I'm Concerned About My Teen Missing Out On Socialization Due To The Pandemic—What Can I Do?

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Parenting a teenager can be a challenge on any given day of a regular week, nevermind navigating raising a teen amid a global pandemic. Obviously, this is new territory for everyone! To help ease some of your worries, we checked in with Dr. Deborah Gilboa — aka Dr. G. — a family physician and resilience expert.

She's answering questions from our viewers, starting with this one from Lisa, who is concerned about her 14-year-old daughter experiencing her first year of high school virtually due to the Covid pandemic.

"With everything being virtual, she is doing only e-learning and maintaining her friendships only by social media. It's her first year of high school and it should be a time for making new friends and learning new social skills, but instead I see her struggling to maintain friendships. She used to be really outgoing and now I see her being more private and quiet," Lisa says. "What can I do to make sure that she comes out of this knowing that she knows how to be social with others face-to-face?"

"Even before the pandemic, parents were worried: 'Are our kids going to be able to interact with people face-to-face as they dive into their devices?' And then the world crashed in the way that we could only let them interact on their devices," Dr. G. points out. "I totally understand your worry." If you're in the same boat as Lisa, here's what the doc recommends.

1. Talk to your teen about how they're feeling.

"Have you asked your daughter how she feels, if she feels less outgoing or if she feels negatively impacted?" Dr. G asks.

"As parents, sometimes we don't ask those hard questions because we're afraid of pointing out what's hard or making it worse." But, the doc recommends talking to your teen first to find out how they're actually feeling. "You might find out that it really bugs her. Or, as some studies have shown, you might find out that she feels less social pressure starting high school this way than she would have if she had to be 'on' and look right and sound right and act right all the time (in her perception)."

2. Recognize that normal behavior can feel magnified due to the pandemic.

According to Dr. G, it's pretty normal for kids who are 14 or 15 to sometimes take a step back socially. "She might have gone through some of these developmental stages even if it wasn't so highlighted and so in your face 24/7 — because she's right there with you and you're really watching."

3. Ask what your teen needs from you: empathy, advice, intervention or a combination.

This goes for all relationships, Dr. G points out, but especially with a teenager — knowing how you can best help is so important. You'll build trust in your relationship with your child if when they give you an answer of what they need, you respect it. "85% of the time research says they only want empathy, so if you can bite your tongue and sit on your hands and not tell them what to do when they said they just want empathy, and you just give them empathy, I've found that often kids will come back to you later because you've built that trust and [ask for your advice]."

4. Remember, all of your child's peers are having the same experience.

"All of her peers are going through this same experience. It's not the same as if, god forbid, she had an illness that kept her home but everybody else was out having all those experiences and she was somehow falling behind," Dr. G says. "She's having a really authentic experience that she'll be able to take to those relationships and use to connect with people who've also had those same experiences when they all get back together."

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