Typically, social isolation in adolescents is self-imposed and a major red flag for parents and educators. When pre-teens, tweens, and teens self-isolate, anxiety or other mental health issues usually act as the impetus.
But what happens when we are the impetus? What happens when the adults in the adolescent’s life are responsible for isolating them- are we – these adults, prepared for results unknown? In yet another unforeseen consequence of pandemia, what has social isolation done to our children’s developing psyches, and how are we to reconcile our roles in this as parents and educators?
Any parent knows that being here, precisely twelve months into what is now precedented times, we are looking at a generation of children and young adults struggling to maintain their mental health and stability. And the struggle is real – anyone spending a significant amount of time with 10,11,12 to 20-year-olds knows how real this struggle is.
Depression, anxiety, self-harm – these behaviors we know, we have seen or have experienced ourselves – are now manifesting in our young adults at higher rates than ever before. These behaviors are a result of situations that were and continue to be beyond our control. Yet, in our attempt to control these situations, we have compounded and in some ways caused these very real and dire consequences.
What does this mean? In plain speak, it means that research has shown that 1 in 5 youth (aged 9-17) has a diagnosable mental health disorder – of those, 1 in 10 has a condition that causes significant impairment – and these are non-pandemic realities!
Are we prepared to understand, support, and aid the post pandemia consequences and what it has done to our youth?
Before times became unprecedented, studies had always shown the importance of peer acceptance and peer influence on young people’s developing psyches. Social deprivation and isolation have unique effects on the brain and behavior development in adolescents – these are developmental milestones we will not get back. Do we fully understand the ramifications of this? Here’s the scariest, most real part – kids across the board – geographically, economically – no matter where or what – youth, in general, have shown that the quarantines and long periods of isolation are taking a toll. My kids were fortunate enough to be in school (mostly) this year – and yes, there are masks, plastic separators, and social distancing but still (we thought) how lucky – they are in school!
Unfortunately, just being able to go to school is not enough. The initial quarantine, the non-organic human interactions, the inability to emote effectively and read others’ emotions these take a toll on psyches lacking enough real world and personal experiences. Now imagine you’re stuck at home, and your peer interaction is limited to a screen – how do we make up for this lost time? As difficult and horrible as 7th grade was (I speak only from my female experience), it made me better and stronger – I learned things about myself and other people. On the one hand, I envy the girl who escapes the pressures of 7rh grade, and on the other, I pity the girl that doesn’t learn how to use adversity to her benefit.
In this quagmire of truly unprecedented times ahead of us – what about the adults in children’s lives? Parents and educators are dealing with brand new – we have to be prepared to approach this generation – brand new – we may recognize the behaviors and the red flags, but the struggles they stem from are – brand new.
Parents, educators – now is not the time for complacency or wait and see – now is the time we turn to the trusted professionals (think A+ Solutions!).
At the start of this, I quoted the beginning of time: “It is not good for man to be alone,” and we now know this perfectly well – there is no shame in needing help, asking for help, and getting help. Parents, we will all struggle with the consequences of pandemia because we did and are doing the best we can with what we have. We cannot get lost in our feelings of guilt and responsibility – if your child is exhibiting red flag or worrisome behaviors – don’t wait – call someone, anyone and let them help you.
In fact, I think we should all be way more proactive. Sooner rather than later, at this point, “normalcy” will return; let’s get our schools involved in helping our kids to re-socialize. Encouraging partnerships between home, school, and mental health professional actually sounds pretty – brand new –
Humans are not meant to exist alone in a room, humans are not meant to be hidden from one another, and humans are not meant to adapt easily to situations that challenge our emotional well-being. These are the only things we know for sure – if we put our energies into that which we know and can control, perhaps this generation can use this adversity to their advantage.
Written by:Sima Maryles, Educator at A+ Solutions