How the Pandemic Impacts At-risk Youths: Helping Young People Deal with Social Isolation and Social Distancing
Adolescents have a normal, developmental urge to socialize with peers, establish close friendships and reinforce their self-identity. At the same time, they are also increasing their independence from parents by engaging in risky or sensation-seeking behaviors. Rapid biopsychosocial changes experienced by teens further compels them to rely more on peers for self-concept, attitudes and views regarding authority.
Since March, U.S. teens have had all aspects of their lives upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools closed, shopping malls closed, concerts and sports events were canceled and most had to quickly adapt to online learning protocols. The American Psychological Association published research indicating that teenagers are experiencing much more anxiety and depression over pandemic restrictions than their parents. School closures and the inability to socialize with peers are the leading causes of teen anxiety attributed to COVID-19. For at-risk youths, social isolation and social distancing is especially difficult to deal with since they depend more on peers for emotional support, validation and a sense of belonging.
Pandemic restrictions have also left at-risk youth unable to attend counseling programs in person. While telemedicine is currently being utilized in all healthcare fields, the one-on-one, personal interaction between an emotionally troubled youth and their counselor is an essential component of connecting on a deeper level with at-risk teens. In addition, infectious disease experts are telling us society really won’t get back to the way it was until a vaccine has been developed. Until then, parents and guardians of at-risk youths can help young people cope with being socially isolated by using the following tips:
Be More Flexible with Your Teen About Time Spent on Cellphones and Computers
If you previously restricted the time your teen spent on digital devices, relax those rules for now and let youths Facetime or Skype with friends they can’t hang out with. Staying in touch with peers can reduce the risk of worsening behavioral issues such as acting out, severe irritability or even aggressive episodes. Parents of at-risk youths with a history of online bullying, visiting pornographic or violent websites or indulging in other forms of Internet addiction should always monitor their child’s browsing history. Block websites you don’t want your teen visiting and lay ground rules for allowing extra online time.
Develop a Reasonable Yet Productive Routine for Your Teen to Follow
Teens tend to stay up all night and sleep all day. Trying to get your teen on something that resembles a schedule is doable but parents should include enough free/private time in the schedule to avoid making their teenager resentful of a “bootcamp” type routine. Inform you teen they need to eat a healthy breakfast in the morning, get dressed, complete counseling-mandated work and get some exercise before lunch. Allow time in the afternoon for meeting with friends online or having one friend over if possible. Incorporate family time in your teen’s schedule as well as any activities specific to at-risk youth programs in which your teen participates.
Encourage Teens to Skype with Grandparents and Other Relatives
Even if you get your teen to Facetime with grandma or grandpa for five minutes, be aware that five minutes with a family member means more to your teen than they may let on. At-risk youths thrive in close, loving environments where they know they have people they can talk to and trust. In some cases, teens may listen to what a relative has to say over what a parent has to say simply because they want to be independent from parents and view parental statements as more like “orders” than advice.
Search for Area Nonprofit Organizations That Need Help During the Summer
NPOs are always looking for people to volunteer a few hours of their time to assist others in need. Local humane societies are always looking for dog walkers, cage cleaners and people to interact with animals. Libraries often need volunteers for summer reading programs. Call your city’s commerce or police department for more information about volunteer activities your teen may be interested in doing.
Go Camping and Let Your Teen Invite a Friend
What better way to expose your teen to a therapeutic environment than to go camping in the great outdoors. Plan on spending one weekend a month hiking, fishing, playing volleyball, telling scary stories by the campfire and enjoying the serenity of the woods. Camping builds confidence in teens while providing time to develop deeper relationships with their parents and discovering new skills and talents.
For more information about helping at-risk youths cope with the psychological consequences of the pandemic, please call us for assistance.