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MADISON – Wisconsin’s youth need to rebuild personal connections that were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, say experts at the state Department of Health Services (DHS).
The DHS Office of Children’s Mental Health on Tuesday released a fact sheet called “Rebuilding Peer Connections” that details what the state’s communities, schools, parents and policymakers can do to make a difference.
Linda Hall, Office of Children’s Mental Health director, reported that the lengthy pandemic “eroded the positive relationships that are necessary for healthy development.” This was regardless of whether children attended school in person or virtually the past year.
Other highlights in the fact sheet include:
- Many young people and their families now have greater mental health needs, but fewer social connections.
- Isolation can create a vicious cycle of social anxiety and social avoidance that can persist even as normal life resumes.
- Experts and young people emphasize the need now for youth to connect through school, extracurriculars, and free time. For some, facilitated discussions or expressive art projects may be helpful for processing their pandemic experiences.
- Adolescents involved in positive youth programming report that peers and slightly older “near peers” are more effective than teachers or adult leaders at helping them make social connections and build skills.
The Office of Children’s Mental Health offers these suggestions for helping youth:
- Parents can look for in-person or positive online opportunities for their child to reconnect with friends and peers, even if it feels awkward at first.
- Teachers can prioritize time spent restoring peer and adult relationships as a key investment in student success.
- Teachers can also embed discussions of student experiences, coping strategies, and reflections into the classroom.
- Policymakers can fund help to reduce evictions and family mobility so that young people can remain in their neighborhoods, schools, and day cares.
- Communities can foster places and programs for youth to connect and learn life skills they can use to support one another.
To review and download the complete fact sheet, visit here.