“Is it okay if my son stays in his room all the time?” That’s a question that parents of teen boys are asking frequently these days. With online school and fewer activities outside the home, teens are spending hours upon hours in their rooms, in front of their screens.
Teenagers do need privacy and a space to call their own, especially with everyone at home more often these days. However, being cooped up and plugged in for the majority of the day isn’t good for a teen boy’s physical or mental health.
The Effects of Isolation on Teens
While online learning for teens is necessary during the pandemic, many adolescents are struggling with the effects of isolation. In a survey of 1,000 teens conducted in October by DKC Analytics, more than half reported having grown apart from friends over the past months. Moreover, 64 percent of participants reported that they have often felt lonely as a result of the pandemic. In fact, teen loneliness ranked at the top of the list of experiences—above feeling depressed (54 percent), worried (62 percent), and angry (41 percent).
Beyond teen loneliness, other effects of social isolation in high school students include:
- More screen time as a result of remote learning and online recreation and socializing
- Less exercise
- Worse eating habits
- Increased anxiety, depression, and collective trauma in teen boys as well as girls.
The combination of these factors is prompting growing concern around the issue of “my son stays in his room all the time.” While some research shows that adolescent girls report higher levels of depression and anxiety than boys, this may be because teen boys are less likely to report or talk about their emotions.
Teen Boys and the ‘Crisis of Connection’
The current lack of in-person interaction for teens has a particularly negative impact for boys, because they tend to bond through activities rather than conversation. Studies show that teen boys talk less often about their problems than girls do, send shorter texts, and don’t text much with other boys. By contrast, girls have more extensive and ongoing text conversations. That puts boys at a disadvantage when it comes to having supportive online connection with friends.
These gender differences in communication and friendship styles contribute to what author and psychology professor Niobe Way describes as a “crisis of connection” among adolescent males. As young boys, male friends tend to share their deepest secrets and most intimate feelings with each other, Way says. But as boys reach age 15 or 16, they begin to shut down in response to a culture that discourages emotional intimacy between men. “Our culture prizes independence over human connection. It devalues and even discourages close friendships, particularly among boys and men,” Way writes. While research in this area is new, at least one study suggests that such typically “male” socialized behaviors are also internalized and demonstrated by transgender boys.
“The hundreds of adolescent boys in my research over the past 20 years make the direct link between not having close friendships—friendships in which ‘deep secrets’ are shared—and going ‘wacko,’ committing suicide, doing drugs and ‘taking it out on others.’ Isolation, the boys report, makes them feel inadequate, envious of others with better connections, and angry.”
—Niobe Way, professor of applied psychology at New York University and author of Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection
How Increased Screen Time Affects Adolescents
New research on technology use and teen mental health during COVID found that when teens spent more than two hours a day on recreational screen time, life satisfaction and optimism went down. Furthermore, anxiety and depression in teen boys and girls went up. Mental health measures were better when teens had less screen time and instead took part in extracurricular activities, such as sports and art—which are unavailable to many teens right now.
The deleterious mental health effects of screen time are confirmed by teens themselves. In the DKC Analytics survey, 44.4 percent of teens reported that social media has a negative impact on their day-to-day well-being. And with online learning for teens more prevalent, students are at risk of other problematic tech-related issues, including online addiction and physical health issues like obesity and vision problems.
As an example, a New York Times article in November quoted 15-year-old Ayden Hufford, a high school sophomore in Rye, New York, who attends hybrid school (both remote and in-person). “Everything is stagnant now,” he said. “There’s nothing to look forward to. On virtual days I sit on the computer for three hours, eat lunch, walk around a bit, sit for three hours, then end my day. It’s all just a cycle.”
Identifying Depression in Teen Boys
That cycle can lead to symptoms of depression in teens. A recent CDC study found that mental health–related emergency room visits have increased by 31 percent among teens (ages 12–17) in the period between March and October 2020.
Here are some of the signs of depression in teen boys:
- Inability to concentrate
- Lack of motivation
- Withdrawal from social activities and other activities—prompting parents to say, “My son stays in his room all the time”
- Having a hard time enjoying things or experiencing pleasure
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Sleeping too much or not enough
- Anxiety and worry
- Frequent stomachaches, headaches, or other physical issues
- Changes in appetite
- Signs of substance abuse, such as vaping paraphernalia
- Suicidal thoughts.
These red flags indicate that a teenager should receive a comprehensive mental health assessment.
Tips for Parents When “My Son Stays in His Room All the Time”
Here are some ways for parents to support teen boys:
- Validate what they’re feeling. Let your son know that it’s appropriate and understandable to be feeling stress and sadness right now, and that they are not alone. Teenagers are among the demographics most affected by the pandemic.
- Help teens—and the whole family—develop a self-care routine. Establish a schedule that includes time outside, exercise, healthy meals, and movement breaks during online schooling or homework.
- Plan family activities that will get boys out of their room. Take a hike together, play tennis, pull out old board games, go for a long bike ride, or do a home improvement project together.
- Create a different area for remote schooling. If possible, designate a quiet room or area outside their bedroom where teens can do classes and homework—perhaps alongside siblings. This way, they can interact with family members during breaks, and a parent can monitor activity if necessary. Research shows that teens left alone during workdays were more likely to be depressed and anxious during COVID-19.
- Enforce tech-free times. Start with meals and the hour before bed, and expand offline time to include unplugged periods during the weekend or whenever possible.
- Encourage safe social connection with peers. Help teen boys find creative ways to connect in person while maintaining social distancing, or encourage them to call or text friends. Let them know that it’s okay for boys to talk about what they’re going through with their peers, even if it feels awkward at first.
In summary, when parents ask, “What Should I Do If My Son Stays in His Room All the Time?” it is an indication that teen boys need to get off their devices and out of their rooms and parents should take actionable steps to encourage their sons to do so. It might not be easy, but it will ultimately help preserve their mental and physical health. If you think your son may be suffering from a more serious mental health condition and you are interesting in seeking professional help, please do not hesitate to reach out to the team at Newport Academy. We are here 24 hours a day, seven days a week to answer all your questions and help you find the best treatment program for your family.
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