By Kristine Sorensen

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Children are facing new challenges this year with school all or partly online. Kids are interacting with friends only through a computer, but one parenting expert says the year is not lost and the challenges will strengthen our children.

Kids need to be with other kids, not just because they like it but for biological and developmental reasons. Dr. Debi Gilboa — or Dr. G — is an internal medicine physician in Squirrel Hill, a parenting expert, and mother of four boys.

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“Kids and adolescents really need connection,” Dr. G says. “It gives them certain brain chemicals that they actually have more receptors and more need for and feel the lack of, even stronger than people in other age groups. And the lack of that can really cause mental distress.”

Dr. G says kids, ages 9 to 16, learn about what’s acceptable and what isn’t by interacting with peers. They’re figuring out who they are in relation to others around them. So can social media replace those in-person interactions?

“Social media can support good connections but rarely create new friendships with deep, lasting connection,” says Dr. G.

She suggests talking to your kids about what they can and cannot control. Then, ask them to create new ways to get social interactions.

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And when they come to you frustrated or sad, she says, “Eighty-five percent of adolescents say that when they go to an adult with a problem, they are only looking for empathy. They know you can’t fix this, and they’re not looking for advice or intervention.”

One of the hardest things for parents is not to try to fix everything. But there are signs to look for that it’s a true mental health problem that needs professional help.

If you see a change in behavior, change in attitude, change in sleep or eating patterns, if their grades drop or if they tell you they’re struggling, you should ask another trusted adult or seek professional help.

Dr. G also reminds parents to take care of their own mental health, too. Click here for Dr. G’s resilience guide.

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Click here and here for more mental health resources.

Kristine Sorensen