I'm Concerned That My Kid Isn't Reaching Out To Friends Right Now

by Erika Hanson
Young woman feeling worried

If you have teens and tweens, you know that social distancing is causing social difficulties.

If your child is a very social person, they are missing their friends, they are missing school. They might be FaceTiming with friends often. Or perhaps they were connecting with friends often initially, but now that has tapered off.

Friendships can be quite fickle in the teen years. And as a parent, this is scary. So much of the teen years is built on social status: “clout” as the kids (and rappers Cardi B and Offset) call it. And it’s scary to wonder if your kid is the only one no longer getting together with friends?

Initially, they were going for walks and bike rides together. And then the world happened. They watched the news. And as a parent, we put down stay home orders in our own house: It is the responsible response to this public health crisis, after all.

But now, I wonder and have started to doubt: Is every teen staying home? Are others getting together? Is my teen the only one not getting together with others? I ask my quite-social daughter if others are getting together, and she says “Maybe. Yes. Sometimes. No.”

Whenever I suggest reaching out to a friend, my teen replies, “To talk about what? There’s nothing really to talk about. Getting together just kind of happens after class or after a basketball game or tennis practice, and without that it’s weird. We’re not old ladies; we don’t get together just to talk.” Noted.

Not all kids have a group of friends, and that’s okay. But I can’t help but wonder, when the curve of the virus has been flattened, will my teen be behind the curve with regard to social skills? I know plenty of moms who were concerned about how their son or daughter was content and happy to sit at home by themselves, playing video games or watching YouTube, before the social distancing. And for those moms, watching these kids do more of that is worrisome.

“Why don’t you play a video game with so-and-so?” we moms ask.

“Because I don’t want to. I’m having fun doing this,” says the kid.

“Have you been texting with so-and-so? Do you want to FaceTime with so-and-so?” We moms try it all. They don’t want to. They’re not missing it. They don’t want to connect with friends.

These are kids that teachers describe as outgoing and social in class and at school. These kids join a few groups here and there, and that usually helps facilitate the connections. But without those groups or daily interactions, it’s just not something they are seeking out.

As a school administrator recently pointed out to me: If you are a kid who likes learning and (mostly) likes the teachers, but doesn’t like all the “drama” that comes with a school day, distance learning is a dream come true. For others, school is only fun because they get to see their friends, and this distance learning is a nightmare. If my kids learn no new academic content while participating in distance learning, I don’t care. I am so thankful for the teachers who make meaningful connections with them through distance learning. I know that making those connections while only having your family around can be a big challenge for teens — who are literally going through a time period where they’re developmentally supposed to separate from their parents.

Some kids may just welcome the break from the drama and social pressures. Some kids are anxious and may be worried that they are a bother to their friends if they reach out first. Some kids (mainly younger ones) are just enjoying the increased family connection. Some can feel connected, creative and inspired online, while another can feel isolated, irritable and left out, even if using the same app or game.

And what about when this is all over? Will these social-distancing habits formed during quarantine have lasting effects on society? Will it be a lasting norm to socially distance? It’s no secret how many of us prior to social distancing already dreaded the thought of tight jeans and socializing in a group. Restrictive, self-conscious, social anxieties found a mask to wear as a trendy and quirky introvert in recent years. When in fact, most of us are ambiverts: people with balanced, nuanced personalities composed of both introverted and extroverted traits. Many people chose to cancel last minute or skip social gatherings to sit in sweat pants and watch Netflix and avoid social gatherings prior to social distancing. So perhaps this would be a welcome norm?

A surefire way to improve mood according to psychologists, is to apply the 3M’s: move, make, and meet. Even if we moms didn’t have a specific label for these things, we knew they were good for our kids and for ourselves. As I visually put together the bare minimum expectations for my own tweens and teens during quarantine, I was sure to include outside time and dog walking (move) and culinary or creative time (make.) And my wise friend, Sue, was sure to add to her kids’ expectation list time to connect with friends (meet) in any way, at least once a day.

We moms have figured out how much we need those virtual happy hours to boost our mood. Even true introverts recognize how important some type of “meet” is to ward off depression.

So how much do we force that third “M” of “meet” as parents? As I’ve found, there’s really no forcing a teen or tween to do something they don’t want to do, and there’s no need to worry as long as they aren’t completely isolating from everyone. The only thing I can really do is model some of my own virtual-MEETs with friends and extended family, and ensure meaningful connections with the people that are here.