The impact of COVID-19 on teens and the importance of connection
As we near one full year since COVID-19 began, we find ourselves increasingly aware of the unique challenges that this lengthy and uncertain period continues to bring for adolescents who are grieving. While people of most ages have had their pre-COVID routines, responsibilities, and social relationships upturned, teens especially might feel stuck, without a clear endpoint in sight. While managing their own grief, they also have found themselves with limited connections to support beyond their family at home. Teens in general tend to rely on their connections with peers and thrive on the ability to form their own interests, skills, and relationships. COVID-19 has narrowed down their options for these activities, making it all the more important for them to have a place to meet other teens who have had similar experiences.
Grieving teens might feel especially torn between the natural need for independence and desire to expand their peer relationships, and also feel some understandable anxiety about whether and when it is safe to interact with others beyond home. Whereas other teens might question the need for cautions such as social distancing and remote learning, the adolescents we see at The Children’s Room have a more genuine understanding of the fragility of life, health, and the impact of their decisions on their family members. They often have a level of insight about how their lives, families, values, and peer relationships have been shifted by the death of a family member and all the corresponding changes. At the same time, as this pandemic continues, they might have a conflicting sense of frustration that an event beyond their control has once again entered their lives, bringing additional, unexpected departures from how they envisioned their teen years.
With prolonged social distancing, teens continue to face limited and distanced support from friends, teachers, coaches, and others who typically could have helped them cope or been someone to talk to. Activities that would otherwise have given healthy outlets, places to define themselves beyond their family’s loss, and distractions from their grief have also been canceled or downsized. As some schools shift between hybrid and all-remote models and the trajectory of the pandemic is unclear, the sense of uncertainty also adds to the stress. Grieving teens may feel new anxieties about their futures, having already recognized how life can shift unexpectedly, and now encountering realities of not knowing how long they will need to manage the new expectations of COVID-19, how it will feel once they return to in-person activities, or whether they will miss additional adolescent “rites of passage” such as sports seasons, prom, or graduation.
The Children’s Room has recognized how incredibly challenging and difficult this time is for our teens and so we continue to offer creative ways for them to connect. Along with monthly, interactive TCR Teen Program events such as recent virtual culinary sessions, printmaking workshops, and remote escape room games, we have also expanded our Teen Group onto a virtual platform, meeting every other week through June! Our teens continue to tell us that they look forward to these programs, sharing “It’s a fun and creative way to meet others” and “It’s just a time to share and connect with others going through similar experiences… Everyone is kind and supportive. It is a good environment.”