How Social Distancing Can Affect Teenagers

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High school seniors are in a unique position: born in the aftermath of 9/11, they’re now graduating amid a pandemic that’s never been experienced before in our lifetimes.

“They’re so young yet they have already been exposed to how quickly things can change, how fragile life can be,” says Farvah Fatima, M.D., a family medicine physician at Henry Ford Health System. “Also, they’re seeing how connected the world is thanks to social media and travel. These things may make them more prudent, appreciative of what they have, more intuitive to change, and more connected to the world around them.”

That said, they are still growing teenagers, and their prefrontal cortexes won’t be fully developed until their mid to late twenties. That explains why teenagers feel invincible and, potentially, one reason why social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic might be difficult for them. Of course, it is essential that everyone practice social distancing. Regardless of age, anyone can get COVID-19, and even if they don’t experience symptoms, they could pass it onto someone else.

So teenagers—especially those who are experiencing milestone markers this spring, like proms and graduations—are grappling with a variety of emotions, feeling like they’re missing out on important experiences. Adjustments are being made, such as virtual prom parties and graduation ceremonies. While it’s helpful to look at the larger picture and put things into perspective—staying safe and healthy is the number one priority—that doesn’t mean their emotions are not valid, says Dr. Fatima.

Here, she offers a few ways to help teens cope while social distancing:

  1.  Connect with them. “Sit down with them and have a real heart-to-heart,” she says. “Be open minded and give them your undivided attention so they know someone is taking their feelings seriously.” 
  2.  Take advantage of empty schedules and spend time together. “This is one instance where there aren’t a lot of obligations like soccer practice, gymnastics, or other after-school activities, so do things as a family: play board games, watch movies, take walks outside, bake,” says Dr. Fatima.
  3.  Enforce social media breaks. Having a few hours where no one is on social media can be beneficial mentally and physically, especially if your child is prone to being cyber-bullied, or if the news is getting you down.
  4.  When they’re on social media, have them use it in real time. Houseparty is a new popular app that lets multiple people video chat simultaneously. “We are social creatures and need to interact with friends,” says Dr. Fatima. “FaceTiming, getting together with friends for Netflix viewing parties—using social media in real time to connect, instead of simply posting static pictures—can be a mood-lifting experience, and will be more helpful than isolating oneself and waiting for likes from a photo.”


For up-to-date information about Henry Ford Health System’s response to the coronavirus, visit henryford.com/coronavirus.

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Dr. Farvah Fatima is a family medicine doctor who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Southfield.

Categories: ParentWell