Social interaction and screen time are two topics that often get researched regarding children’s emotional health. In February 2020, as a follow up to a study on teen loneliness, I wrote How Social Media & Digital Technology Can Make Teens Feel Lonely. Since then, came the pandemic, which has increased screen time usage by 500%, significantly decreased in-person connections and skyrocketed teen loneliness.

Kids need social interaction with others to thrive and develop. Screen time is a reality of today’s world and has become even more prevalent with the pandemic. These two facts can cause concern; however, parents need to know that it’s not all gloom and doom. While these unprecedented times will affect us all, the effects don’t have to be entirely negative.

Types of social interaction and screen time may have changed, but it can still be made positive. This pandemic can be a great life-lesson that things don’t always go as planned. Parents can use this time to teach kids the importance of kindness, empathy, and accepting others, as well as how to be creative and make the most of an undesirable situation. These are all crucial skills to learn, which can help kids become healthier and happier adults.

How parents and kids can stay socially connected and emotionally healthy during the pandemic

During the pandemic, you may feel unsure about how your kids should move forward socially. Here are four ways to guide your decisions.

  1. Don’t judge – People have different opinions on acceptable social engagement and distancing. What may feel comfortable for you may feel uncomfortable for someone else. Try not to judge others and respect others’ decisions.
  2. Be flexible – Things are rapidly changing, which may cause you to change your ideas on ways to engage socially, and what you allow and don’t. Be flexible, but also openly communicate with your child. If you do change your stand on something, explain why. You and your kids should also remember to be flexible when plans change because of others.
  3. Be understanding – Kids need to understand that families will have different views and rules. As a parent, you should set clear boundaries on what’s allowed and what’s not. It’s normal for your child to feel disappointed if a friend cannot socially engage the same way that they’re allowed, but they should try to empathize versus becoming angry.
  4. Understand your teen’s perspective – Your perspective is likely not to be the same as your teen’s. While you may think you understand what your teen is feeling or going through, it’s best to ask versus assume. Your teen’s circumstances are not identical to the events that occurred when you were a teen. And social interaction and screen time look far different now than they did a few decades ago.

Thoughts from a few teens:

Here are a few thoughts from teens that I have recently interviewed. It’s important to note that these thoughts do not represent the thoughts of all teens. Parents should talk to their teens, ask questions, and empathize so that they can understand their teen’s feelings.

  • “Screen time for me is mostly Netflix. It makes me feel less lonely and bored because I can watch other people’s lives.”
  • “Shortly after the stay-at-home orders started, I became friends with a group of people my age that I met while playing Minecraft. We now watch Netflix movies together, chat while playing our game, text, and follow each other on Snapchat and Instagram. I value my online friends equally to my in-person friends who I haven’t seen since March. I get to spend more time with my online friends, so I feel that I know them better, but I don’t think that online friends can replace in-person friends.”
  • “The friends that I met online don’t live near me. If I met them in person before meeting them online, I probably would never have taken the time to get to know them because they’re in different groups than me. My online friends have taught me that you ‘can’t judge a book by its cover.’”
  • “I miss being able to see my friends. My friends were my life and now I don’t have them.”
  • “I don’t really miss my friends. I like watching movies and I sometimes text my friends so it’s like I’m still staying connected.”


About the Author:

Danielle Matthew is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who helps adolescents, adults, couples, and families who are in pain due to issues such as anxiety, severe stress, low self-esteem, or depression. With over 20 years of experience, Danielle authored Amazon Parenting Best-Seller, The Empowered Child: How to Help Your Child Cope, Communicate, and Conquer Bullying, and is the Director of The Empowerment Space Bullying Therapy Program in Los Angeles. Featured in Huffington Post and TODAY.com, Danielle has appeared on Fox, ABC, and CBS Morning Shows and Mom Talk Radio, and is the expert contributor to Washington Post’s article: “Kids love to ‘roast’ each other. But when does good-natured teasing become bullying?