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Tweens are facing a social confidence crisis post-pandemic so here’s how we can help

Nikki Stevenson

Nikki Stevenson

Nikki is a parenting writer and a mom to three wild boys who keep her on her toes (and occasionally make her question her sanity). With over 15 years of experience in the parenting industry, she has more tips and tricks than Mary Poppins on speed dial. When she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can find her sipping on coffee, hiding in the bathroom for five minutes of...
Created on Oct 30, 2023 · 6 mins read
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Have you recently wondered why your tween or teen doesn’t seem to have the same social etiquette as an older sibling, or even you, had at their age? Are most of their hangouts with friends happening online or via a phone – even though the lockdown is long gone?

As the world slowly recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to understand how it has affected your tweens’ social and mental development. Young teenagers are experiencing a social confidence crisis due to the pandemic’s impact on their social lives. As parents, we need to know how this crisis has affected our children and take proactive measures to support their social and emotional well-being.

If you think this is easier said than done, you’re not wrong. The tween years are a parenting rollercoaster ride as it is, throw in the effects of a pandemic, and you’re not the only one feeling as though your child is, in actual fact, an alien. Trying to distinguish between the normal changes your child should be going through during this age and the abnormal ones caused by extended lockdowns and all that those entailed will be tough. Here’s what science says the pandemic has been responsible for.

Social confidence crisis post-pandemic

The pandemic has significantly changed how tweens interact with their peers. School closures, remote learning, and social distancing have limited their opportunities for face-to-face interactions with friends and classmates. A study by Common Sense Media found that 50% of tweens and teens reported feeling lonely, anxious, or depressed during the pandemic. Lack of social interaction and isolation have taken a toll on their mental health, leading to a decrease in social confidence.

Some signs that your tween may be lonely or depressed are:

  • Withdrawing from social activities or isolating themselves from family and friends
  • Showing a lack of interest in things they once enjoyed
  • Expressing feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or worthlessness
  • Changes in appetite, sleep patterns, or energy levels
  • Difficulty concentrating or completing tasks
  • Physical symptoms like headaches or stomachaches without any underlying medical cause
  • Increased irritability, mood swings, or anger outbursts
  • Engaging in risky behaviours or substance abuse

It’s important to note that some of these symptoms can be normal from time to time, but if they persist or become severe, it may be a sign that your child needs additional support. It’s always a good idea to talk to your child about how they’re feeling and seek professional help if needed.

Tweens and social anxiety

Social anxiety is a common mental health issue amongst tweens, and the pandemic has made it worse. A study by the National Institutes of Health found that social anxiety disorder is rife among young teenagers and often goes untreated. Social anxiety can manifest in different ways, such as avoiding social situations, excessive worry about being judged or embarrassed, and physical symptoms like sweating and trembling.

Social media effects on teenagers

Social media has become an essential part of tweens’ lives, especially during the pandemic. The platforms provide a way for tweens to stay connected with friends but also contribute to social anxiety. A study by the Pew Research Center found that 81% of teens use social media, and it has a significant impact on their mental health. Social media can increase social comparison and lead to feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. It can also contribute to cyberbullying, a significant social anxiety risk factor.

The increase in on-screen time seen as a necessity during the lockdowns has set new habits for our young teenagers, which are hard to break.

Being online during the pandemic may have also increased their exposure to negative news and events, contributing to anxiety and stress. Prolonged social media use can lead to a sense of “doom-scrolling,” where your child continuously scrolls through negative news feeds, further exacerbating feelings of anxiety and depression.

Tweens’ social developmental

Social development is a critical aspect of your tweens’ overall development, and the pandemic disrupted it. Technically speaking, social development is the gradual acquisition of social skills like communication, empathy, and self-regulation. Social development is essential for building relationships, navigating social situations, and developing a sense of self. The pandemic has limited their opportunity to practice these skills, leading to a decrease in social confidence.

If your child is anxious about entering a new situation (a school camp, for example) and making friends or speaking to new people is not coming easily – this may be why.

However, just because the pandemic has caused certain delays and anxieties does not mean your child must live with them forever. It does mean that as their parent, you may have to step in a bit more than your predecessors had to. Here’s how.

Encourage face-to-face interactions

Now that the world has opened up, try to encourage your child to have more face-to-face interactions with their peers. This can be in small, safe settings, such as playdates (now probably referred to as hangouts – FYI) or outdoor activities. Building social skills and confidence is essential for tweens; they need to practice them in real-life situations.

Monitor social media use

This one won’t win you ‘parent of the year’, at least if your child is awarding it. But it is essential nevertheless. While social media can be a valuable tool for staying connected, it can also contribute to social anxiety. Monitor your child’s social media use and encourage them to take breaks from it regularly. Discuss the potential risks of social media, like cyberbullying and comparison, and teach your child how to manage them.

Talk about social anxiety

Talking openly about social anxiety can help your tween understand and manage their feelings. Create a safe space for your child to talk about their fears. A great tip is to do this in the car while it is just the two of you. They feel less intimidated and embarrassed by not having to look you in the eye, and it gives uninterrupted and relaxed time to have these sorts of conversations.

Seek professional help

Sometimes, a child needs to speak to someone who is just not their parent. That may not feel nice to know, but as long as they talk to someone safely, that’s all that matters. If you think your child is going through something caused by the pandemic (or not) that they can’t deal with alone, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional for help.

Above all else, know that you and your child are not alone. There are tweens all over the world experiencing the same effects due to the pandemic, with many parents researching how to help them online just as you have – well done on taking the first step!

If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, depression, or self-harm please visit Beyond Blue or contact  Lifeline 24/7 on 13 11 14.

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