We all know that teenagers are social animals. This is the time in their lives when they begin to really pull away from us, and attach more with their peers. It’s a natural phase of development that prepares them for adulthood. As they move towards independence, their peer relationships help define their identities. During the teen years, these relationships are often more important to them than those with family. That is why social distancing is so hard for teenagers.
Prior to a few days ago, they spent nearly all of their time with peers. The few awake hours spent at home were in their room, either doing homework or continuing to connect with peers online. From school, to practice, to rehearsal, to work, they were with their peers. Now they’re stuck at home with us. This is a drastic change in their lives, with no clear end in sight.
Those engaged in early-stage, remote schooling are generally frustrated with the makeshift, last-minute curriculum being forced on them. Heavy Internet traffic makes things more difficult, often slowing down or disrupting the Internet connection; and that is for those who even have Wi-Fi. With libraries and coffee shops closed, access to the Internet is not as simple as it used to be.
In addition to being shut away, high school students are also looking at an uncertain future. What was so clear a week ago is now completely unknown. These uncertainties are regarding very important aspects of their lives. The questions are many.
Out teens have many questions right now
“How will I finish the school year when we don’t know when, and if, we are going back to school?”
“Will we lose our summer making up for missed days?”
“Will there be a prom?”
High school juniors wonder how they will figure out where to apply to college, when all of their scheduled campus tours and information sessions have been cancelled. If they have decided where to apply, they wonder what their applications will look like with the SATs, ACTs and AP tests having all been postponed or cancelled.
Seniors are mourning the loss of their final semester, when all the hard work was supposed to pay off. They had looked forward to a few months of coasting along on the watered-down, senior-slump curriculum. They’re missing out on so many “lasts.” They’re losing precious time with friends before they all leave home in late summer. They’re losing their final sports season, orchestra or band concert, dance recital, or senior night. They may not get to walk across the stage at graduation.
We see them drag themselves out of their rooms only to use the bathroom or to come to dinner. They aren’t brushing their hair or changing their clothes. Even if we would make an exception, their boyfriend or girlfriend’s parents are sticking to the rules, prohibiting face-to-face contact. We remind them that this is temporary, and it will eventually pass. We model calm and acceptance of the situation. We encourage them to share their concerns, and their grief over the things they may lose. We make suggestions and set up opportunities for them to engage in something that will lift their spirits.
30 ideas to help teens manage social distancing
- For juniors, suggest they check out virtual tours of colleges, and visit Kahn Academy for some SAT prep.
- For seniors, have them make a slideshow of photos to play at the graduation party that WILL happen some day in the future.
- Let them pick where to order take-out from.
- Remind them how much they used to enjoy playing an instrument, then put out that guitar, ukulele, flute, or book of piano music.
- Put out a set of oil or watercolor paints, and text them a link to a free online painting lesson.
- Put out a couple of yoga mats and invite them to join you for an engaging (pre-screened) online yoga class.
- Invite them on a hike or a walk, or encourage them to meet friends for one (at a safe distance.)
- Teach them how to cook a favorite meal. If lacking inspiration, follow a chef on television.
- Ask them to bake something with you, or on their own, if they would prefer.
- Give them a journal and a good-flowing pen. Tell them we are living in unprecedented times, and they might want to share the day-to-day with someone someday. Offer prompts if they have trouble getting started, or suggest they write a poem.
- Invite them to join you in a guided meditation.
- Ask them to pick a film and plan a movie night.
- Suggest a series to binge-watch together, or ask them to pick one.
- Find a really interesting documentary and invite them to join you.
- Invite them to family board game night.
- Ask them if they’d like help organizing, cleaning out, or rearranging their bedroom.
- Suggest they separate out clothes they no longer wear, and prep them for donation.
- Suggest they check in on elderly neighbors (also at a safe distance) and ask if they need anything.
- Offer them opportunities to do housework or yardwork and earn money.
- Loan them a good camera and suggest they go outside and do some nature photography.
- Suggest they use YouTube to learn the lyrics to favorite songs.
- Have them pick out a comedian they like, or suggest one, and watch a stand-up act.
- Ask them to learn a new way to braid hair, with a sibling, or with you as the guinea pig.
- Suggest they put on their favorite playlist and take a bubble bath, suggest a deep conditioning and face mask to go with the bath.
- Invite them to an afternoon of spa treatments. Give each other manicures, pedicures, foot rubs, and facials.
- Start an intricate puzzle and ask them to help work on it.
- Suggest an engaging novel to read.
- See if they are interested in making a family tree.
- Ask them to call their grandparents.
- Suggest they make a bucket list of all the things they’d like to do together as a family before they move out.
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Doug Adriane Heine lives in Northeastern Pennsylvania with her husband, three daughters and lab mix. She is an adoption social worker for children in foster care. Her writing has garnered four Keystone Press Awards from the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association. She is passionate about helping children, doing as much yoga as possible, and sharing cool experiences with her girls.