Why Some Teens Thrive In Isolation During Quarantine

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Why Some Teens Thrive In Isolation During Quarantine

On a recent episode of "The Home Edition" of The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon, actress Halle Berry stated that one of her teenage children was a loner, and was, therefore, doing very well under the current coronavirus restrictions.

It reminded me that my own teenager had recently answered me when I asked, "How are you really feeling?" with a smirk and a matter-of-fact, “Mom, I was born for this.”

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So, I became curious about why some teens' mental health thrives during these social isolation restrictions and distance-learning scenarios, while others struggle to comply and are ready to bust out of the gate like racehorses.

Your teen could be shy or self-conscious.

One possibility for thriving could simply be that they are shy or overly self-conscious, and this situation is like a vacation from the self-imposed pressure of showing up in person at school five days a week with a proverbial mask on.

Like any vacation, they can relax and leave off the mask, the makeup, the styled hair, the "right" outfit, and close their eyes without the constant concern of a photo being snapped and a peer-judgment being cast. They may still be trying to keep up on social media, and that can be draining, too.

There is a “normal” level of anxiety that is to be experienced in the teen years, accepted even, as they learn who they are and what they stand for in life.

This teen could use some work on their self-confidence and making sure they learn about healthy relationships and healthy boundaries as they may be overly concerned with “fitting in” and being “likable." Perhaps this downtime would be an ideal time for some personal development courses.

The "anti-social" club.

Another possibility is that they belong to the segment of the teen population who identify as "emo," which is originally a style of music with emotional lyrics and is now also associated with a subculture who consider themselves to be the "anti-social social club."

They socialize among themselves, but have no real interest in mainstream fitting in and purposefully stand out with their choice of hair color, graphic tees, and jewelry.

This is the group my son belongs to, and he and his friends can talk on the phone for hours upon hours. They are very creative, surprisingly philosophic, and deeply empathetic.

This COVID era allows them to be away from the structure of the mundane, organized educational system, and provides them the freedom to pursue creative talents while managing their Google classroom at their own pace.

They can visit with one another online, game, chat, brainstorm, dream, vision, and plan their next greatest hair color for expressing themselves without feeling they are missing much of anything. After all, they are neither the athletes nor the busy, super-involved-beyond-academia students.

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This teen could benefit from a parental conversation about their interests. They require an emotional outlet, and that may mean music, art, drama, etc. Perhaps an instrument or canvas and some paint — they are most likely going to teach themselves or use an app for lessons.

Social anxiety disorder in teens. 

Another possibility is that they may actually suffer from social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia. This phobia makes the challenges that all teens face even harder to navigate and overcome. Others may view them as the “loners” at school, but what they may actually be experiencing is brutal, all-consuming fear.

Teens with social anxiety disorder may have exhibited physical symptoms of their anxieties like stomach pains and headaches, even vomiting before going to school to face their day, which would be filled with the fear of actually being noticed.

Kids with social anxiety disorder may avoid being late so as not to attract attention, avoid eye contact with peers and teachers so as to not engage in conversation, avoid any gathering even in the lunchroom if at all possible, and stay focused on eating or reading to remain unavailable for a discussion.

In the extreme, these kids self-isolate outside of school, not engaging in extracurricular activities in the community or seeking employment.

These teens require a remedy now. While they are likely breathing easier with each announcement that school is postponed again or possibly closed for the remainder of the academic year, they are also likely to start dreading what the beginning of the next school year will bring. Thriving is an illusion for these teens.

There is a gift and a curse in coronavirus restrictions for teens with social anxiety disorder; they're away from the main source of their anxiety, but it's building like a pressure cooker.

Parents may be unaware their teen is experiencing social anxiety and be dismissive and in denial of what their child has tried to share about their feelings.

Teens are often embarrassed and worried about how their parents will react. They label themselves and believe that something is wrong with them because they feel that they should be able to cope. That kind of self-talk is defeating and limits them from opening up and pursuing the help they need.

If you suspect a teen is experiencing social phobia, ask them.

Tell them what you have observed in their actions or behaviors — without any judgment of what you're sharing. Next, ask them what they have been feeling when they behave in that way. And lastly, ask them what the thought is behind the feeling.

This will get you started in helping them open up to you. Together, you can decide to pursue help with a professional diagnosis. Now is the time to prepare them for school in the fall.

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Ann Papayoti, CPC, is a life coach and personal development professional helping people help themselves through losses and transitions as a relationship expert. For more information on how she can help you, visit her website.