Why discuss social anxiety now? The pandemic has upended lives in so many ways, but it’s also provided opportunities for large natural experiments in human behavior. The rules by which we live our day-to-day lives have changed.
Prolonged periods of sitting at home without opportunities to practice social skills can make it that much harder for teens to improve their ability to cope down the road. Dr. Samantha Coyle, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey, believes that it’s really important that we figure out ways to continue to provide students with the opportunity to interact and engage with others; one of the things that she thinks is really important to ensure that social distancing doesn’t necessarily mean social isolation.
Remember what it felt like to be the new kid at school, get assigned to an elementary school classroom with none of your friends, or show up at a party where you didn’t know anyone but the host? Some people can dive right into those situations and thrive right away! But other kids need time to get used to a new situation. That’s perfectly normal. For almost every kid in the world, they are beginning to re-enter social situations they haven’t been in for over a year. For all of us, doing something new – or even something we haven’t done for a while – can be a bit scary.
Teens had possibly been looking forward to big trips, sweet 16 parties, a musical or theater performance or sport event. And of course there are the quintessential traditions like senior prom, grad night and graduation. While some events may be postponed or rescheduled, others may be canceled altogether. Although nothing may completely replace them, a growing number of virtual events offer ways to celebrate in a less traditional format. From video conference dance parties in place of prom to FaceTime hang outs and virtual concerts, teens are connecting in alternative ways. Parents shouldn’t force these ideas on their kids but be supportive in helping them explore virtual substitutes perhaps in partnership with organizations or their school.
Parents may be tempted to remind their kids that they are lucky to be healthy during a worldwide pandemic. And that in the big picture, missing a dance isn’t such a big deal. But resist saying those things. Anything that minimizes what teens are feeling is not helpful. Feelings don’t have to make sense or be right or wrong. They just are. You just don’t want them to overwhelm you.