical to coming out of social isolation.
- Have outdoor time every day: Weather permitting, find ways for them to get outdoors each day, even if it is not with friends. Being outdoors can help relieve anxiety and depression and is very calming.
- Get involved in a sport or other group activity: Even if your teen was not involved in a club, sports team, music group, church group, or other group activity prior to COVID-19, this is the perfect time for them to have structured interaction with peers. Belonging to a group can help teens feel connected socially and offer them opportunities to make new friends.
And remember, the family has been your teen’s primary social network for a whole year. Keep that connection strong with daily family dinners or other activities, so teens can transition into in-person social interactions with a supportive foundation.
If you find that your teen is struggling with social anxiety that only seems to be getting worse, there may be an underlying issue at play. Contact us to find out how we can help and provide support.