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Socially Distancing but Virtually Connected

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

WRITTEN BY: Victor Ukwu, MD | Meharry Medical College

It has been a taxing nearly seven months into 2020. Shutdowns, face masks, social distancing, remote and virtual have all become commonplace vernacular. We have been forced apart by an invisible assailant that has been relentless in changing our daily lives. Though physically forced apart, we still find connection to friends and family with the rise of Zoom, Telemedicine/Telehealth, and distance learning applications.

The reluctance and skepticism towards transitioning to a virtual platform seemed daunting at first. Older populations found the technological transition most difficult, while our adolescent population made a seemingly, more effortless transition. Yes, we may still feel connected, albeit virtually, but a serious consideration should be given to the effects social distancing may have on our adolescent community.

Extended stay-at-home orders forced school closings that led to an early summer for all students. What may have seemed like an early Christmas at home gift for some, became a trigger on anxiety for others. Losing the routine of seeing friends daily, participating in sports and other extracurricular can make the struggle of dealing with impulse control and fluctuating emotions more difficult.

The fact that health disparities exist widely among communities of color has been well known for quite some time. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has shown a bright spotlight on these gaps in health outcomes. Most notably is the effect of COVID-19 on the physical and mental health of the adolescent Black community.

So, what are the challenges faced by our adolescent community?

❖ Lack of physical activity.

Without the outlet of school for social interaction, recess and organized sports, gaming and social media become lifelines for adolescents to remain connected. Increased screen time can lead to a more sedentary lifestyle, worsening stress management all come to the forefront. In addition, increased screen time can further exacerbate childhood and adolescent obesity.

❖ Increased risk for mental illness.

Adolescents have increasing skills, abilities and familiarity with social media that may initially be more advantageous for dealing with social distancing given the ability to stay connected virtually. However, online gaming and social media platforms increase the risk for anxiety, depression, suicide, and inattentiveness. Studies have shown a negative correlation with self-esteem and increased screen time. When overloaded with stress and anxiety, an increased risk for withdrawal, aggression, physical illness, or substance abuse are quite common.

Frustrations may especially rise as learning platforms, routines, and schedules change. Negative thoughts and feelings of self, unsafe living environments, changes in physical appearance, and unresolved issues with friends or peers are all things that may show up differently with adolescents in the virtual and social distanced world.

What can parents, guardians and other caretakers do?

Manage Screen Time | Parents should try to manage screen time. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) recommends 90-minute intervals with built in ‘bonus time’ for the completion of schoolwork, chores, and other tasks. Resistance will lead to a decrease in earned bonus time.

Get Moving! | The AACAP recommends parents try turning some screen time into workout sessions, dance parties with the music their children love, or even yoga. Any activity that gets parents and children moving is recommended. This bonding time can be key to allowing the parents to have an avenue to helping their child(ren) manage stress.

Know the Signs | Parents and guardians are typically the first to see signs of change in their child(ren). These signs may oftentimes reflect outwardly as increased stress; however, this may be an indication that your child is in a difficult or painful situation., especially without appropriate and familiar resource outlets. Identifying these and other triggers, such as including new and increasing school demands.

Overall, it is critical we take the time to carefully listen to and dialogue with youth, watching for signs of toxic stress, sickness, disinterest, or overloading. Additionally, caregivers can use this time at home to practice stress management with their children. Most importantly, staying engaged with adolescents is vital to helping guide them through this pandemic physically, mentally, and emotionally.

For more information and resources for online learning, click here to view My Brother’s Keeper Nashville’s Safer at Home Online Learning Guide for Youth.


The NAACP is committed to eliminating the racial and ethnic inequities that exist within our health care system that undermine communities of color their life opportunities and their ability to contribute fully to the common good. The committee’s health blogs aim to promote health.

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