By Jess Pullis
In today’s world, it seems like we are constantly complaining about teenagers overusing technology. They seem to be attached to their phones—texting, “selfie-ing”, Snapchatting, and tweeting. This use of technology has caused a shift in their language skills, as they write more like they’re texting. More importantly, it has caused a shift in their social skills. Face-to-face peer interactions are replaced by group texts or Tik Toks.
In this new era of social distancing and self-quarantining, we are all finding ourselves suddenly isolated. This is a time for going back to basics; families are cooking dinner together, playing board games, reading books, and slowing down to have conversations. Though it’s not the way anyone would have wanted it to happen, this is an opportunity to become more engaged and connected than ever before.
So how do we keep teens engaged in group activities? During this time of excessive technology use, how do we encourage them to stay connected in healthy ways? Technology, which has often isolated us, is actually a valuable tool for uniting us during these times.
Use video platforms to continue group activities
As we’ve all seen recently, there are a variety of video platforms that allow people to connect virtually. Teenagers can use Zoom or Google meet to have face-to-face style conversations. They can also revive the lost art of phone conversations. Whether they are making audio calls or having FaceTime conversations, it’s so healthy to continue checking in on friends and hearing their voices.
We rely so heavily on text messages, but in this time of isolation, it’s actually a great opportunity to have a focused conversation with a person or group. Seeing and/or hearing someone’s reactions and expressions will not only help them maintain interpersonal relationships but also develop their social skills much more than texting.
Set up virtual “events”
Encourage teens to continue social routines by using virtual events. This is a great opportunity to set new routines, like hosting a book club. Not only does this cultivate a love of reading, but it encourages teenagers to have sustained conversations about what they read. For a list of great options for book club reading, check out WNDB’s OurStory or curated list of titles.
In the spirit of getting back to basics, this is a great time to revive game nights! Whether playing in person with your immediate family or using virtual programs to reach out to your socially distanced friends, game nights are a fun way to bring people together. Using platforms like Jackbox Games, kids can remotely connect to their friends using phone codes and play games together.
To stay connected, and to fill the void from missing performances, my local community theatre has organized virtual play reading nights. When we conceived of this idea, we talked about the gift of time that we have all been presented with. Yes, we are on an uncertain timeline, however, we have the opportunity to try new things without the pressure of budgets, audiences, venues, etc. Kids could organize (or locate and attend existing) events to stage readings of plays that they’ve wanted to be a part of or plays whose productions have been canceled.
Establish accountability partners. This doesn’t have to be the time to write the great American novel or learn six new instruments, but it can definitely be a time to improve habits and start new routines. Encourage teens to use this time to set manageable goals and to find an accountability partner to encourage them virtually. Take the same online yoga classes, practice a craft together, or “Marie Kondo” your closets!
Encourage a healthy balance
It’s so easy to mindlessly scroll on your phone for hours, especially when you have nowhere to go. There are a lot of upsides to having constant social media access. Kids can stay connected to their friends and see positive messages from each other. Many online platforms are focused on encouraging their audiences to stay positive during these difficult times.
Despite the many upsides, teenagers need to establish balance in their social media use in these emotional times. It can be overwhelming to consume so much concerning news from all directions. We can help teenagers by encouraging them to get their news information from reputable news sources and save their social media for healthy, inspirational, and uplifting interactions.
Back to basics, with new tools
Ironically, the technology that used to isolate us is what is now bringing us together. We so often long to go back to the basics—maybe this can be the opportunity our kids need to see how good it feels to have intentional connections.
Jess Pullis is a high school English teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia. She earned a BA in English from James Madison University. Jess is an avid reader, mostly of YA options to recommend to her students. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with her cat.