Maybe you’ve heard of the summer slide, when students experience loss of previously gained academic learning during summer months, or even the senior slide, which Urban Dictionary perfectly defines as “That magical part of your senior year in high school when things get a little easier and nothing you do matters.” Now, quarantine has created a new concern for parents of tweens and teens: social slide.
As an author and educator who specializes in helping kids and their parents through the tricky social landscape of adolescence, I’m seeing increased concern for the kids who aren’t staying connected with their peers during quarantine. In my private parenting group on Facebook, I talk with thousands of parents across the country about the challenges of raising tweens and young teens. Where “FOMO” and “social pressure” and “teen attitude” used to crowd discussion posts, I’m now seeing “introvert” and “disconnected” and “lack of interest” taking over. Many parents are worried less about their social butterflies, because where there is a will there is a way. From online hang outs to driveway picnics, kids who thrive on being social are safely making it happen. But parents of introverts, the new kid at school, or a child who’d been iced out by their friend group before quarantine started, are worried that when school finally does start up again, their kids will be further on the outs with even less practice at connecting.
If you’re worried, there are some ways to help.
Here are three common reasons a child might experience social slide and what parents can do about it:
#1: Your child wants to connect but they don't have the right tech tools.
What can you do? Give kids the opportunity to connect. Now is not the time to worry (too much) about screen time. Allow your child access to at least one tool their friends are using to talk with each other. You don’t have to say yes to Pandora’s Box of social media apps, but if most kids in your child’s friend group use Snapchat to communicate with each other, now may be the time to get more flexible. When your child says, “I get left out because I’m the only one who doesn’t have the right app” it’s likely not an exaggeration. By the way, texting is not something tweens do much of these days so believe your child when they tell you this. Also, a little privacy goes a long way. You probably didn't talk on the phone to friends in the living room with your parents listening. Kids crave privacy to talk with each other just like we did.
#2: Your child doesn't have a strong desire to connect with friends most of the time.
What can you do? Understand your child for who they are. Not every kid needs as much social interaction as their peers. Parents who are extroverted can have a hard time understanding why their introverted kids don’t need the same level of interaction. It’s okay if your child wants to chill out alone. If you’re noticing excessive crying or frustration with their friendships, now may be a good time to look into teletherapy. But in general, having a low social drive during quarantine doesn’t automatically equate to depression, especially if that’s in line with your child’s personality prior to the pandemic. Differentiate between your fears about your child being left out and their concerns. If your child isn’t worried, you can relax.
#3: Your child blames your rules for their backslide.
What can you do? Normalize your child’s concerns about feeling left out. Is your child getting worked up seeing photos of friends gathering on social media? Are they expressing concern that they’ll be left out later if you don’t let them hang out now? Families, like states, have different ideas about how to quarantine. You may feel angry or disappointed when your child shows you a photo of all his friends playing xBox in your neighbor's basement, but shaming another family’s approach is not likely to change your child’s feelings about isolation. Instead, empathize with their concern. Remind them that social media never shows an accurate or complete picture of someone’s happiness. Then ask your child what they could do to feel more connected within your family’s rules for quarantine safety. And bear in mind, it’s okay for rules to evolve. During week one you may have said no talking to a friend in the driveway and by week nine, you may decide it's okay now for a few friends to have a fire pit in the front yard. The benefits of companionship, fresh air, and movement are important parts of our overall health. And remember, all families had different rules before quarantine so it’s no surprise now is no different. Maybe before the virus, your child's friends got their junk food fix at the neighbors but loved the free access to the trampoline at yours. It's perfectly fine (good even!) for different families to offer different types of fun for their kid’s friends to experience. Think less about what your family can’t do to encourage connection, and more about what you can do that’s unique.
Here's a bonus fourth way to help: Consider an online camp that specializes in helping kids connect with each other. Online camps may sound “blah” at first, but they’re different from online classes for school. Online camps specialize in giving kids a new way to have fun and safely form friendships online while also developing new skills. If you’re interested in exploring online social leadership camps for middle schoolers, check out the Athena’s Path & Hero’s Pursuit options.