by John Carleton, BYS Counselor

What does community look like for teenagers? Whether it be in person or online, close to home, or all over the world, community is any group the teen finds belonging in, a sense that they are not alone, but are part of a greater whole. As such, community can be found with friends, on sports teams, in clubs, at church, all in-person and/or online.

The pandemic lockdown has had lingering effects on all of us. The initial lockdown that to some seemed like a vacation soon turned into a nightmare for many. Just as they were supposed to be becoming more independent from their families, teens found themselves stuck at home all day every day. In addition, stress and anxiety made it hard for many parents and kids to connect with one another. Feeling lonely and isolated, even in a house full of people, was not uncommon.

Many teens were able to find or stay connected to at least some of their communities from afar. Whether through video calls, messaging, social media, or other online forums, kids turned to one another (and others) for support. It’s important to note that while online communities can come with risk, they also offer support and connection that might not be available (or harder to find) locally. And, while it’s true to a degree that in-person connections are stronger than those online, online connections are very real and valid to some. So, while it’s tempting to harp on your teen to get outside and meet with friends, try to be curious about how and where they’re currently finding community and connection.

How can you do that? One of the best ways is to be present and curious. Instead of assuming you know what your child is doing online, ask. Engage in some of the compassionate listening Ann wrote about last month. Another is to model healthy community engagement yourself. Youth learn so much from watching the adults in their lives. If you’re isolating, they might be getting the message that community isn’t important. As busy as you or your teenager may be, it’s important to leave time for just “hanging out” with friends — the chance to make a friend laugh or to literally be a shoulder to cry on. Connection is vital to our well-being.

We are all figuring this out as we go. The best thing we can do as adults is model an openness to learning new ways of doing things. If you feel like you’ve made mistakes, you’re right – you have, we all have! It’s unavoidable. When you do make a mistake, own it and engage in relational repair. That might be the most important gift you can give your youth, one that will serve them well as they continue learning how to be part of a community.