From gaining a better understanding of themselves and learning lifelong lessons to struggling with their mental health and education, teens are creating a new normal as they attend online school and grow accustomed to a pandemic that has forced them to see more of family and less of friends and teachers.
“I think adults don’t understand how hard it is to be a teenager during covid,” said Caelan Jones, a 10th grader at Dominion High School in Virginia.
Still, they are coping by enjoying quality time with family, focusing on improving themselves through meditation, and rethinking their future career plans.
A year into the coronavirus pandemic, middle school and high school students shared with the PBS NewsHour what it’s like to be a young person in America today and what they’re looking forward to in a post-pandemic world.
Neena Peterson, 11th grade, Dominion High School, Virginia: Despite being locked in my bedroom alone, I saw myself go through so many changes that I came out an entirely new person, and arguably someone who I like a lot better.
Carlos McWhorter, 10th grade, Frederick V Pankow Center, Michigan: I think the pandemic has shaped me into a better person because I’ve been reading a lot more, working out, talking to people a lot more at home than I would in school.
Marshall Burkhalter, 11th grade, Oak Ridge High School, Texas: Before quarantine, I was pretty antisocial due to a lack of confidence. But through meditation, I developed a deeper understanding of myself and a higher level of comfort with who I am as a person.
Max Castillo, Oakland Military Institute, California: I feel like I think more realistically now, because now that I’m getting closer to graduation, I’m getting closer to turning 18. And I see I’m going to be an adult soon. And something big like this has happened. You know, history happened.
Michael Hand, 11th grade, Atlantic County Institute of Technology, New Jersey: I’m now living as a transgender man, and it’s crazy that last year I still hadn’t really put together the pieces of why I felt certain ways about certain things. But with quarantine, there was nothing to do except think, so I thought about how I really feel about myself and how I feel about different things in my life and how certain pronouns made me feel. And I came to the realization that I’m a man.
Pandemic life lessons
Christopher Cummings,12th grade, Frederick V Pankow Center, Michigan: I’d say I’ve learned not to really take human interaction for granted because honestly, I think the isolation is starting to take a toll on me.
Grace Youngblood, 9th grade, Etiwanda High School, California: I think that it’s going to take people a very long time to process and deal with this all because so many people have gone through so much. And I think we really need to remember this…and how people handled this and how people stepped up and people did things that they weren’t prepared to do.
Tiffany Rodriguez, 11th grade, Franklin Learning Center, Pennsylvania: This virus has taken hundreds of thousands of lives including my own family members and I thought that it would take mine too but to me, beating this virus was an eye opener. In a way, it taught me to love and appreciate myself in the moment.
Makaila Dillard, 12th grade, Clay-Chalkville High School, Alabama: Since I was by myself a lot, I learned to always care for yourself. You should always care for others, but to a certain extent, you know. Make sure that you are OK as a person, make sure that your mental health is straight. Don’t put others above you. Put yourself on the top.
Harrison Ruskin, 8th grade, Novi Middle School, Michigan: I realized how fast germs can really actually spread, and I really learned…how important family is and like how much you really should care about your family.
Mental health struggles
Davina Doshi, 8th grade, Novi Middle School, Michigan: An adult goes through a lot of stress, but being in a pandemic at the age of 13 actually can take a toll on how stressful it can be.
Janice Aragon, 11th grade, Brentwood High School, New York: Schools need to be doing more than just posting hotlines on the team’s page and instead reaching out to students who are struggling because of the pandemic, struggling with academics or socially, mentally. There needs to be more outreach from educators.
Matthew Lyons, 12th grade, Abington High School, Massachusetts: As much as I love being home, working on my computer, watching movies, nothing can replace the feeling you get when you’re out with friends, when you’re with family, when you’re taking a walk in the park, when you’re doing something that’s outside and with someone else.
A learning curve
Alla Abdelhalim, 9th grade, Dominion High School, Virginia: I was so used to having my teachers teaching in front of me, so when they weren’t right in front of me, I just felt like I didn’t really have anything holding me accountable to my work. And I didn’t really treat it like real school. So I would procrastinate a lot.
Caelan Jones, 10th grade, Dominion High School, Virginia: I think adults don’t understand how hard it is to be a teenager during covid because we were just separated from our friends and everything we knew back at school and then having to turn around and use platforms we’ve never used before, like Zoom and Google Meet was a learning curve.
Marissa Anderson, 11th grade, Canyon High School, California: This pandemic had dramatically changed what I would like to do as a career. Pre-pandemic I wanted to go be a social worker to aid people and make their lives better as much as I could. However, once the pandemic hit, I realized that healthcare workers help so many more people daily and that’s what I truly wanted to do. Now I want to become a nurse in order to help as many people as I can within my life.
Sara Stanislawski, 12th grade, Wauwatosa West High School, Wisconsin: Since the pandemic has started, I have followed a lot of the coverage from local news outlets and local media outlets and seeing that the local journalism provides so much crucial information to communities, especially during covid-19 and the current situation, it really inspired me as a student journalist to tell important stories about our community that matter and seeing that local coverage and helping to provide local coverage for my own community.
Alexandra Malan, 8th grade, Novi Middle School, Michigan: I was thinking about doing a lot of different jobs before the pandemic, and I think a teacher had always been an idea. But I think watching the teachers, especially at my school, interact with students and teachers even as we were through Zoom was really inspiring because even though we weren’t in class, they were still trying to reach out and make the best of the situation. I think that’s what I would want, to be able to make that connection between a teacher and a student.
Tiffany Rodriguez, Franklin Learning Center, Pennsylvania: My plans weren’t to even go to college but living in unprecedented times like these showed me that I have to stop planning for the future based off of the comfort I have now in the present.
When the pandemic is over
Nick Schultz, 11th grade, Frederick V Pankow Center, Michigan: When the pandemic’s over, I can’t wait to see when people really consider it over because there is no way it’s going to be over just on a set date. So I think it’s going to be a very undefined line so I’m curious what that looks like.
Matt Micheletti, 11th grade, Atlantic County Institute of Tech, New Jersey: It seems like an arduous or difficult task to get back into the swing of things when the order of the way you do things has been completely messed up throughout the year.
Zoe Reemmer, 10th grade, Atlantic County Institute of Tech, New Jersey: What’s the first thing I want to do after the pandemic restrictions are lifted? I’m really not a huggy person. I don’t love physical contact, but the first thing I want to do is probably hug my best friend.
Karl Berno, 11th grade, Frederick V Pankow Center, Michigan: I can’t wait to just go back to normal with, you know, seeing friends and family get to see everybody smile, everybody laugh. I really miss that in my life, it really brought a warm feeling to my heart. That’s what I wish. That’s why I can’t wait to be back.