My Life/Teen Life Survival in the Digital Age by Rachel Penate In elementary school, a movie came out on the Disney Channel that I thought was THE coolest. It was about a home that was built with some “insane” technology. I’m telling you: voice-activated control, video calling, walls that became screens, and a seriously sassy automated lady who would rival Siri or Alexa any day. OK. I know, you may look at that list and be a little confused. What!? How is that “insane”? Well, the movie I’m talking about, Smart House (which is totally available on Disney+… you’re welcome!), came out in 1999. Yup, that’s 21 years ago — at a time when laptops were the weight of cinder blocks and texting wasn’t yet a norm for the average cell phone. So, for me, your sweet little nine-year-old with no more knowledge of technology than my slow-to-connect-to-the-internet home computer, this house was AMAZING! I thought as I watched this movie over and over again, how cool it would be to be able to have so much technology at my fingertips… in my very own home!! Flash forward to 2020 and all I want to do is throw my cell phone in the trash, my computer out the window, and connect in person with all of my best friends. As you probably can attest to from weeks of home quarantine, social connection is important and necessary for our health. Take it from a 2016 study in Finland that concluded a lack of social connection is just as detrimental to your health as alcohol, smoking, or obesity. Or a 2019 article from that American Psychological Institute that expanded on almost identical findings. These are only two of many similar studies that have confirmed that loneliness and isolation are just simply not a healthy part of the human condition. Even right now, in the midst of this quarantine, when digital connection is all we have, it just doesn’t cut it. We seek more. So, as we continue to trudge through these extended weeks of quarantine and social distancing — as a sister trudging on right next to you — there are a few things I want you to remember: 1. It’s OK to not be OK. This is probably the most important point I’m going to make, so I’m going to make it first. If you are struggling because of the lack of in-person social interaction that has occurred due to COVID-19, you are not alone. Let me say that again, even though you may feel like you are alone: you are not alone! I promise you, everyone is experiencing some level of struggle during this time. Never, ever be afraid to ask for help, and if you feel as though you cannot navigate your needs on your own, don’t hesitate to reach out to a trusted friend, adult, or counselor. 2. Digital connection is only a placeholder. We are absolutely living in a bizarre and unprecedented time. Never before, in your life or mine, have we seen such a drastic change in our daily living. Even though a lot of our social calendar is out of our hands (and connecting digitally is often very necessary), remember it is not everything, nor is it ideal. Keeping things in perspective will help your mentality when you remember it is simply an alternative to what you are truly craving: in-person interaction. 3. Invest in those who are in your home with you. This one is pretty straight-forward. I don’t know what your relationship with those who live in your home looks like; it may be tough or complicated, but it’s probably still worth investing in. Find ways to connect with your family: over a meal, a game night, a movie, a walk, there are so many ways to get to know your family better even if the temptation to (metaphorically) strangle each other still remains. Even if it’s only an hour a day that you connect, those 60 minutes of quality time have the potential to make such a positive impact. 4. Get creative with meetups while also social distancing. Now that stay-at-home orders are lifting a bit, there are plenty of opportunities to get creative in hanging out with friends while also respecting social distancing guidelines for outdoor spaces. Go for a hike, meet up at the park with your own individually packed lunches, host a Bible Study in your driveway. There are so many ways to stay connected now that the days are getting warmer and the school year is almost over. 5. Limit your time online. This is a tricky one since the internet is the source of so much connection these days, but it’s really important to give yourself a break to breathe and connect with those physically close to you as well as God. Staying connected to the Lord in prayer is the single most important “social” connection you can make. Without Him, nothing else matters. While the uncertainty of the last two months may have felt like the longest time of our lives, this period of waiting will not last forever. And, even if life doesn’t necessarily go back to “normal” — to the way we remember it before COVID-19 — we will learn how to adapt, and we will learn how to see the rainbows among the storms. God is in control. He’s got this and we’re in it together. Know of my prayers for you, always.