As COVID19 continues to infect thousands of people around the world, many states have initiated procedures of quarantine or social isolation to decelerate the spread of the virus. These safety precautions prevent experiences of socialization, which are essential components of a teenager’s development. This quarantined isolation has detrimentally impacted the mental health of teenagers all over the country. Although every age group has suffered due to COVID19’s conditions, teenagers’ mental health needs to be especially prioritized while we continue to protect the world’s physical health.

Why Are We Socially Distancing?

There is no question that COVID19 is a dangerous virus. Its most threatening quality is its ability to spread so quickly. In order to protect individuals’ physical health, social distancing has become a necessary tactic to slow down the levels of infection. Social distancing, or staying six feet apart from others, makes it much more difficult for the virus to spread from one person to another. Even healthy teenagers play a role in the global fight against COVID19, as their social distancing will help keep others safe and stop the spread. 

How Is This Affecting Teens?

Even though social distancing is a necessary measure, its implications have cancelled numerous milestone moments for teenagers. High school graduations, proms, sports seasons, and all celebrations have come to a halt. Many teenagers feel as if the rug was ripped out from under them, and that their lives were put on hold. Teenagers have experienced feelings of anger about the current circumstances, along with a sense of grief and loss of what would’ve been. Living at home without usual freedoms has also stirred up feelings of anxiety in teenagers, as they feel that they’re being “micromanaged” by their parents. 

Social Interaction and Teenage Minds

Humanity relies on our ability to be social. Our very being has always been dictated by social interaction. Not only has it worked towards our survival, face to face contact helps eliminate feelings of stress and launches the release of the pain-reducing neurotransmitter, dopamine. Socialization makes people happier. When individuals are experiencing difficult times, a social support network or the company of family and friends can make a situation all the more bearable. Maintaining relationships and leading a social life even helps reinforce healthier lifestyle habits. 

Although some would argue that every age group is struggling in the midst of social isolation, socialization is a behavior that is especially important for teenagers. As adolescents grow older, the areas of the brain involved in social interaction begin to blossom. This development helps teenagers understand the feelings of others and become more aware of how to help those around them in social settings. Teenagers that actively contribute to their social groups experience better moods and increased sense of belonging. It’s no doubt that social interaction is important for everyone to do, but older individuals’ brains have already socially developed, and they’ve had more years of experience in social settings. Younger individuals have more time ahead of them to socially develop before they are independent and on their own. Teenagers, above all, need the opportunity to socialize, as it facilitates their overall development and helps them foster communication skills that are necessary in the real world. So what happens to teenagers’ mental health when the innate practice of socializing is regulated? 

Teens in Isolation

Social isolation for teens consists of reduced social contact and a deprivation of access to social support networks. This causes teenagers to develop feelings of loneliness. Loneliness raises levels of stress, depression, anxiety, and the likelihood of suicide. Being stuck at home with limitations on social activity, along with a lack of privacy from family members, only heightens the negative feelings that teenagers are experiencing. Teenagers are suffering through this pandemic, as their independence has been taken away from them and their of lack definitive answers about what their future holds is impairing their mental health.  

How to Help a Teen in Quarantine

Teenagers are not on their own yet, and those suffering in social isolation would benefit from parental support. This is a time for parents to focus on the mental well being of their teenagers. The cure for loneliness is connection, so it’s important that parents encourage their teens to connect with friends or family members through technology. Having a parent acknowledge that everyone is struggling right now may help teenagers feel less alone. Parents should also incite healthy habits (exercising, eating well) and practices of mindfulness in their teenagers. Parents should work towards fostering a parent-child relationship, as that is a form of socialization that could benefit both parties involved. Creating stronger bonds with family members may help teenagers reduce their sense of isolation. 

How Teens Can Help Themselves 

Teenagers are more technologically savvy than most, so they should use that to their advantage while socially distancing. Teenagers should engage in zoom calls, Facetimes, or phone calls with their peers to maintain some sort of social connection. There are also numerous online therapy options (some of them are even free and anonymous) that they have at their disposal through the internet. If a teen ever needs to talk to someone or continues to experience feelings of loneliness while in social isolation, online therapy is an efficient and easily accessible tool. As quarantine and social distancing protect our physical health, it’s important for teens to utilize the resources that are there to preserve their mental health.