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October 15, 2020

The Resilience of Gen Z in a Pandemic

Have you noticed a change in your teen’s social habits since the start of COVID? Maybe they tried to FaceTime friends regularly at the beginning of the pandemic, but rarely feel the motivation to do so now. Or maybe they never really learned how to adapt to their new isolated environment, and instead of investing in relationships in a new way they filled their time with social media and video games. Wherever your teen falls on the spectrum, we’d like to offer some hope and guidance as we help our kids to navigate a new way of life—a lonelier way of life.

Loneliness among Generation Z

Even before COVID lockdowns began, Gen Z has been deemed “the lonely generation.” According to SocialPro, Gen Z is the loneliest age group. Of Gen Zers polled, 65%  sometimes or always feel lonely, 19% have no close friends, and 87% say it’s difficult to make new friends because they are shy. 

As digital natives—that is, people born into the age of digital technology, aka your teen—Gen Z is living in the most connected time humanity has ever seen, yet it’s a disconnected connection. Though they have social media, Google, chatrooms, Zoom, and every virtual point of connection possible at their fingertips, the art of conversation and face-to-face interaction is lost in the mix. It’s an era of loose acquaintances and mass social media followers with few real friendships.

Gen Z spends less time with their friends face-to-face and more time online and on social media. As we know from decades of research, people who interact with others face-to-face are less likely to be lonely. Recent research suggests that those who spend more time on social media, in contrast, are more likely to be lonely. —Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego University

Interestingly though, a study conducted by Jean and fellow colleagues revealed that social media has been used during the pandemic as a means to protect mental health, despite the generally negative connotation it often receives. The study concluded that “80 percent of teens agreed that social media allowed them to connect with their friends during quarantine, and nearly 60 percent said they used social media to manage their anxiety about the pandemic.” How has your teen used social media in this time of isolation? Have they used it as a means of support and connection, or has it been more of a passive, unhealthy use?

What COVID revealed about Gen Z’s relationships

It’s safe to say that we’ve all felt the affects of COVID restrictions. Although places are beginning to open back up, churches are meeting at a percentage of their normal capacity, and school is somewhat back in session in person, things are still just plain strange. It’s difficult to connect with people when we don’t know the safe way to do so, or if we should even meet up at all. And so we Zoom, Facetime, call on the phone, email—anything to keep the relationships that matter strong. But even that can feel tiring. Especially if you or your teen has to spend the majority of the day on a screen, jumping onto the next screen to chat with someone is hardly rejuvenating.

SocialPro found that 27% of Gen Z always or often feel more lonely because of the coronavirus situation, and 22% percent of Gen Xers and 20% of Baby Boomers agreed. Though we do have texting and social media, is that enough to fill the void of human interaction? Cynthia Pickett, an associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Psychology, doesn’t think so.

When you have a face-to-face interaction, you get more [social] information from that interaction…And when people are communicating over social media or text, those are fairly impoverished forms of communication—they’re fleeting.

One student had this to say about COVID’s affect on friendships: “Right now, with COVID-19, it’s putting relationships and friendships to the test—Who are you really going to talk to when you’re not seeing one another?…Who do you invest more time in—somebody you think is going to be there in the long run or the one who isn’t?”

If you’re feeling isolated due to limited face-to-face relationship, your teen is more than likely feeling the same way. Let that be a point of connection between you and your teen as you open up about your own struggles in maintaining relationships during this time. Hopefully, your teen will follow suit and share with you how they’ve been dealing with this.

An increase in family time

Though Gen Z’s friendships may struggle at times, one noteworthy find from Jean’s study is the overwhelmingly positive impact on families. As parents work from home and teens participate in online schooling, families are spending more time together than ever before and it’s bringing them closer together. 

Fifty-six percent of teens said they were spending more time talking with their parents than they had before the pandemic, and 54 percent said their families now ate dinner together more often. Forty-six percent reported spending more time with their siblings. Perhaps most striking, 68 percent of teens said their families had become closer during the pandemic.

Has your family experienced an uptick in quality time? We sure hope so. The effects of the pandemic can sometimes feel devastating, but let us be grateful for the moments we’ve had to spend with our teens, moments we didn’t know we needed. Take advantage of those walks through the neighborhood, the family dinners, the movie nights, and more. At a time like this, sometimes family is all we have, and family is all we need.

Discussion questions

  1. Has this felt like a lonely time for you? Why or why not?
  2. Have you replaced lost time with friends by using social media? 
  3. How have you used social media in a positive way?
  4. How has your technology use changed since the start of the pandemic?
  5. How do you feel when you spend a lot of time on technology?
  6. How have your friendships changed? 
  7. Have any relationships grown stronger?
  8. Have any relationships weakened?
  9. How do you distinguish which relationships are worth fighting for, and which aren’t?
  10. Have you been glad to have more time together as a family?
  11. Are there any traditions or habits we’ve started during the pandemic that you’d like to continue doing as a family?

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