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The year 2020 was definitely one for the history books, and the events of last year are going to have a huge impact on our girls. During the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools across the nation abruptly. This forced parents and teachers to provide support and education under conditions unfathomable just a year before.
Most school systems attempted to address educational needs with virtual learning and take-home packets while others simply cancelled the remaining academic year. While the educational ramifications of schools shutting down are being widely debated, the item missing from this conversation is the social, emotional and mental health toll of this pandemic.
COVID-19 precipitated massive restrictions, cancellations and postponements of major life events. From proms and graduations to vacations and weddings, few were spared from COVID-19 related disappointments. These changes, cancellations and restrictions appear to be continuing into 2021.
For your girl, the disappointment and sadness that that she is feeling is very real. The hallmark events of the teen years are much anticipated and often planned months in advance. We have to recognize the developmental and subjective nature of many of these life events and activities.
As adults, we’ve likely had the chance to participate in more exciting events than our prom or high school softball playoffs, but for many teens these culminating activities are much anticipated and can be defining moments in their development. Rather than tell her that it’s not a big deal, let her openly express her frustration and grief to you and ensure your response is caring and empathetic.
Girls may have been dreaming about some of these events for most of their childhoods and now some of these have been taken away. They have had no input into the decision-making process.
In May 2020, the ROX institute of Research and Training completed a study of more than 1,200 5th through 12th grade girls in 88 different schools. This study showed that 79 percent feel isolated and lonely and that a majority of the girls surveyed are spending four or more hours per day on social media — and a third of girls spend more than six hours per day on social media.
Social media and teleconferencing have replaced typical adolescent in-person connections and for some girls this has been supportive and sustaining. However, for a majority of the girls, technology has presented additional challenges and stress has escalated because of the increased time on social media during the pandemic. Cyberbullying and sexting have dramatically proliferated simply due to the volume of girls and the amount of time spent online.
Girls are looking for reassurance and direction from their teachers, counselors, school administrators and their parents or guardians regarding their safety, their education, their relationships and their future. Fostering open dialogue with girls about their evolving use of technology and helping them sustain safe and supportive connections with others is a critical task for their emotional wellbeing as well as their safety from online predators. For your girl’s physical and mental health, coach her to find non-screen-based activities to help her have fun and release her stress during these times. At Girls on the Run, our favorite suggestion is to put on your sneakers and head outside for a walk or run. But your girl may prefer to bike, cook a meal, or learn a new skill such as knitting. Encourage her to think of ways of connecting with herself, family, and the community in a safe way. If you would like to read the study in detail, visit https://rulingourexperiences.com/covid19
At Girls on the Run Piedmont, we have made many changes to our programming to ensure a safe but positive team experience and we are currently looking to recruit team sites and coaches for fall 2021. We invite the community to join us as we move forward together. Remember to always lead with an open heart and assume the positive intent of our neighbors during these stressful times. It is so important that our girls and community feel heard, loved and supported. To learn more about us or to help visit www.gotrpiedmont.org or call us a 540-296-GOTR.
The writer is the executive director of Girls on the Run Piedmont, a nonprofit based in Warrenton, specializing in youth development through physical activity for girls.