Even before the Pandemic, as soon as the technology became available, there have been online groups which provide a forum for people with similar interests, goals, and ideals. This was the case even while there were in person groups and gatherings at school, at work, and at home. Since it was possible, people have been gathering digitally and in person and utilizing all the forums and platforms available to them. However, along came Covid-19 aka the novel “Coronavirus” and people’s options for interacting in person have become much more limited, a blow to us all as social beings. We don’t respond too well to limits, especially from things outside of our control, so being at home, isolation, irritability, and quarantine fatigue have kicked in and we have been yearning to get together again. Meanwhile, autumn and winter have been creeping in with their holidays and cold chill and the regular flu season along with them. So how do we keep our social skills intact in an environment that has pushed us so much into the virtual world? – Online Groups!

Being at home, navigating and learning how to be and stay successful in social situations can be a difficult process, especially the younger that you are and the less that you have been exposed to opportunities to socialize and even for us as adults because we get out of practice. Meanwhile, everyone has probably experienced at least one social situation where they either handled it poorly or were not sure what path they should take and for children, the same situation can occur, and for some it occurs often. For those who regularly experience difficulty in social situations, social skills groups, and groups in general, can help by providing opportunities to learn and practice social skills in a safe environment as well as to learn from and model for one another. Groups give people the opportunity to be vulnerable and succeed, thereby helping to build self-esteem and have success, so that when they are off in other “real”, “less artificial” situations, they can draw from those experiences to extend their social circle and utilize those skills to enjoy their interactions.

Social skills groups are different from a traditional play-date or peer-based hangout – they are a supervised therapeutic event where the goal is to help children and adolescents gain skills in social interaction. These groups help children learn joint attention, problem solving, and how to handle the challenges of social situations while having positive and fun social experiences with peers.

Research indicates that regardless of a child’s diagnosis, groups can be extremely effective in increasing a child’s ability to be successful in peer situations. These groups help reduce a child’s experience of school failure or peer rejection, and also reduce aggressiveness or isolation that often develops because of problems relating to others.

Benefits of participating in an online group include:

  • More frequent or flexible participation
  • Opportunities for people who may not have local face-to-face support or who are unable to connect with others in groups due to the pandemic
  • Feeling less lonely, isolated or judged by finding like minded individuals
  • Reducing distress, depression, anxiety or fatigue by increasing social interactionsTalking openly and honestly about your feelings getting validation and receiving support, feedback, and reality testing.
  • Improving skills to cope with challenges and expand social networks by learning from others
  • Staying motivated to continue onward towards achieving their goals
  • Gaining a sense of empowerment, control, and hope
  • Learning about health, economic, and social resources and possibly receiving support in accessing them
    Are Online Groups Worthwhile?

Many parents feel reluctant about enrolling their children in online groups. Instead, they want groups that meet in person where children can interact and practice in the most natural environment possible. At the same time, during this pandemic where online meetings have become the new norm, participating in a group online actually reflects our new reality as we all need to learn to interact online as well as in person. Yes, there are challenges to translating some of our in person social exchanges to an online platform, but the skills that we need to successfully navigate these continue to be the same and can be transferred from the virtual world to the real world when we are finally able to increase our in person interactions. Likely, the one big challenge that remains is overcoming lack of commitment either from parents or group participants themselves.

Lack of commitment: Though easy accessibility can be an advantage, it can also make it harder to form an attachment to the group and the individuals in it. Sacrificing more time and energy to get to meetings tends to build more commitment to the group and decrease the chances that a member will stop attending. Also, parents and participants are more accustomed to in-person groups and are looking forward to returning to living life and interacting in the real world in our traditional settings of school and work. In the meantime, however, these same worlds have become digital. It is important that we bring this resource of groups to this same venue to address the new challenges that we are facing by being displaced from our daily lives.

Final Thoughts

Learning to follow online etiquette, “netiquette”, and continuing to practice social interactions make online groups even more essential for everyone. Despite being online, there are still real people on the other end of the conversation in these groups and the skills necessary to build successful connections continue to be the same; being online just requires learning some additional skills. Participants in these groups have real problems, friends, family, and concerns and group members are able to help and support one another. 

Online Groups Now Enrolling (groups for ages 11-19)!

Cope With School NYC is now enrolling for online groups for tweens and teens. To learn more: Click Here