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Understanding Teens and their Social Needs during the Corona Virus

By Maxine Roeper Cohen, M.S.

Social isolation is hard for all of us. We are social beings, and human interaction brings us pleasure and promotes our sense of health and well-being. During this time of Covid-19, many families are quarantined together. This is helpful for those who enjoy harmonious relationships. For teen-aged children, however, being separated from friends (their peers) is difficult. For very socially oriented teens, it can be devastating. This can be difficult for their parents to understand since they see their teens communicating with their friends primarily with technology. Prior to the pandemic, the average teen spent about nine hours per day socializing on technology. So, what are they missing now?

Teens are in the period of social development where they are striving to become independent. Breaking away from parental control and influence is a means to accomplishing this. Their friends become more important influencers, and they hunger for peer group acceptance. Technology such as texting, Facebook, Instagram, video chatting, etc. satisfies part of their social needs. It’s vital that they also see other teens in person. Screens only provide a two-dimensional outlook, and teens miss non-verbal and body language cues. They crave in-person closeness while being told by parents that they cannot see friends in this manner. During this critical stage of development, teens are trying to break away and they sometimes defy parental advice. They don’t want to be told what to do. They can’t spend time with their friends, so this makes them crave time with peers even more. It is most frustrating for all family members.

Parents can help their teens to socialize and, at the same time, remain healthy and safe. One way is by encouraging the use of technology in a more personalized fashion such as joining with friends in online games, exercise classes, or dance parties. These online events promote more meaningful conversations rather than just idle chatter. Also, teens can create a weekly schedule of checking in by phone with friends and classmates so that they don’t feel awkward after long absences with no communication. Finally, since the weather is warm, perhaps parents can allow their teens to invite a few friends to their backyard where they can wear masks and maintain social distance, but still socialize in person. In these ways, teens can continue to satisfy their social needs, and develop in a positive way despite this most challenging time in their lives.

Maxine Roeper Cohen is a Parent Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at


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