Fostering Resilience in teens

The social isolation we experienced during 2020 and 2021 was hard for everyone. We missed extended family gatherings when we stayed at home with our immediate family members. We did not host or attend parties with our friends. We took to Zoom to ‘visit’ with people who didn’t live with us.  It was isolating and often lonely.

Social isolation is the opposite of what typically happens in adolescence.

Social growth is a major component of the teen years. Teenagers naturally choose to spend more time with peers and adults outside their family as they start to figure out how they fit into the larger community beyond their family. 

Learning who they are and how they want to fit in is an important part of adolescence growth.

Covid protocols stymied this natural growth and development for many adolescents.

Newport Healthcare, a national network of programs for young adults and teens, observed, “Over the last year and a half, the pandemic has exponentially increased the time this age group spends online while limiting their in-person social interaction. The resulting loneliness is exacerbating or catalyzing depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts—which in turn leads to more loneliness. That’s because the symptoms of depression and anxiety, such as low self-esteem and low energy, often prevent young people from reaching out to others and engaging in social activities.”

How do we help socially isolated teens? 

But there are ways to help teens overcome the loneliness. 

Newport Healthcare offers these evidence-based ways to reduce loneliness in adolescence and young adulthood, and thus lower the risk of mental health issues. 

  1. Limit social media use. The Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology reports that cutting down on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat use leads to significant reductions in loneliness and depression, in as few as three weeks.
  2. Spend time volunteering. Research shows that doing things for others offers mental and physical health benefits and helps people feel less isolated and alone.
  3. Cultivate authentic connections. Frequent, meaningful in-person interactions are proven to reduce loneliness. Real-life friendships may need a bit more tending to than virtual ones, but the emotional payoff is worth it. 
  4. Adopt a pet. Multiple studies, including one done during the pandemic, show that interaction with household pets reduces isolation and increases feelings of connection.
  5. Exercise. A review study found that physical activity in social settings—like sports or a hiking club—helps people feel more connected and enhances well-being.
  6. Get enough sleep. A 2018 study in the journal Nature found that sleep loss is significantly associated with social withdrawal and loneliness. People with lower sleep quality were less likely to engage with others and more likely to feel lonely.
  7. Visit a therapist. Working with a mental health professional can help teens and young adults pinpoint causes of loneliness, such as social anxiety or lack of self-esteem, and learn strategies for overcoming isolation.

Here in the Willamette Valley, the topic of social isolation and building resilience in youth will be the focus of this year’s Partners in Health Summit. The health summit is free and open to the public. 

Join us on August 19th from 9am – 3pm.  Keynote speaker Dr. Carolyn Aldwin will present “Building Resilience, Well Being and Mental Health”. Additional workshops will focus on youth wellness and resilience and the health impacts of loneliness and social isolation. Click here for details.