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In adolescence, teenagers develop rapidly, learning more about themselves every day. In this period of accelerated change, they become increasingly independent, new interests are developing and their friends feel like… well, everything to them. 

To prevent the spread of coronavirus, the Government of Ontario has announced that the closure of all schools has been extended into early May. High school can be a social arena – a place where teenagers can naturally experience social and emotional development. For some teenagers, missing out on these social opportunities can feel like the end of the world.

As COVID-19 continues to impact when your teen can see their friends again, it is an especially important time to check in on their mental health. You can begin to do so by encouraging them to stay social. In light of government recommendations to stay at home, we have compiled a list of suggestions you can make to help your teen remain connected to friends and family beyond your four walls.

How to socialize with friends and family virtually

Spending spare time with friends has a positive effect on the mental health of teenagers. Even though your teen has to stay at home, that does not mean they have to stop being social. Despite the physical distancing orders, your teen can still spend time with friends and family by remotely connecting with them online.

You can suggest hosting a virtual party. Using video conferencing apps such as Google Hangouts or Zoom, your teen can stay connected with friends and family online. Looking for something to do on those calls? Here are a few ideas you can share with your teen to help take their virtual party to the next level:

  • Karaoke night. Those who karaoke together, stay together! Find karaoke videos of your favourite songs on YouTube, share your screen, and have everybody sing along.
  • Watch party. With the Google Chrome extension, Netflix Party, watch Netflix remotely and perfectly in sync. Plus, comment on what you’re watching using the group chat function!
  • Game night. Gaming consoles are not the only option for remote multiplayer games. 
    • Houseparty. A group video chat app for up to eight participants. Effortlessly play built-in games with your party including Heads Up!, Trivia and Chips & Guac (think: Apples to Apples).
    • Jackbox. A gaming company that offers party packs of multiplayer games. Share your screen and your party can participate with their mobile devices, even if they’re on the other side of the planet. 
    • skribbl. An online multiplayer drawing and guessing game you can play live with friends and family all around the world. 

When it comes to schoolwork, you can suggest hosting a virtual study session. Make studying a win-win situation by encouraging your teen to video-call friends or classmates while they study. They can keep each other productive, ask questions about schoolwork as they arise, and enjoy study breaks together. To make these study sessions the most rewarding, encourage your teen to set expectations on work time and social time. For example, your teen can casually propose a schedule like this: “let’s study until 4, take a 30-minute break to play games and then go back to studying again until dinnertime.”

Being social with their peers is vital to your teen’s emotional and social development – and these activities are a great place to start. At the same time, too much online time can take a toll on your teen. Talk to them about contrasting their virtual socialization with some offline activities as well. 

Ways to engage with the people in your home

Striking a good balance between socializing online and engaging in activities offline is important during this time. Take care of your teen’s mental health by encouraging them to socialize with the people in your home. 

Here are some ways to connect with your teen as you all isolate together:

  • Board games. Get those competitive juices flowing with a good old-fashioned board game night.
  • Movies and shows. Start a series together and make it a tradition to never watch an episode or movie without each other. Go the extra mile with marathons and themed events.
    • Marathons. Binge-watch a series or a season together.
    • Themed events. Have a themed day, weekend, or week (think: Harry Potter or scary movies). Incorporate themed foods and costumes to make it festive!
  • Meals. Make it a routine to eat your meals together. Some scheduled social time can do some good for everybody’s mental health. 
  • New hobbies. Learn something new with your teen by starting a hobby together. Here are some ideas to get you thinking of pastimes that may interest you both:
    • Culinary. Learn to cook or bake something new with your teen! Remember: instead of teaching your teenager recipes you know, try out new recipes together so it doesn’t feel like a chore for either of you.
    • Exercise. There are many forms of exercise you can do at home with little to no equipment. To guide your workouts, you can access great videos on YouTube and Instagram Live. Plus, several work-out apps are now free for a limited time in response to COVID-19, such as Nike Training Club and Down Dog.
    • Arts and crafts. Is there a creative activity both you and your teen would be interested in trying out? From performing arts (e.g. music, dance) to textile crafts (e.g. knitting, cross-stitching), you have an infinite number of options to choose from. No matter the art form, you can find great tutorials on YouTube to get started.
  • Surprise and delight. Make somebody’s day by writing surprise letters to friends or elderly relatives. If they’re local, you could even (contactless) deliver some items you made together at home, such as baked goods or crafts.

There are many options to engage with your teen while staying at home. This list skims the surface of opportunities. By continuing to encourage these activities, you can develop a different level of connection through these new experiences together. 

Closing thoughts

Engaging in some of these activities can help your teen meet their social needs and take care of their mental health, despite having to stay at home. While there are many ways they can socialize still, understand that it may take some time for your teen to find the right balance between online and offline activities. Give them the space to figure this out on their own – teens will still be teens, even in isolation. As they begin to develop their self-identity, teens want to feel in control. Share these activities as suggestions and let them implement them if they want to.

Remember that right now, the best things you can do are to emphasize the importance of finding balance and be present by suggesting different activities from time-to-time. Highlight the fun things they can do to make the best of this situation. And remind them not to fret… this situation will not last forever. Things will get back to normal soon enough. In the meantime, stay indoors and stay safe!

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