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Helping tweens and teens fight the loneliness epidemic

Local organizations are working hard to help kids fight loneliness and just enjoy being kids.

At the Liverpool Public Library, the “Tween Scene” program is designed to bring pre-teens and teens together. Joellyn Murry, the library’s coordinator of children’s and family services, said the COVID-19 pandemic hit this age group hard, and many kids connected through an online community.

"They had getting online only with school, and there was no social component, and they were very isolated, so they looked forward to this every week,” she said.

When it was safe to meet in person again, the group became an important outlet for kids like Gabriella Carroll, 11.

"The fact that I didn't get to see anybody, I was kind of like sad, and I wanted to see people, and this is one way I could do that," Carroll said.

But now that schools are open, and extracurricular activities are back, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said tweens and teens are still one of the groups at the highest risk for feelings of loneliness and isolation. He cites smartphone use and social media as two of the major reasons.

“Tween Scene” steers kids to other activities, often meeting outside in the library’s Dinosaur Garden, where kids can play instruments, launch a game with sports equipment, or just chat with friends. Cadence Falchi, 11, sees the benefit.

"It's really fun because no one's really on their phone. They're actually communicating,” she said.

The tweens and teens also get the mental health benefits of being around nature. Waverly Burrows, 14, wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up.

"I know that playing with animals has always been my passion, so I love coming out here just because I love to see all the wildlife,” Burrows said.

And since the main antidote to loneliness is being around others, Murry said the program organizers help the kids navigate social situations since COVID-19 hit while kids in this age group would typically be learning social norms.

"We go around, we kind of invite kids to play with us and then invite other kids in, or we'll encourage them to ask each other to play," she said.

“Tween Scene” is just one of a number of programs supporting kids and teens at Liverpool Library. To learn more, click here.

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.