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The struggle to distance social teens during a pandemic

Psychologists say helping teens learn a new skill or discover new interests, passions and pursuits could make isolation a little easier

Three weeks ago, the idea of watching movies, chatting with friends and getting to relax at home sounded pretty blissful for Adam and Spencer Castle.

But as the teens prepare to turn the calendar over to April, the perks of social distancing are fading.

“It’s driving me crazy. I hate it,” Spencer said.

“The novelty wore off after the second day.”

The 19-year-old has been filling his time with online coursework from his physical literacy program at Mount Royal University. He’s also watching movies, hanging out with his younger brother Adam, and video chatting with his girlfriend.

“It’s been pretty uneventful. I get bored really quickly.”

The Castle family decided when the government closed Alberta schools they would do their best to quarantine as a family. Spencer and mom Diane have asthma, so the Castles wanted to do what they could to protect each other and their community.

WATCH BELOW (March 26): Neuropsychologist Dr. Johanne Lévesuqe talks about keeping kids entertained while school’s out, and how to handle adolescent children who may not be taking the coronavirus outbreak very seriously.

“It’s tough. Our two boys here are incredibly social boys… On a regular day I would never see them a lot, they would be gone,” Diane Castle said.

While her kids are home, the house feels emptier because they’ve stopped inviting friends over.

“Half of the kids call me Mama Castle. I just had kids here all the time… It’s very quiet around here, which is sad because we miss their friends as well.”

For 17-year-old Adam, the most torturous part of the experience is seeing other friends carrying on with their pre-pandemic lives. He received a party invite a week ago and when he checks social media, he often sees large groups of his friends hanging out.

“It’s kind of an annoying thing to see that they get to go and do that and I have to sit here doing the right thing,” Adam said.

Diane recently gave Spencer an alternative to chatting with his girlfriend virtually. The pair could go for a walk together as long as they promised to stay six-feet apart to honour social distancing guidelines.

Spencer was quick to reply: “That is absolutely not going to happen.”

WATCH BELOW (March 26) Parenting expert Erica Diamond tells Global’s Laura Casella a few ideas to keep a sense of normalcy during these uncertain times.

Psychologist Caroline Buzanko points out that teens will evaluate the COVID-19 pandemic differently than their parents.

“Judgment is the last part of the brain to develop so they just don’t process risk in the same way,” Buzanko said.

“Really they don’t make any behavioural decisions based on consequences. They don’t think: ‘I’m going to get sick’… not thinking: ‘I could be a carrier and make someone else sick.'”

Buzanko says teens are more likely to respond to social-distancing guidelines if parents are open to collaborating about how to put them into practice.

“As soon as we get into a power struggle and there’s control, they’re going to push back and it’s just going to be a big fight and a nightmare,” Buzanko said.

“I think working together when everyone is calm, collaboratively talking about: ‘This is the situation and this is our red line as parents. We need to protect you. That’s our job is to protect you and to protect our community as well.

“So what can we do to work together so that we are keeping our family safe, we’re keeping you safe and we’re keeping your friends safe as well?"

Buzanko recommends parents help teens create a schedule in order to make filling each day at home a little less daunting.

With the teen brain at its “greatest capacity” to learn new things, the psychologist also says this is prime time to try out a new skill. For example, her daughter is studying French at home, since their mother-daughter trip to Paris was cancelled as a result of the pandemic.

She says between school and extracurricular activities, many Canadian teens are used to very scheduled lives. As a result, this period of time affords them an opportunity to discover new interests, passions and pursuits.

“This is a good time for teens to take the time to reflect, to discover themselves, because I think with social media they get lost. I don’t think they know who they are, what their identity is. This is an important time.”

As the pandemic continues and social-distancing directives remain in effect, Adam and Spencer are thankful for each other.

They can occupy their time by throwing the football, playing games or going for a drive together. It may not change the reality of physical isolation, but it is making social distancing a little less isolating.

- Global News