Lockdown has been tough on teens. Many of them have missed out on normal rites of passage, like parties, school formals, concerts, and sporting matches. They’ve missed hanging out with friends, and just being around other people.
Technology has helped people to stay in touch – but how can we use it better, to deepen friendships and ease the loneliness many teens are feeling?
While most teens can connect with their friends online, it isn’t always easy. They might feel awkward, or miss the physical company, or struggle to find things to talk about during lockdown.
Try doing fun activities together online. Many teens enjoy gaming with friends, but there are also things they can do via videoconferencing or other tech, such as artwork, craft, cooking, building models, playing music, online board games, doing makeup, or just watching a TV show together and commenting on how good (or bad!) it is.
For teens who are feeling lonely, it’s tempting to make ‘friends’ with strangers online, but this is risky. Parents can help by suggesting supervised online activities. A good place to start is your local council youth service or local library, who run things for teens like online art or photography classes, gaming sessions, trivia nights, exercise classes, or ‘social listening’ groups where teens listen to their favourite music together. Before joining, check that these groups are private and moderated.
For teens who just want to talk with other young people, some organisations run online group chats and peer support circles – for example, Kids Helpline, headspace and ReachOut. These forums are led by mental health professionals, and they focus on a range of topics, such as friendships, gaming, and coping with stress.
Talk with your teens about how they will protect their privacy during these sessions – for example, being careful which names or profile pics they use, and not posting information that might identify where they live or go to school.
When we’re with other people face-to-face, we communicate a lot through our tone of voice and body language, and we’re aware of how our surroundings shape the way we behave. Two teens talking in a noisy playground, for example, might have a very different conversation to what they would have in the car with Mum listening in!
But when we’re online, we don’t have that context, so it’s easy to get the wrong idea. We can feel very upset if a friend doesn’t answer a message, doesn’t like our posts, or makes a snarky comment.
As parents, we can encourage our teens to ask themselves:
Meanwhile, keep reminding your teens about the importance of staying safe online. Check out the eSafety Commissioner’s advice about online safety during COVID-19.