Ideas for Teens to Remain Socially Connected While Remaining Physically Distant

Mar 31 2020 mental health teens

 

As I sit down in my home in Illinois to write this post, we are approximately two weeks into the mandatory Stay At Home ("shelter in place") order from our governor. New nationwide guidelines were just announced that social distancing should continue until at least April 30. While these guidelines are popularly referred to as "social distancing," they are actually "physical distancing" requirements. That distinction is important and should not be overlooked.

While physical distancing is necessary for our physical health, self-isolation that can accompany social distancing can be emotionally stressful for a culture that is used to being social and being part of a community daily.

 

The Importance of Social Contact for Teenagers

Last month I wrote the blog The Others: When Kids Feel Like They Do Not Belong about how important it is that children feel as if they are part of a social group. We discussed the fact that feeling socially isolated negatively impacts the mental health, physical health, and academic outcomes of children. Although that blog focused on the negative impacts of a child feeling as if they do not fit in, our young people are at risk of feeling a similar isolation while we shelter in place in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

So how do we help our tweens and teens have that much needed social contact when we are on a mandatory shelter in place order?

The good news is that there are many ways for our kids to interact with their peers from within the safety of their own home. To some extent it may seem a little bit surreal for us parents to urge our kids to get on their mobile devices with their friends instead of our usual struggle to get them to put their electronics aside. But these are not normal circumstances, so for now we can put their love of technology to work to ensure that they can safely interact with their friends. As always, make sure that your teen understands the importance of online safety and use parental controls that are appropriate for your child.

 

Video Calls with Friends

Facetime

Teens with Apple devices love to use Facetime to talk "in person" with their friends. Many teens will spend hours at a time on Facetime just doing normal, everyday things like working on homework together, or just generally hanging out. Facetime also allows group chats. Google Duo is a good alternative for teens who do not have iPhones.

Snapchat

Snapchat offers the ability to participate in video calls with up to 15 friends. Your teens likely already know about this function, but they can also learn about design and technology by creating their own "lenses" through the Lens Studio that they can then share with their friends.

Discord

Discord is favored by gamers but is available for anyone who wants to have a group video chat of up to 10 participants. Many gamers also enjoy using the live video chat with Playstation and XBox.

HouseParty

This app allows groups of 8 people to video chat. Your teen can join a group as long as they are friends with one person in the chat. This has pros and cons, as they are able to meet other young people as if they were at a real party. However, talking to strangers has risks, too. Because of that, it is a good idea to teach your teens to use the chat lock button to close the party off to uninvited guests. HouseParty also includes access to a few simple games that participants can play.

WhatsApp

This application is popular around the world, so if your teen has friends or family in other countries, this feature is an added bonus. Users can participate in group calls and share documents, which is handy if your teen is working on homework with a friend.

Skype, Zoom, and Google Hangout

Skype, Google Hangout, and Zoom all allow users to participate in group video chats and offer the ability to share their screen. This can be useful for studying together or for sharing fun websites. All of them work on a variety of different devices over mobile data or WiFi.

 

Going to the Movies the Social Distancing Way

Teens can enjoy several options for watching movies together even when they are physically apart. Typically, each user must have their own login to the streaming provider in order to view the content.

Netflix Party

This free Google Chrome extension from Netflix synchs movies and TV shows with multiple users so that everyone is at the same spot in the show. It also includes a group chat function so that you can comment and message each other as the movie or show is playing.

Rave

Rave is a free mobile app that works with Netflix or YouTube, which is nice for teens who love to watch YouTube videos for long periods of time. Just like Netflix Party, you can synch your content and engage in a group chat as you are watching.

TwoSeven

This Google Chrome extension allows users to watch video content together and text as a group or communicate via webcam and microphone. The free version supports Netflix, Amazon Prime and HBO. For an additional $3 a month, users can watch Hulu and Disney+.

 

Apps to Listen to Music Together

 JQBX

Pronounced jukebox, this app lets teens listen to music together regardless of which device they use. Users can either play DJ and choose the music or join groups and just listen. Participants can also vote on songs and chat together. A Spotify account is necessary to use JQBX. It is important to caution teens to be aware of strangers and to not offer any personal information if they join public parties.

Watch2Gether

Teens who use SoundCloud can listen together through the Watch2Gether app. This app also lets them watch content from Vimeo, YouTube and DailyMotion.

Vertigo

If your teen has a subscription to Apple Music or Spotify, they can create their own radio station through Vertigo and invite friends to join them in a listening party.

 

Finding and Making Fun Activities Online

Teens can find fun online activities that are already planned for them through local teen centers or public libraries or create their own event for their friends. By hopping on a Skype, Zoom, or Google Hangout together, your teen can screenshare and turn a website into a group activity of their own.

Online Dungeons and Dragons

Although most public libraries are closed, the Brooklyn Public Library has several online events on their calendar, including several online Dungeons and Dragons games.

Virtual Tours of Museums, Zoos, and More

Teens can check out over 2,500 museums through Google Arts and Culture. Screen-sharing can turn this into a fun group activity with friends. Your teen can even make a brown-bag lunch to recreate a field-trip experience. They can also check out 5 different national parks through virtual tours or check out the marine life at the Monterey Bay Aquarium or Georgia Aquarium.

Create Art Together

Artistic teens can create art together online through the magic of screen-sharing on Zoom using tools like Sketchpad, Kleki, or Pixilart. They can each work on their own painting or drawing and swap who shares their screen or allow each other to take control and all add to one piece of art together.

 

Create a Summer Bucket List

It is important to encourage your teens to make plans to do in person things with their friends once the physical distancing restrictions are lifted and it is safe to do so. It can be fun for groups of friends to make a summer list of things that they want to do similar to a vision board. In fact, they can create a Google document and add their list of activities and images of the things that they plan on doing once they can be together in person and give each other the ability to edit it and add to it as their planning continues.

Do you have additional suggestions on ways to help your teens connect with their friends? We’d love to hear your suggestions.  

Comment below or join my Facebook Group where we share ideas, ask advice, find support, and report wins on issues related to confidence, social emotional learning, and building strong communities.

 

 

Stacey Montgomery, Founder
Stacey M Design and Stacey Montgomery Publishing

©2020. Stacey Montgomery. All rights reserved.