Frozen Tween Friendships – The Lockdown Effect

Dad Peter shares the friendship cul de sac his daughter found herself in during lockdown and reflects on what they tried to do to help and how they plan to support her going forward.


When schools went into lockdown, pupils’ social situations were ‘frozen’. Whatever friends they did or didn’t have at that point, they were stuck with, as it’s so difficult to make new friends while in lockdown.  If they had joined a new school and hadn’t made many friends in the year, they were stuck.


This was particularly true for our daughter in year 7 (but perhaps also for children who moved or joined a new school in Year 9 or Year 12). She had felt overwhelmed starting ‘big school’ and had spent the first term mostly eating her lunches in the library to avoid the daunting prospect of having to put herself out there and make new friends.


It seemed to her that all the noisy throngs of kids roaming around at lunch were already solid cliques, everyone had already found groups and new, strong friendships except her and it created a downward confidence spiral that she never regained control of. Hence opting for the solitude and comfort of the library. Then lockdown happened.


For our daughter (and perhaps more for year 7s because of the great shake up of new schools and larger year groups) she hadn’t formed strong enough bonds with new friends to create and continue meaningful friendships during lockdown.


It’s a situation that we’ve noticed, through talking to other parents, is more common than you might think.


There’s no easy solution to resolve this now but here’s what we tried and what we’ve learned:


  1. Keeping in touch with old friends from primary – we started here, with friends that our daughter had from her primary school. She had been in two of them and had friendship groups in both. The trouble was that many of her friends from primary school had moved on to form new friendship groups in senior school – something our daughter hadn’t done, so whilst they had some time for her, they had spent so little time together in the past eight months that they tended to have little to talk about.


  2. Regular catch ups – despite this we encouraged our daughter to set up a few regular catch ups with these older friends, so she could revitalise these relationships, keep them going and perhaps even deepen them. In the end, this resulted in her being included in some wider groups with old friends which seems to have worked well.


  3. Connecting with new school friends – This was harder, as these are the people that our daughter hadn’t yet formed a proper bond with. The girls seemed to have formed themselves into definable groups, and our daughter wasn’t in any. She was reticent to try to contact individuals, thinking that they wouldn’t want to hear from her, they wouldn’t have much to say, and were in a different group – the popular group - for example. Whilst we tried to organise some chats through parents it really didn’t happen, but texts have worked better – with some prompting from us – she’s kept in touch with a few new girls with the odd message. It’s not great but it’s better than nothing.
  1. Talking whilst playing games – Let’s face it, despite our best efforts to encourage conversation skills, many kids these days would be horrified at the thought of simply having a chat over the phone. Both of ours certainly were at the start of lockdown. It’s not actually because they didn’t want to talk to people. It’s more that they find it awkward finding things to talk about.

    We now find ourselves indebted to collaborative games like Minecraft and Roblox, which they can play whilst talking to each other, either about what they are doing in the game or about each other’s lives. This has been a lifesaver for our daughter, who has now spent many (perhaps too many) hours with a variety of friends on these games.

  1. Learn from mistakes – We’ve talked to her about the importance of learning from this to try and make sure she isn’t in this position again. We’ve spent time getting our daughter to recognise the mistakes and understand the consequences of her actions so that she can make different choices in future.

    Those breaktimes in the library have resulted in her feeling an isolation in lockdown that could’ve possibly been avoided. Her reasons for doing this were understandable – commendable even, in parts - a combination of diligence – she wanted to get her homework done; shyness – she has a real lack of confidence in going up to and meeting new people, especially when they’re in groups, and feelings of awkwardness at conducting small talk which she has always struggled with.

    As we talked this through with her, she realises spending so little time with other people means that they haven’t missed her company when school closed.


  2. Arming her with Tools - To proactively try to mitigate this we have done a lot of talking during lockdown. The family walks have been a good opportunity to get our daughter to be more familiar with small talk, asking questions, becoming curious about people and generally getting her to feel more comfortable at chatting.

We’ve also tried to find strategies to help her in school such as doing teamwork with people she doesn’t know well to broaden her friendship groups. We’ve also agreed she will make a real effort to spend breaks socialising rather than hiding and will join clubs with a lot of people in them so that she makes more social connections when she finally gets back to school.


Fingers crossed, unlike the more familiar saying, we’re hoping it’s never too late to make a second impression.