Worried About Your Teen’s Physical Distancing and Mental Health? Check the L.A.B
Social distancing isn’t cool, we need each other and we need interaction. Physical distancing on the other hand is warranted.
Examining exactly how physical distancing affects mental health is a tricky endeavor. While the changes brought about by the need for physical distancing are likely to produce a degree of anxiety in almost anyone, the severity will vary.
Another difficulty is the lack of studies available related to intentional, prolonged, physical distancing (err… social distancing). While we have studies about the mental health effects of isolation, the use of long-term physical distancing as a tool to stop the spread of disease has never been studied.
L.A.B. refers to the three biggest drawbacks to physical distancing: loneliness, anxiety, and boredom.
We’ll go over a number of techniques to help alleviate these feelings while being asked to be physically distant due to illness.
One of the biggest obstacles during periods of physical distancing is loneliness.
Teens or pre-teens may find this especially hard as they’re often surrounded by their peers at school and during after school activities. This is a good time to work on your relationship as a family – walk together, talk together, and spend valuable time getting to know each other.
There is some evidence that it’s easier to bond with others through audio and video communication, rather than texting. This may mean that your children will feel less lonely if they communicate through Skype/FaceTime or via phone call than if they were to communicate over text exclusively. Your child is feeling lonely? Encourage them to phone their friends. If they are to bond face to face, encourage it, but mind the physical distancing.
Children are often in a position where they feel they have little control, from having to do what adults tell them to lacking the tools necessary for projects they’d like to undertake.
With physical distancing, there’s an even greater removal of agency – not only are they not allowed to make rules for themselves, they can’t even do the things that used to be in their power, like seeing their friends and choosing their extracurricular activities.
One of the consequences of becoming sick and being asked to physically distance ourselves is that our normal routines have been wrested away from us – one of the many things that lie outside of our control. One of the benefits of routine is that it gives us a sense of control, no matter how old we are – by simply following our routine, we are accomplishing something.
We have agency over something. Locus of control, the feeling that you have control over your life, is one of the keys to good mental health.
Children and teens will, inevitably, see substantial changes to their routines as a result of physical distancing. They don’t need to be up on time to catch the bus, or go to school where classes are rigidly structured, they don’t have sports or clubs once school is over. The resulting feeling can be disorienting; routines give us a sense of place in time.
When your child is feeling listless, bored, or acting chaotic, it may be good to encourage them to create a routine. Do so in tandem with your child, helping them choose when to schedule certain activities. Make sure their routine involves mentally, physically, and spiritually stimulating activities.
Work hard to maintain your own routine as well; as we know, children emulate their parents.
Alleviating anxiety is tricky, especially when everyone seems to be feeling it to some degree. Have honest conversations with your child about their feelings. Put extra effort into ensuring they have some degree of control over their lives.
For example: You may ask for their input on what to make for supper, and help them learn how to cook. You may ask them what chores they want to do, and give them responsibility over those chores. The more that your child feels they have power over their own lives, the less anxiety they might experience.
You may be hard-pressed to find a group of kids who will tell you they love going to school.
Nevertheless, you’re unlikely to find a group of kids who are all perpetually bored at school – they’ll enjoy gym class, or science, or talking with their friends. Throw in after school activities, and children often won’t have the time to be bored; their schedules are just too packed.
That’s all changed.
Boredom isn’t necessarily bad for your mental health; it can stimulate you to find a new hobby or do something creative. Perpetual boredom, on the other hand, can be a problem.
Fortunately, there are still plenty of things you can do while maintaining physical distancing guidelines.
Have a backyard? Set up a couple of impromptu soccer nets and play. A little less space? Look up some YouTube videos of activities you and your kids can do by using body weight. Yoga, tumbling, build a fort, gymnastics, kung fu – the number of tutorials you can find online to relieve boredom is astounding.
Looking for something more mentally stimulating? Pick up some board games to play with your kids. Encourage them to learn to draw, write poetry, or play an instrument. These activities can serve a dual purpose – alleviating boredom while providing creative and social outlets.
Veronica Wallace is a childhood educator and blogging enthusiast. Some of her favourite articles can be found on the Kidthink website. Kidthink specializes in offering clinical treatment of mental illness in children aged twelve and under, along with community outreach and training for this type of treatment.