“Honestly, it’s quite scary… It’s terrifying.” Gil, 14, UK
Take a moment.
How are you feeling? There is no right way to feel right now.
As the numbers of young people isolating and social distancing increase by the day across the globe, we're keeping track of how it's impacting youth culture, behaviours and emotions. Values and priorities are getting a reset as youth are forced to suddenly slow down and realise the important role they have to play to keep more people safe.
We spoke to teens around the world about how they are feeling and coping right now amid the COVID-19 crisis.
STUDENT STRESS AND BOREDOM
Most teenagers are staying home from school. Some are welcoming a break from study and pressures of school, while others - especially those in exam years - are finding it really stressful:
“I think it’s stressful. I know it’s selfish but I had no idea how hard it is to work from home and feel like school work has turned into a mountain already. It’s a complete nightmare. As soon as school closures were announced our maths teacher gave us a huge pile of work to do from home. It’s really hard to get through it when you get stuck, especially with rural WiFi because email is such a slow way of sending scans or documents.” James, 17, Ireland
“The current scene has been a great thing for me. I was getting too overwhelmed and stressed because of school, and it’s actually a great thing for me. We are going to have online classes from the 6th of April. Which is unique and exciting because I’ve never had that, but the break so far has been great for my mental health as I have a lot more time for myself and my family.” Zhaniya, 15, Kazakhstan
“Day to day I’m just going on walks, doing schoolwork, reading books, escaping through YouTube and Netflix. I’m also doing online courses with colleges. Right now I’m looking at a Harvard course on probability and statistics. It’s free and on the internet, so that’s kind of fun.” Alannah, 16, Ireland
“I still have five weeks to go and it’s already quite difficult to cope… I’m torn between understanding to do as much as possible to protect my community but also feeling quite depressed and isolated and a bit let down by the school system because it’s ‘business as usual,’ but mentally you’re not quite catching up.” Johana, 18, Germany
“Right now I’m just feeling bored and a little bit worried about when this will all end. I kind of wish I was back at school today!!” Súin, 15, Ireland
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF FRIENDSHIP
One of the biggest things affecting young people who are adhering to social distancing guidelines right now is not being able to see their friends. This is sparking different kinds of online interactions with the help of apps and tech. It’s also reinforcing the significance of their friendships to them:
“To cope with the current situation I’m talking a lot to my friend through the phone, journaling, and using the time to work on my art. It’s very easy to feel isolated in this situation, so I encourage everyone to talk to their friends.” Matthias, 17, Germany
“I’ve found being apart from my friends really hard. Usually when I’m bored, I go see my friends. Everything is less boring with your friends. So to be apart from them makes everything a little bleak to be honest. But we all understand why we’re doing it and we’re all spreading the message to stay inside and social distance… We’ve been doing group Facetime calls. We all actually miss school. While you’re in school everyone wants to go home, but it’s a chance to talk and you’re not bored. The stress is better than the boredom.” Alannah, 16, Ireland
“Although my best friends and I Facetime everyday to get some social interaction, it really isn’t the same. We haven’t seen each other in about four days and it feels like there’s a part of myself missing.” Amy, 16, USA
“I do want to distract myself. I don’t want to think about other things, or panic. I did a singing class today on Facetime. It was weird and made me feel uneasy I guess, but it was productive and I got alot done. I’m allowed to walk my dog but I can’t see any of my friends. We’re just having Facetimes and playing Mindcraft and watching Netflix ‘play’- we’re using a link where we can set it up and watch it together and text during it.” Katie, 16, UK
UNCERTAINTY & MENTAL FITNESS
The boredom and the uncertainty of ‘not knowing’ is the worst part for young teens who are worried for their families, and worried about running out of things to do:
“Being in isolation has made me quite depressed. I’m an introvert, so I didn’t think it would affect me as much as it is. But today I went outside for the first time in five days and I’ve never felt this good. I’m definitely noticing that it’s been a lot harder for me to concentrate and do my work twelve hours straight, because I’m just sitting in my room all day long... I know if I do get it I’ll be fine, but at the same time there’s a lot of people in my community and around me that are either immunocompromised or quite old. I do have some anxiety surrounding that.” Johana, 18, Germany
“We’re kind of in the dark and there are so many ppl saying different things will happen and it’s kinda scary not knowing when it’ll end or what we will be allowed to do.” Sarah, 15, UK
Amidst the isolation and concerns for family members wellbeing, there is also an element of ‘fear of missing out’ or not contributing:
“We’re terrified of missing out on some of the most precious times of our life. My friends in the UK are missing out on their GCSEs. My cousin in the US is missing her sweet sixteen birthday party. Not getting to spend time with our friends is making us feel lonely and isolated and we’re scared of what’s going to happen. I’m just grateful I won’t die, but it’s stressful worrying about family members, parents and friends who might.” Katie, 16, Ireland
“The biggest problem for me and many in my age group is that of course we need to take the necessary precautions isolating ourselves, but what’s hard to swallow is that by being locked up in our homes we aren’t really contributing to the discovery of a cure for this pandemic. We’re putting the pressure and responsibility in the hands of others to be able to fix this mess.” Amy, 16, USA
CREATIVITY & POSITIVITY
Many teens are taking the opportunity to manage their mental wellbeing by getting creative and embracing the opportunity for quality family time:
“I’m heavily involved in the creative community. Because school is not allowed to give us schoolwork for two weeks, we’ve decided to use these two weeks of life being on pause, to create and to feel free to explore… So people are writing songs, people are writing plays, people are trying out new mediums… I’m trying out painting which I’ve never really done before. So as a creative community we are coming together in order to make light of the situation and use it for good.” Isabella, 18, USA
“I’m staying at home, having a lot of time for myself. I started to play the guitar and use my camera again to take some shots. And I’m also starting to paint again which is great because I’ve wanted to start it again for a pretty long time now, but I didn’t have time because of school.” Zhaniya, 15, Kazakhstan
“I like how it’s allowing me to get closer to my family and have quality time but that’s the only benefit.” Katie, 16, Ireland
Teens are stressed and scared. Try not to overwhelm with information. If you can think of anything you can do to alleviate any pressures or anxieties they are facing - whether that’s through open and accurate communications, or lighthearted distractions they could get creative with - do.
The uncertainty with timelines is something we’re all dealing with right now. Think about how you could create a digital experience that reduces the feelings of ‘fomo’ among teens. Could you create a positive, unforgettable online experience that young people will appreciate now and remember for years to come?
It’s important in these times to also remind teens to minimise their contact with each other by encouraging them to try new/different activities at home. How could you encourage people to stay safe and use their time well? We’ve been working with RTÉ (Ireland’s National Broadcaster) on the ‘Create Don’t Contaminate’ campaign since last Sunday - encouraging young people to keep their physical distance from others - and to get creative while they are at it. Check it out and get involved in the daily challenges via the hashtag #CreateDontContaminate.
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