Teens Cope with Loneliness in Covid Isolation
Although many have adjusted to this new way of life brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, some teenagers have not found a new rhythm. The word “lonely” has been used repeatedly by teenagers to describe their emotional state these days. This isn’t the same sort of loneliness that is easily mended by activities or getting outside a bit more. Without regular school schedules and the usual opportunities for engagement, many teens are missing a significant source of social interaction. My work with teenagers has given me insight into just how much it matters.
Sustaining healthy relationships is much harder for teens without face-to-face contact and nearly impossible in the virtual learning environment alone. Some students have been unable to develop relationships with teachers, make new friends or reconnect with old ones. Many students describe virtual learning as an invasion of privacy as their rooms or homes are on display. They don’t enjoy the constant gaze at their faces on screen. It creates anxiety that, in some cases, magnifies the feeling of disconnectedness — especially when relationships have not previously been established. There are few replacements for the typical social opportunities and peer interactions in the school setting, no matter how drama-filled the time can be.
Also, many teenagers have not solidified a sense of self at this point and rely on social experiences for development. It’s kind of like building a house without one of the adjoining walls. Adolescents build their identity and character in the school environment. They feel supported, have greater academic success and seem to benefit from gauging their own effort, the pace at which they work and their progress by the peers around them. They greatly benefit from positive relationships with their teachers. Research published in the Journal of Community Psychology by Dr. Heather M. Chipuer in 2001, indicated that school belonging lowers levels of depression and loneliness. Without the day-to-day interactions, some teens have described feeling alone in the learning experience.
Additionally, there are fewer outlets to manage the new levels of stress. School offers a break from home, chores, chaos or siblings. Without physically being in school, students are left with fewer options for reprieve. There is less to look forward to and teens can easily find themselves in a rut of staying in their rooms, finding fewer reasons to engage and more justification for hiding away.
It seems these factors fuel a sense of isolation and loneliness that is different from common symptoms of depression or anxiety and can be difficult for the reticent teens to articulate. However, I do not believe this type of loneliness is something we should rush to fix. We can instead acknowledge the emotion, understand it and help them find balance. This type of quietness can offer teens an opportunity for growth, introspection, reassessment of priorities and evaluation of relationships.
I am most concerned about the longterm effects this pause will have on those who will struggle to recover friendships, establish new ones and feel connected again; yet I’m assured most teenagers will resiliently recover. In the meantime, as we all navigate this new way of life together, we can encourage our children to find creative ways to build character, connect with family, limit periods of isolation and encourage them to resist the urge to isolate. Let’s help them find ways to stay active, give back and make the most of this time before the hustle and bustle resumes. It most certainly will!
Shavonda Bean is a licensed psychological associate and owner of Essential Assessments & Behavioral Health. Visit Essentialhealthnc.com for more information.
Pride Magazine – 2021 March/April “Women’s” Issue