Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your teen had deeper social connections? And I don’t mean over social media. I mean real face to face human contact! Technology is amazing. In many ways, we are more “connected” than ever. We can keep in touch with friends we haven’t seen in years and we can chat with people across the globe. Even some Therapists are moving to an online platform for providing services. It makes one wonder what implications these innovations have for human connection.
Why are more and more people reporting a deep sense of loneliness?
We are living in a time where you have the option to be more socially isolated. Now think about your teen. It can be way more comfortable (and accessible) to make connections online than in person. So chances are a good percentage of what your child digests about the world and other people is from social media. Your daughter looks at her friends’ Snapchat stories and sees peers posting seemingly perfect avatars. She sees her Instagram feed showing airbrushed models and friends displaying a filtered version of an average, awkward teenage existence.
So how do you convince your kid that what she sees online is not always reality? How do you help your girl to see that she is not alone— that there are other girls who are going through almost the exact same thing? Afterall, there are not a lot of teens modeling failure or vulnerability on Instagram.
Your teen needs true social connection.
It may sound obvious but lack of face to face connection can lead to increased feelings of loneliness, especially among the adolescent population. Adolescents are in a stage of development where peer acceptance becomes especially important. The need to feel a part of the group can cause some teens to go against their own values in order to be accepted. Feeling alone and isolated can be incredibly painful during the teenage years. Has your daughter ever said “No one understands me”, “I will never fit in”, or “No one else at my school has to deal with this”? More often than not, we tend to view our own problems as unique.
Social Connection improves your overall health.
Research shows that social connection is the number one indicator of good mental health. “Dozens of studies have shown that people who have satisfying relationships with family, friends, and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer. Conversely, a relative lack of social ties is associated with depression and later-life cognitive decline, as well as with increased mortality” (Harvard Health Publications, 2010). Positive social connections refer to quality relationships— people you can be real with, people who support you and accept you just as you are. Positive social connections are an integral part of psychological wellness at all stages of life. Why? Because human beings are social creatures. Historically, being connected has been a huge part of our survival.
The magic happens when the mask comes off.
Group therapy can be a great place to start making these social connections. The group is an amazing treatment modality. Participants can build healthy connections with peers and have a safe place to share what is really going on. When members are honest, they find that they actually relate to one another on a deeper level.
Here are 5 benefits of group therapy:
Groups help build a social connection.
As stated earlier, having satisfying relationships is an integral part of mental health. Group therapy can bring people together with similar issues and thus “relating in” can happen pretty quickly. With the help of a facilitator, group members can share struggles, listen and oftentimes explore solutions. Being in a group setting will also help your daughter enhance her social skills, which can mean being a better friend, partner, and teammate.
Group fosters a sense of belonging.
It may not be easy for your teen to let her guard down in her everyday life but in a group, opening up about what is bothering you is encouraged. Vulnerability is where connection happens. Vulnerability means letting the real you shine through. It is about belonging, not fitting in. Brene Brown discusses the difference between fitting in and belonging in her book, the Gifts of Imperfection. Brown states “Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming what you need to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are, it requires us to be who we are”.
Your teen has a chance to give back and feel useful.
Group can give your child a unique opportunity to give and get support. Group members can be a sounding board for your teen. Often, members who are further along in the group process can offer different perspectives. What’s more, research shows that giving back in a way that feels useful, like offering support to another group members, can do wonders for one’s self-esteem.
Your teen can get extra support and accountability.
I have heard this from almost every parent I work with— “She doesn’t listen to me, I guess she needs to hear it from someone else”. The reality is that your teen is more likely to be open with peers rather than adults. Group members hold one another accountable and will call each other out. Peer pressure can work in a positive way in a group setting where peers share similar goals. It is also so helpful for teens to get validation and support from peers.
She may feel better faster.
Being a part of a community and having a sense of belonging can have remarkable healing effects. Group therapy has often been compared to having a mirror held up. Being among peers struggling with similar issues can give your teen a place where she can “see herself” and with that see opportunities for growth and change. As a result, suffering can be reduced in less time.
Does Group replace individual therapy?
Group does not have to replace individual therapy. Many find that group is a helpful supplement to individual therapy. In addition, the group can be a place to practice some skills from individual therapy. From an economic perspective, a group can be less expensive than individual therapy and, for many mental health issues, just as effective as individual therapy. Many find that group therapy is all they need to start getting relief.
Where do I find a group for my teen?
Ask a mental health professional like your child’s therapist or psychiatrist. Many therapy practices offer group therapy, including my own. Often getting a personal recommendation from someone you trust can be best. You can also ask your child’s pediatrician or school counselor. Obviously, there is a wealth of information online. Psychology today is a great resource. You can search for local group therapy resources.
So maybe your daughter is scared to join a group. The fear of being judged can be paralyzing. The good news is your daughter is probably already in some kind of group, whether it is a sports team, club or even a class. Encourage your daughter to get out of her comfort zone. Share with her some of the health benefits of positive social connections. Remember— If nothing changes, nothing changes. Group therapy can be a powerful container for change.
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown