In order to stay healthy, the pandemic has forced our young people to experience the teenage years in a very different way. But is the fact that they are wearing a mask hiding something other than the desire to protect themselves from the virus?

According to Dr. Stéphanie Léonard, a psychologist specializing in body image matters and the founder of the NPO BienAvecMonCorps, this is quite possible.

Wearing a mask can have a protective effect when you want to hide something on your face” she explained. “Acne, for example, is something that many young people have complexes about, especially with the photoshopped pictures that they see on social media.”

So, if it can allow some young people to avoid social isolation, it’s a good thing, right?

Well…. not so fast!

The problem is that it’s like wearing a shield. And if a young person does that, it’s because they’re suffering and protecting themselves,” added the expert. “Masks may alleviate uneasiness, but the true issue—that of having a complex about part of your body—has still not been resolved.”

In short, teens are no longer just protecting themselves from the virus, but instead from their image, which they consider to be too imperfect.

``Wearing a mask makes me feel good because I don’t have to worry about how others see me.``

-Victoria, aged 17

Offering help

In general, this is not something that you need to be overly concerned about. We must remember that it’s normal for a teenager to have to reposition themselves during this period of physical, emotional and psychological change. But we can support them in this transition by first of all validating what they are experiencing, and by doing so respectfully.

It would then be helpful to start a conversation about the reasons why they wear a mask and to share your questions or concerns with them.

Lastly, it would be a good idea to help them regain their control and self-confidence by suggesting that they take a gradual approach in safe circumstances:

Why not try making a list of situations that you find easier or harder when you wear your mask to cover up? Maybe you could try it out with people with whom it’s less stressful and with whom you feel more comfortable removing it?”

Throughout the conversation, your teen would certainly like to feel that you are betting 150% on HIM or HER! Not on the piece of fabric that hides their face and that won’t be around for very long anyway.

``For sure, every now and then a mask can make a teen feel more confident, but it’s not true self-confidence.``

-Dr. Stéphanie Léonard, psychologist

The network of friends

Rest assured—you’re not alone in this! Your child’s network of friends can also help.

“I would encourage my child to talk to their friends about it,” added the psychologist. “A friend is someone they are close to and can trust, but who is the same age as them. We’re there to encourage our child, but a teen’s main reference group is the other teens that they hang around with.”

This conversation could help them feel less isolated by making them realize that other young people do the same thing because they are also experiencing certain types of distress.

``It always feels good to know you’re not alone.``

-Dr. Stéphanie Léonard, psychologist

Can it get worse?

Unfortunately, it can in some cases! Even though a break from having their looks judged by others may be necessary for a young person, a more problematic situation may sometimes occur:

−The teen may be vulnerable to social anxiety, for which one of the criteria is being overly concerned about being ridiculed or judged.  

How can you tell the difference? By the intensity and importance it suddenly takes in the young person’s life. You might feel that the situation is overwhelming your child and that they are unable to control themselves or calm down. You could also look at the young person’s mood and see whether they tend to isolate themselves.

In addition to the possible physical problems such as insomnia, palpitations, a feeling of suffocation and panic, this anxiety is most pronounced in social situations; having to speak in public, participating in meetings or group activities, etc.

In such cases, it’s better for parents to seek help from professional, qualified therapists.

``It’s important to be aware of changes in behaviour, of sudden turnarounds and abandonments that are inconsistent with the person you believe your child to be.``

-Dr. Stéphanie Léonard, psychologist

White mask, black mask… but grey area

Since the start of the pandemic, everyone has wondered how wearing a mask would impact young people’s social skills.

“We don’t know,” Stéphanie Léonard humbly answered. “It’s clear that the ability to read non-verbal cues is hindered by wearing a mask, and this is an important factor in communicating with others. But wearing masks is new in our lives and there are no related studies, data or experiments.”

Indeed, science is still unable to provide answers to this troubling question. But beyond this uncertainty, the psychologist would like to believe that teens are probably a lot more resilient than one might imagine.

And that’s something that, with a bit of luck, the future will prove to us.



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