Source: Steinar-England / Unsplash
At the best of times, friendships between tweens are delicate and changeable, inevitably leading to problems. Being cut off from peers during the pandemic leaves some feeling of exclusion or intimidation online or an open target for gossip.
Phyllis Fagell, psychotherapist, school counselor and author of College questions, provides insight into what your child may be experiencing or feeling with concrete approaches you can use to help your tweens and teens during this time of social isolation and long after.
Guest message from Phyllis Fagell, LCPC:
Ideally, college students must navigate a complex social landscape. They care deeply for their friends, but their empathy grows, they are insecure, and they are still learning to self-regulate and interpret non-verbal cues. They are also in the throes of puberty, mature at very different rates, and engage with well-meaning but equally incompetent peers.
As the pandemic and social distancing add another layer of stress, here are four ways to help your child stay confident and connected.
Explain that social distancing can increase sensitivity
“I feel excluded,” Claire *, 11, told me. His friends had met the last few nights on House Party, a children’s video conferencing platform, and no one had thought to let him know. She wasn’t sure they wanted to exclude her, but she couldn’t help but think about the oblivion.
A few weeks earlier, Claire would have purged the air in person the next day. Or maybe she would have decided to drop everything if everything seemed normal enough at school. Instead, she just felt sad and confused.
If your child feels hurt because of a slight resentment, validate his hurt feelings and encourage him to think expansively. Ask questions such as: “Could it be that they thought you knew about the call or that a friend of yours tried to reach you?” Explain that they may feel more sensitive because they lack opportunities for organic and positive interactions.
Then help them exercise their agency. Find solutions together. You might ask, “Could you have a house party meeting for another night this week?” Or ask them if they would like to share their feelings with someone in their group of friends.
Check their behavior online
“Naomi has told everyone that my parents fight all the time,” 12-year-old Zoe told me. “I trusted him to say nothing.” As the pandemic turns everyone’s lives upside down, children soak up the anxiety around them. And pre-teens who are afraid tend to be more impulsive and less empathetic. In an effort to gain attention, they may reveal someone’s secret or post a nasty comment.
Periodically check your children’s texts and clichés, speak out against any cruelty without humiliating them, and help them identify positive ways to deal with darker emotions such as jealousy or anger. Now is a good time to remind them to sit on their hands and count to 60 before posting anything, and to silently wonder if their words could harm someone else or come back to haunt him.
Since tweens spend significantly more time online for both their studies and socializing, consider scheduling screen-free time as well. Children who never take a break from social media tend to suffer more from FOMO or be afraid of missing out, and also tend to feel less good about themselves.
Remind your child that they can still pick up a phone and call a friend, but that they can maintain their confidence if they limit the time they spend chasing likes or hiding in streams. other people’s social media.
Help them interact comfortably with their peers
“I’m worried about Colin,” the mother of a sixth told me. “Nobody calls him or asks him to do anything virtually, and he doesn’t call anyone either. He’s alone and upset, but I don’t know how to help him.
No two children have the same social needs. An extrovert will miss regular face-to-face interactions, but they’ll also identify other ways to engage with friends. For introverts, social distancing can be a relief. They no longer have to interact with their peers all day at school and potentially all night. If this describes your child, don’t force them to talk online with others more often. If he’s happy, let him run his own social life. Otherwise, your son or daughter might feel judged or afraid to let you down.
I am most worried about the third group of children. These are children who want to be loved, but who were isolated even before the closure because they have difficulty connecting with their peers. If your child falls into this camp, use the time to reinforce their skills. You have a lot more access to their interactions right now, so watch their behavior. do they interrupt? Trying to dominate a conversation? Do something physically off-putting onscreen? When in an online course do they try too hard to be funny?
Be nice but straightforward. Help him understand, for example, that if someone looks away while talking, it is a sign that they are bored. Help them find common ground. Encourage them to start with curiosity and ask questions. If they have no ability to strike up a conversation, suggest that they consider playing video games or watching the same movie at the same time as a peer.
Talk to their teachers and their advisor. There may be online lunch groups, book clubs, or other more structured and inclusive activities that would give them a chance to hang out with their classmates. Also consider teletherapy. Many practices have started offering social skill groups online.
Help them get out of their heads
When kids focus on social losses, help them transcend themselves. You can’t spare them the disappointment of missing a sports season or not being able to celebrate their birthdays with friends, but you can try to shift their attention to others who feel even more disconnected. Tweens want to make a difference in the world.
Whenever possible, give them ownership of how they help others. Tweens are eager to assert their independence, so it is difficult for many of them to be stuck at home 24/7 with their parents.
Discuss their options rather than dictating their choices. Do they want to reach out to a classmate who they have heard is feeling lonely? Do they want to make masks for first responders? Or would they perhaps like to create works of art or write letters to residents of assisted living facilities or to inpatients who cannot receive visitors?
Don’t give up if your child is initially negative or indifferent. When they see that they can change the situation of others, they will gain self-confidence. They may also be more likely to feel grateful for what they have rather than focusing on what they lack.
It is not possible to protect children from disappointment at the best of times, let alone during a crisis. But there may be some benefit to the discomfort they are currently experiencing.
Emily Bianchi, assistant professor of organization and management at the Goizueta School of Business at Emory University, has researched adversity and found that periods of forced uncertainty can lead to higher levels of satisfaction. , gratitude and flexibility later in life. No one would wish this on anyone, but your child can emerge with skills that they could never have learned in the classroom.
* All names have been changed.