August 3, 2020
Camille Ferguson, Vanora Thomas, and Daniel Light

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically transformed the way that children attend class and other educational programs, often creating isolating contexts for learning. In some cases, and for teens in particular, the isolation of a virtual learning environment may increase stress levels and adversely impact mental health.

As the brain and body develop, teens crave social interactions to better understand the world and how they fit into it. As they grow, their social circle expands from the family to external social networks, including friends, teachers, and other mentoring adults. By meeting and interacting with others and enlarging their social network, they can open doors to information channels and future opportunities, such as supportive friendships, learning resources, internships, mentorships, and jobs. As they build these networks, they further establish their own identities and begin to understand the complex social roles they can play in society.

Through our work, we’ve had several opportunities to interview adolescents (ages 13–18) about their experiences with virtual schooling. This is what they told us:

  • They miss their friends. While in many cases they see friends online, they are unable to have informal conversations with peers.
  • Students miss the supportive relationships with their teachers or other adults.
  • Some adolescents are deeply concerned about the current social context (COVID-19, the shutting down of the country, police brutality protests, etc.), which has intensified their sense of stress.

We found that many of these students lack some of the important types of social connections or supports important to adolescent development in the virtual environment, which would ultimately serve to lessen the increased stress and isolation they are experiencing. Below are several strategies that we recommend.

Teens can:

  • be social but from a distance: talk on the phone, text, video chat, and use social media
  • try using meditation and exercise to help them relax
  • engage in activities that usually bring them pleasure, such as gaming, reading or other hobbies
  • engage in activities that get their creative juices flowing such as graphic design or photography
  • take a long walk through a park, natural settings are soothing
  • make a plan for each day that includes doing work, relaxing, and connecting with friends
  • talk with someone they trust, including their friends, about their thoughts and feelings

Parents can:

  • check in with their kids to better gauge how they are coping with the current situation
  • provide a listening ear
  • try to be understanding about and supportive of their teens’ experiences
  • encourage healthy habits of mind, such as making a plan for each day

What ways have you found to help teens make this transition to life under social distancing? Leave a comment below.

 Camille Ferguson is a research associate at EDC’s Center for Children and Technology (CCT). Her work focuses on the social context of learning and effective education policies aimed at educational equity, particularly for traditionally underrepresented adolescents living in urban settings.

Vanora Thomas is a researcher at CCT. Her work focuses on evaluation of teacher professional development and STEM-based out-of-school programs.


Daniel Light is a research scientist at CCT. His work focuses on the social issues of school reform and technology integration across school systems, both in the United States and internationally. 


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