The COVID-19 pandemic has completely upended the lives of young people. Just a few months ago, we lamented the overscheduling of youth who spent hours of time on extracurriculars and homework after jam-packed school days. Almost overnight, classes went virtual and those out-of-school activities disappeared. In an instant, young people across the country have had to adapt to a way of life different from anything they’ve ever known. They’ve redefined their relationships with their teachers, families, friends, and technology.
So what do they think of all of this?
To put it simply, young people are dealing with a lot. According to our partner DoSomething, 94% of young people are concerned about COVID-19. These concerns take many forms: 63% of youth say that the health of themselves and their loved ones is their greatest priority, 82.5% fear that we’re reopening the country too soon, and 92% are worried about the toll the virus is taking on the economy.
However, youth are responding to this uncertainty with resilience and creativity. In the same survey from DoSomething, we learned that 34% of young people have begun to supplement their classes with independent online learning, 58% have picked up a new hobby, and 61% are doing indoor exercise.
We wanted to dig deeper into the complex reality that young people face today. So we asked a few teenagers how they’re handling the “new normal” of COVID-19.
Here’s what we learned.
SCE: How has school changed since this all started? What have been the biggest challenges? Are there any silver linings?
Gus, 14: “My school’s program was already self-directed, so it’s been an easier transition for me. I actually like what we’re doing now—I can wake up a little bit later, and I’m pretty good at managing my time so the flexible schedule works for me. Change is good!”
Alyssa, 15: “Honestly, I hadn’t realized how much I looked forward to going to school. Extracurriculars like soccer have been cancelled. It’s a real bummer.”
Ruben, 15: “Now, school is more at my own pace, which works better for me. Self-motivation is key.”
Susi, 16: “For me, it’s more difficult. I’m a very studious person, and even I’m procrastinating a lot. Normally I have lots of people pushing me, but now I have to be my own advocate.”
Khymari, 17: “One big thing that’s changed has been college applications. Because of COVID-19, scholarships are pushing back their application dates and the dates when you’ll hear back, so seniors have to choose which school they’re going to without knowing whether they’ve gotten a scholarship.”
SCE: What has changed about your relationships with your friends and family?
Diego, 15: “I’m really close with my friends, and now I can’t see them. I still text and FaceTime them all the time, but now it feels a little awkward.”
Susi, 16: “I was really down the first week, and I felt like nobody cared about me or what I was going through. I stopped turning in my work. My principal checked in with my mom, and we set up a call with my teacher. After that, something moved in me. Talking to my teacher made me realize that people did care—including the adults in my life.”
Khymari, 17: “My friends and I do a lot of video chats and Netflix parties. We also are still making plans for prom and graduation. We know that they aren’t going to happen, but it still boosts our spirits.”
SCE: Are you using technology any differently?
Gus, 14: “Technology hasn’t changed for me, but my brothers and I are using it a lot more. Our parents set some limits around our tech use, but they mostly trust us to make our own boundaries.”
Alyssa, 15: “Technology gives me an opportunity to talk to family and friends, but we’re still losing some connection. It’s hard to avoid getting distant.”
Khymari, 17: “The tone of social media has definitely changed. Way more people are talking about COVID-19, and I’m seeing a lot of people spread conspiracy theories and rumors. Different generations also are using social media in different ways. I’ve had to tell older relatives when something is fake news!”
SCE: What are you learning from this?
Gus, 14: “This whole situation is out of my control, so there’s no point in stressing about it if I can avoid it.”
Diego, 15: “I want to spend more time with my family once this is all over. I’m really appreciating the time I spend with my family now.”
Ruben, 15: “I appreciate having more time. There are so many things that I’ve said I wanted to do forever, and now I have the time to do them.”
Susi, 16: “I woke up pretty early for school, and I was usually on the bus by 6:00 AM. I miss taking public transportation and watching the sun rise. I want to appreciate the little things like that.”
Khymari, 17: “I’m going to remember how brands reacted to this, and that will affect whether I support those companies in the future. I’m also looking at how colleges—how did they treat their students during this time?”
As we continue to endure, adapt to, and recover from the shifting landscape of COVID-19, we must also keep young people like Gus, Susi, and Khymari in mind. Youth are deeply affected by the pandemic, but they often lack opportunities to voice their needs or share their opinions. Alongside our nonprofit partners, we’re committed to elevating youth voice and helping young people thrive—through this pandemic and beyond.