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Managing isolation for young people

For many young people, feelings of isolation may have increased and this may impact their behaviour once they return to school.
Girl sitting away from friends looking anxious

For many young people, feelings of isolation may have increased and this may impact on their behaviour once they return to school.

Feelings of isolation

This may result in:

Increased social withdrawal

As schools have gone remote, students have had little time to socialise with peers outside of online lessons. For some, the transition back into such a socially dynamic situation after such an extended period of time at home may be quite overwhelming.

Some may have developed a preference for solitude, leading to the desire to withdraw from social interactions and causing further isolation.

Anxiety about returning to school

Where young people have developed a preference for solitude, this will make the return to school quite anxiety-provoking. It will also be worth considering the context within which students are returning. Some students may have taken very well to remote learning, whereas others haven’t.

For those who had found it more difficult at home, they may hold some anxieties about having fallen behind their peers. These anxieties may also be compounded by a reduction in self-efficacy (that is, the understanding of one’s capacity to complete tasks) and lower self-esteem.

Being a victim of bullying

As we have moved online, students have spent more time on social media as a primary method of communication. With greater phone usage, there will be an increase in susceptibility to cyberbullying.

A recent ONS survey has found that 1 in 5 students aged between 10-15 have experienced online bullying in the last 12 months in England and Wales. 72% of the students who responded to the survey also confirmed that they had experienced some of it at school or during person whilst at school [1].

As we return to school it is important that we are vigilant of in-person bullying and mindful of the prevalence of online bullying.

It is also likely that friendships and relationships alike may have come to an end during this time, while new relationships may have been strengthened.

How to help

What considerations should we bear in mind as relationships change? We’ve provided some guidelines, with questions you might ask, below.

When a relationship has come to an end:

  • Think about the young person’s overview of what happened.
  • Help the young person take the perspective of others.
  • Consider any assumptions that have been made by the young person or their friend(s).
  • Identify if there is potential or need for resolution.

When a new relationship has been formed:

  • Think about how the young person has acquired their new friend.
  • Who else is aware of their new friendship?
  • Has the young person been made to feel uncomfortable at any time?
  • What would they do if they were made to feel uncomfortable?

It will be particularly helpful to help a young person to distinguish a positive relationship from a negative/exploitative relationship.

Things for young people to be aware of

Similarly, providing the young person with things to be aware of in terms of negative/exploitative relationships will be very important.

What are the signs of a negative and potentially exploitative relationship? These might include:

  • Meeting on social media platforms and forums where identities are anonymised like Reddit.
  • The request for or sharing of sexual images and content.
  • The request for money and financial aid.
  • Continued efforts to isolate the young person from friends and family.
  • Verbal and emotional abuse (using sensitive information disclosed by the young person as a device to coerce the young person into doing things they are not comfortable with).

In the case that a student makes a disclosure to you that raises safeguarding concerns, it is vital that you take appropriate action in line with the safeguarding procedure and practices in your local authority.

Be transparent, inform the young person about your concerns and share what you intend to do with the information they have disclosed and the steps that will follow.

PEP POINTS TASK suggestions

Below are example tasks that you can set with the young person to strengthen positive relationships that they have, or relationships that they have formed:
  • The national lockdown and social distancing policies have had an enormous impact on the mental wellbeing of many people, both young and old. Many have experienced isolation and other mental health issues like depression, making it increasingly important for us to check-in on one another. One task may be for the young person to reach out to a friend they haven’t spoken to in a while.
  • Young people are spending an increasing amount of time online and are therefore more exposed to exploitation and grooming online. It would therefore be beneficial to encourage the young person to conduct an online safety health check. You’ll find an online safety checklist you can use in the Downloads section.
  • Use the PEP TALK emoji check-in with a friend. This is a symbol-based shorthand that students can use to check on each other that requires little effort from both parties to express and acknowledge how both are feeling. This can be an effective way of opening up dialogue between young people regarding their emotional state.

References

1. Office for National Statistics. 2020. Online bullying in England and Wales: year ending March 2020. [online] Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/ [Accessed 11 March 2021]

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