We've invited Natalie Kemp to talk with us about her observations of the decrease in adolescent resiliency following the COVID-19 pandemic and how to increase resiliency factors for today's youth. Natalie is very involved in community work and is passionate about working with young adults and adolescents and is part of the REACH program in her community, which stands for Resilience Education: Awareness for Coping & Hope.
While the COVID-19 pandemic affected many people, Natalie notes that adolescents were particularly affected due to social isolation. Time with peers greatly influences adolescents, but in the early days of the pandemic, many teens did not have this social time. They also missed regular milestones, such as graduation, prom, and yearbooks. Replacing socializing and typical milestones, social media and news filled the time for many adolescents, which Natalie notes can create a negative thinking pattern and a bleak worldview. As a result of all these factors, adolescents have felt "stuck," which has led to more difficulties with communication and increased issues such as social anxiety. It's also been increasingly difficult for adolescents to access mental health services with an increase in demand for services and not enough mental health professionals to fulfill such needs. Natalie notes that some adolescents wait for as long as three months to get in to see a therapist.
Resiliency is the ability to bounce back after a difficult situation. Ongoing isolation and pessimistic thinking will decrease resiliency and affect mental health, and Natalie Kemp notes that this is a factor that affects adolescents today. Social media and news can have an ongoing negative impact when there are no positive community or peer influences and so much exposure to difficulties worldwide. Natalie notes that not all use of phones and social media is negative, but that discernment and monitoring around use is important for mental health and for relationships.
Much of Natalie Kemp's work has focused on ACES (adverse childhood events); she notes that living through the pandemic is now considered an adverse childhood event. Research into the effects of ACES shows specific protective factors that can help someone's life outcomes and increase their resiliency, including a solid and stable relationship with an adult such as a relative, coach, or teacher. A robust support system within the community, such as family, community groups, or churches, can be very beneficial in people's lives. As Natalie says, these supportive communities "let them know there's someone who cares."
Helping youth establish positive social networks will increase the protective factors in their lives. In Natalie's county, the REACH program is working to mobilize the entire community around important ideas and concepts by sharing information in libraries, the YMCA, schools, and churches. She used the example of sharing information about resiliency itself with the hope that it can become a regular topic of conversation and consideration for community members of all ages, which can help people look forward to the future and not feel alone.
Natalie Kemp is a Licensed Psychological Associate and teaches as an Associate Professor at the University of Mount Olive in Eastern North Carolina. She has served as the Department Chair for psychology at UMO for the past 7 years and is heavily involved in community work. Before starting a career in academia, Natalie provided therapy for a community mental health center, private practice settings, and non-profit agencies. Her passion is working with adolescents and young adults, particularly looking at how adverse childhood experiences (ACES) affect development and what protective factors can influence their future. With the recent creation of her REACH (Resilience Education: Awareness for Coping & Hope) lab, Natalie is working with students to promote awareness and provide education about ACES on campus and in the community. Natalie is inspired daily by her husband of almost 25 years, an educator in the public schools, and their two children, who are both navigating adolescence.