It’s finally summer and kids and teens are ready for a much needed break. But, what does that break look like when they’re forced to remain physically distanced from friends and family? While local organizations are doing what they can to provide resources to help with that very question, parents are left struggling to give their kids a summer they’ll cherish, amidst the increasing stress of a pandemic and social unrest.
The most important thing to remember is that social distancing does not have to equal being alone. Finding creative ways to interact with friends and loved ones, while remaining safe and healthy, must continue being a top priority throughout the summer.
Different doesn’t mean worse.
For children and adolescents, parents and guardians can play a role in making sure this summer, while different, is still enjoyable. Continue having open dialogue with children about how they’re feeling and what they consider a priority right now.
- Create a summer game plan. Include highlights, goals and alternatives for traditional summer plans like summer camp or public pool visits. Write it down and get creative. Collages, presentations, videos or white boards are all great ways to make planning fun and exciting. Make sure to revisit the plan when things get hard.
- Look for local organizations offering alternatives to traditional summer activities. Most groups are moving to virtual summer camps. Explore ways to make virtual experiences feel as close to the real thing as possible. That may include getting a small group together for online meetings, moving the computer outdoors on a nice day or including crafts to get the most out of virtual experiences with hands-on activities. Visit brparents.com for more on summer camps during COVID-19.
- Get outside. Fresh air and nature are some of the best cures for isolation. Make the most of sunny days with nature walks, outdoors games and other adventures.
- Get creative with family vacations. Whether deciding to still make that annual beach trip or exploring an alternative, it will be more important than ever to enjoy traditional family time together. If the beach is no longer an option, look for ways to be a tourist in Baton Rouge, while following social distancing guidelines.
For teens, spending time with friends without the stress of school is often the epitome of summer. Not being able to do that to the fullest will be difficult for children of all ages, but especially for teenagers who thrive on social interaction. Keep in mind, teens have already had to miss out on big life events like prom and graduation. Parents and guardians should be aware of this and open to conversations around the added stress that might bring. Michigan Health offers ways to help teens cope with a physically-distanced summer.
- Continue to explore alternative celebrations throughout the summer. Teens had been looking forward to trips, parties, concerts and sporting events. While some events may be postponed or rescheduled, others may be canceled altogether. Although nothing will completely replace them, a growing number of virtual events offer ways to celebrate in a less traditional format.
- Be empathetic. Parents and guardians may be tempted to remind their kids that they are lucky to be healthy during a worldwide pandemic. But, being empathetic to the varying emotions teens may be experiencing right now, from sadness to anger and everything in between, will be vital as we all navigate these unprecedented times. Parents are encouraged to put themselves in their children’s shoes and be there for them emotionally.
- Follow teens’ lead on shared activities. While teens may not be as inclined to put a summer plan together, giving them the opportunity to plan family time is a great way to get through the summer together. This could involve old fashioned board games, family movie nights or even video games or Nerf gun fights. Let them take the lead and enjoy!
- Tap into their altruistic nature. While every child is different, it might be meaningful to show teens how they can help others during the pandemic. For example, donating blood (ages 17+), picking up groceries for an older neighbor or supporting a local business by buying gift cards to use later. It may even be in their best interest to take on a summer job where they can support themselves, be social and help the economy, all while keeping in mind health guidelines and practices.
Continue to look out for signs of emotional distress during social distancing.
While all of these tools are helpful in making the most of a socially distant summer, emotional and mental health issues are still a very real possibility as children and teens continue to navigate an increasingly unfamiliar world compared to just a year ago. It can be hard to tell the difference between sadness and depression, especially for kids who may already experience normal ups and downs, but parents should keep an eye out for red flags that may point to symptoms of mental and emotional distress.
- Increased feelings of sadness, tearfulness, anxiety and irritability.
- Lack of enjoyment in normally fun activities.
- Spending less time connecting with their friends.
- Changes in appetite and/or weight.
- Sleeping more or less than usual and being tired or having less energy.
- Expressing feelings of low self-worth.
- Trouble concentrating.
- Any mention of suicide or self-harm, or ideation, through words, drawings, writing, etc.
For immediate help, contact a local crisis hotline by dialing 211, calling (225) 924-3900 or texting NAMI to 741-741.
Now being offered virtually, professional counseling services during this time can be a great resource to ensure children and teens are equipped with the tools needed to cope. For more information on local resources, visit youarentaloneproject.com/resources. ■