Combating social isolation for adolescents during the pandemic

With the numbers of COVID-19 cases increasing, it gives us less opportunities to visit with friends and family during the holiday season. Feelings of isolation and longing for connection are likely to be more pronounced for many of us.

For those with teenagers in the home, this may become loud and clear. Adolescents need contact with their peers for healthy development. Many opportunities they had prior to the pandemic have been stifled or put on indefinite hold. Seeing friends at school, after-school activities, sports, and other social gatherings are some of the ways that kids develop their sense of identity and self-esteem, not to mention learning how to navigate the complex social and emotional factors that help them form healthy relationships throughout the lifespan.

The following are some ways that we can help our adolescents cope with the reduced social connections during the pandemic while easing stress on parents:

Mental Health

It has never been more important for adolescents to have a therapist available to them (and their parents) when needed. Getting the right therapist for your teen means finding someone with whom they feel comfortable. Involving an adolescent in “therapist shopping” can be a great way to empower them and get them to buy in to the therapeutic process. An easy way to do this is to use the PsychologyToday.com “Find A Therapist” search option together. While being able to see a photo, bio and specialties, you and your child can choose someone covered by your insurance that meets their needs. Most therapists have telehealth options and your child could independently set up and attend their sessions without putting an additional strain on parents to schedule or transport. Similarly, parents also deserve to have the support of an established relationship with a therapist with whom they feel connected. We know we should have a primary care physician for physical health needs. Why wouldn’t we similarly have someone available to help when we have emotional distress or other mental health needs?

Grief

The stages of grief apply to more than just the death of loved ones. Teens may be grieving the loss of their pre-pandemic lives, for example, attending school in-person, large group activities, or visiting friends in their homes, while many parents are having similar experiences. Understanding how we are feeling, how our children are feeling, and talking about it together are great ways to connect and help our children grow their emotional intelligence.

Activities and Bonding Time

Raising a teen is a tough job. Adolescents can be emotionally-charged, defiant and unpredictable in their behavior and moods. Families have less opportunities for space apart without school, sports and other activities. Parents may find conflict more frequent and intense. While much of this turmoil is normal developmentally-speaking, knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. Increasing positive interactions together can soften the blow of the more difficult ones, as well as meet some of the adolescent’s social needs. Going for a walk together, playing board or video games with them, and letting them show you their social media can be ways to bond with your child, see what is important to them, and monitor their interactions. With an increased amount of screen time that is difficult if not impossible to limit, joining in can be a good way to stay connected. Online video games and social media, like TikTok and Snapchat, may be an important means for teens to connect with their peers, but they can also develop skewed concepts about themselves and others as a result. Talking to them about their thoughts and feelings are key to limiting the potential detrimental effects of too much investment in these activities.

If you or a loved one need help, UofL Health – Peace Hospital’s Assessment and Referral Center offers no-charge assessments at 502-451-3333 or 800-451-3637.

Or contact the 24-Hour Crisis and Information Center Line at 502-589-4313 or 800-221-0446.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

Pandemic Grief

Parental Resource Kit (For Children of All Ages)

PsychologyToday.com “Find A Therapist”

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About Chris Nelson

Chris Nelson is an assessment clinician in UofL Health – Peace Hospital’s Assessment and Referral Center. Chris graduated with a master of science degree in social work from the University of Louisville in 2014 and has almost 20 years of experience working with children and families in community-based intensive treatment teams, juvenile offender programs, and specialized school counseling. In addition to joining Peace Hospital in 2018, Chris continues to run his own businesses in the music industry, including Seven Sense music festival and record labels, while also working as a professional musician.

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