Andrew Ship and Lauren Merikas

Quaranteens: Social-Emotional Concerns of [Upper School] Students and How to Best Support Them

Today’s pandemic realities (quarantine, distance, hybrid learning, etc.) have created countless challenges and fears for teenagers, further enhancing the anxiety some high schoolers already feel. Here’s what we know students are grappling with, and how grown-ups can help.

A student wearing a mask while leaning on a railing.

Challenge: Close Quarters

“There’s five of us stuck under one roof and we’re always on each other.” Home was a place we often ran to but now it’s a place we’re often running from. Spending too much time at home has us all feeling cooped up. Mix in constantly being home with family members, while having to share common space with everyone to get work done, and you have the perfect scenario for feeling trapped as a high schooler. To help them with the anxiety of living in close quarters, here are a few things you can do.

How to Help:

  • Encourage a change of scenery (don’t allow them to hole up in their bed/bedroom).
  • Structured and fun together time (family games, movie night, going on walks/hikes together, taking turns making dinner, etc.) to mix things up.
  • Give space when asked. Being respectful of when teens seem to want distance is important, too.


Challenge: Navigating How to Connect with Teachers and Peers

“I feel lonely.” We’ve heard it from our students and even our teachers! McLean’s foundation for success is relationships, so our shift to home-based learning stretched all of us to forge and deepen our connections both digitally and in-person when safe. Texting and jumping on facetime or webcam with friends can alleviate some of that longing but it doesn’t replace face to face interaction. The same goes for how best to connect and communicate with teachers. Our small classes are ensuring that our teachers are well tapped in and connected to students, but if a student is one of 30 in a virtual class – that could be a lot harder.

How to Help:

  • Make self-advocacy a priority. Have your child reach out to their teachers if they’re getting lost or not feeling connected. Encourage one-off meetings or emails.
  • Encouraging socially distanced hangouts can go a long way in helping high schoolers feel like they aren’t missing out on pivotal friendships and experiences.


Challenge: No Physical Activity

“I don’t feel motivated to do anything.”Being at home every day can promote a sedentary lifestyle, which is something we don’t want to encourage among high schoolers. Lack of physical activity negatively impacts mental health. To relieve anxiety in high school-aged students, it’s important to help inspire them to do at least one active thing a day and get their body moving.

How to Help:

  • Check out Working it Out While Staying Active at Home by McLean’s Director of Athletics and Physical Education for some great tips.
  • Coordinate with friends for zoom work-outs and setting common goals (plank competition, anyone?).


Challenge: Concern For Health and Well-Being of Family

“What if something happens to my family?” High schoolers are not immune to pandemic anxiety. They are equally worried about loved ones getting sick, parents and perhaps their own job security, and concerns about carrying the virus unknowingly.

How to Help:

  • Talk to your child and ask for their concerns. Young adults need to be encouraged to have conversations about their fears instead of holding onto them.
  • Model having safe and open conversations around fear and anxiety.
  • Leverage outside support if needed.School counselors, nurses, and private providers should be used as a resource if needed.
  • Find out what your child is hearing or what they think is true. It’s not enough to just tell your child accurate facts, because if they have picked up something that is inaccurate, if you don’t find out what they are thinking and directly address the misunderstanding, they may combine the new information you give them with the old information they have. Find out what your child already knows and start from there in terms of getting them on the right track.
  • Practice mindfulness. Instead of worrying about the future, take time to soak in the present. Note the changing of the leaves as you go on walks, the crispness of the air, or just how lovely it feels to spend time cuddling with your pet.


Challenge: What Will the Future of Friendships Look LIke

“I’m worried I won’t have any friends when I get back to school.” Not being able to hug their friends or even hang out with them has introduced new fears in students that their cherished high school friendships will fade or become non-existent. Also, seeing their peers practice varying degrees of physical distancing creates more fear and confusion about how they can navigate seeing their friends while also keeping themselves healthy.

How to Help:

  • Find ways to gather that are safe and comfortable for everyone involved.
  • We all need to learn to use technology a little more intentionally. Zoom meetings, google video, and other video platforms can and should be used for more than just school.
  • Regular online movie nights or game nights can alleviate some of the social anxiety. In addition to icebreakers and word games, there are online platforms, like Jackbox, that provide ways to link with friends through games remotely.


Challenge: I’m Missing Out

“I’m not going to get to have ‘normal’ high school experiences.” One of the major fears of high school students we’re hearing right now is the immense worry they are missing out on the rites of passage all high schoolers got to experience before them.

How to Help:

  • Encourage your child to get involved with school events in any way you can. For example, instead of a traditional Dance that would not be safe this year, create something fun in its place – like a kickball game. We understand it’s different and not the same, but there’s something about a shared experience with your peers that transcends the event itself.
  • Any virtual activities that the school provides, from clubs, discussions, grade-level activities are important for students to attend. They don’t have to fully participate, but seeing their friends, teachers, and others is important
  • Continue regular family and school-based celebrations, such as birthday parties or silly hair day, through virtual means.


Andrew Ship, MEd, MSW, C-SSWS and Lauren Merikas, LPC, MA –  Upper School Counselors