Helping Teens Navigate COVID-19 FOMO

Despite social distancing, teens are exposed to alluring social media posts.

Posted Nov 18, 2020

 Daria Shevtsova/Pexels
Source: Daria Shevtsova/Pexels

A common conversation with teens in virtual therapy offices these days is around the cognitive dissonance they experience when it comes to socializing. As anyone who has spent five minutes around a teen knows, their social life is everything. Even as adults have been struggling with social distancing and quarantine, for teens, it has been a unique experience of suffering given their developmental stage. Many teens are exposed to social media highlight reels of friends who, despite knowing better, are not taking social distancing seriously.

Between Halloween parties, holiday get-togethers, birthday parties, and even more casual hangouts, COVID-19 fatigue is real and many are loosening their boundaries and vigilance. Conscientious teens are particularly struggling. With COVID’s third wave upon us, difficult decisions are being made daily about how to handle these conflicting desires of staying safe and staying sane through social contact.

This is where helping teens to tap their character strength of judgment can be key. Categorized by strengths researchers as a wisdom trait, judgment is essentially critical thinking. It involves weighing the pros and cons of a decision, staying open-minded to new information, being logical, and not allowing one’s emotions to steer the ship. In the face of cognitive dissonance, deciding between safety and socializing, judgment can help teens to truly examine the evidence. Would their attending a friend’s small birthday gathering put elderly grandparents at risk? How do they really know if their friends are being as stringent about quarantining as they are?

In recent weeks, troubling information has been released about the unknown spread of COVID-19. Many countries are struggling to understand community transmission as contact tracing appears to be largely failing on a global scale. Early on some governments, including our own, were denying the efficacy of masks. Then suddenly, they were one of the strongest bets against contraction. News of COVID-19 immunity spread, followed by learning individuals could become re-infected. It is natural that the staggering amount of conflicting information and changing public health authority information has led to skepticism, confusion, and outright fatigue. Families are grappling with the implications of renewed closures and their behaviors strongly model and dictate the behaviors of their teenagers.

To really use strong judgment skills, it is imperative that families have open conversations that acknowledge the simultaneous duality of feelings. Missing out on adventures with friends, seeing social media that makes everything look “normal,” is difficult for all of us. Especially with those in Southern latitudes who can be outside, at the beach, and going about their day-to-day lives with an element of normalcy, it is perfectly natural to feel that one is missing out. Many teens have been grieving the losses of normal milestones starting last spring when lockdowns began. They held hope and optimism that things would change. Empathizing and normalizing these feelings can help significantly. Further, praising their maturity, logic, and ability to see beyond their immediate discomfort and into the future where things will eventually improve can help as well.

While teens and their families are trapped at home together, working on developing and acknowledging their character strengths can go far. For a free empirically-based strengths inventory, click here. For more information on helping your teens stay mentally strong and healthy, see the upcoming book, The Positivity Workbook for Teens: Skills to Help You Increase Optimism, Resilience, and a Growth Mindset.