TWI Issue: Teens in Quarantine

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Even under normal circumstances, teenagers are prone to anxiety and fear. They already have plenty to stress about, including classwork, grades, and their own emerging identities. The uncertainty of the situation has added even more stress. And yet they are trying their best to cope.

Sahana Narayan

This time of quarantine is unprecedented, one of much stress and strife. People all over the world are struggling to adapt to this new reality, one in which in-person interaction is replaced by video conferencing and family-members are displaced from one another. Worst of all is the fear that there is no clear end in sight. No one knows when the virus will subside.

Adolescents are badly impacted, who under normal circumstances are prone to anxiety and fear. They already have plenty to stress about, including classwork, grades, and their own emerging identities. The uncertainty of the situation has added even more stress; many people fear that quarantine will never end.

In an attempt to curb the spread of coronavirus, many New Jersey school-districts shut down the week of March 9, and Governor Phil Murphy has declared that all schools are to remain closed at least until April 17. However, in the time that has elapsed, students are becoming more and more fearful that they may never return to school this year. Even students who would normally dislike school now pine for social-interaction.

“Not enjoyable whatsoever,” says a New Jersey senior about quarantine, who has asked to remain anonymous. “I miss seeing everyone in school, and it sucks to think that I might not see them before I go to college. Honestly, I have never wanted to be in school more.”

Now that traditional instruction is no longer possible, students are now learning through online platforms such as Google Classroom and Zoom. These platforms are not new by any means; teachers were already utilizing them long before quarantine. However, the difference is that Classroom now replaces, instead of supplementing, face-to-face interaction. Many students are finding it hard to adjust to the changes.

“School is difficult every day,” says Josephine, a sophomore in New Jersey. “It’s definitely more stressful to have online classes, because you can easily miss a class and suddenly everything goes out-of-hand. Without being able to see my friends, the online work is very stressful.” Many teens who prefer the structure of school are finding it difficult to manage online classes, because of the lag in instruction and completion of work. Students’ performance suffers when they are unable to speak with their teachers about assignments; although teachers are trying their hardest by monitoring their emails, nothing replaces face-to-face interaction.

“I feel that some of the teachers underestimate the amount of time it takes to complete certain assignments,” says a senior in New Jersey, who has requested anonymity. “In some classes I get more work than what we would’ve done if we were in school.”

Perhaps the worst part is that teens are unable to see each other. During school hours, as well as in the weekends, students were able to meet with their friends and chat, which is an important stress-reliever. However, very little of that is possible now. Although students are utilizing Zoom and other apps to chat with their friends, it is not the same as hanging out.

“I really miss my friends and my teachers,” says Sophia, a junior in New Jersey. “I miss normal. No one really knows how long it’s gonna last, which really contributes to my stress.”

However, not all of it is negative. Now that there’s a lot more free time, many teens are using it in constructive ways. From drawing and practicing music to spending time with their families, many are finding good uses of the break from school.

“I have started running every day to stay healthy and happy,” says Hanna, a senior in New Jersey. “I also go on bike rides, which I never would’ve done before quarantine. I sing a lot around my house and I stay informed with everything happening in the Broadway community.”

As for the schoolwork, teachers are doing their best to accommodate students in this difficult time. Many are uploading video-casts to Google Classroom, explaining the lesson at hand. Others are simply abridging the amount of work. Some students are not finding this helpful, but many are.

“The schoolwork isn’t too difficult,” says Bella, a freshman in New Jersey, “because my teachers understand our situation at home isn’t the same as in school. It’s not very stressful for me and the transition is not that hard.”

In addition to helping with schoolwork, teachers are providing support in many other ways. “I was able to support a student who was rejected from a top college,” says Dr. McGraw, a school-librarian in New Jersey. “It is important for teens to know they are not out there alone and that the students are always first and foremost in our thoughts – we cheer at your successes and cry along with you at your defeats.”

There is still room for improvement, though. There are many more avenues schools and communities can take to make sure students feel supported during this time.

“My professors are adjusting the workload to meet the new circumstances,” Hannah, a freshman at Rutgers University, says. “But I think schoolwork is more stressful than normal when working at home. It was easier when I could ask other students questions and relax in my college dorm. I have a stable situation at home, but I know that’s not true for many of my friends. It’s important for teachers to be understanding and accommodating, and for students to return the favor.” She believes that students and teachers can both do their part to make the transition much easier for everyone, and keep open lines of communication.

“Keeping transparency and contacting students and families is essential,” Grace, a senior in Maryland, agrees. “My county is providing Chromebooks and lunches at certain locations to help students who either don’t have access to Internet or who rely on school-lunches for some of their meals. This has helped some people in my area so that no one is left behind during the virus.”

Teens can take steps to feel more stable, too. “It is important to have a routine during this time, so that students can find motivation to do schoolwork,” says Ms. Shmuler, a school-counselor in New Jersey. “The anxiety is caused by uncertainty, so having a certain routine can mitigate said anxiety. Having some kind of outlet or activity to do is also really helpful. Even if it’s just chatting with people through Zoom, that’s important.”

Despite the impact the virus has had on their communities, many teens express optimism that this time will pass, and life will resume as normal when it is over. Although sad at missed opportunities, many are looking towards the future.

“I think that this period of quarantine is an odd time for all of us,” says a senior in New Jersey. “I’m sad that our senior traditions may not be happening, and that I may not be able to do my senior internship, have prom or graduation, or see my classmates. But I’m very thankful that my family and I are healthy. Even though this time is difficult, I’m hopeful that we’ll get through this.”

The virus will pass, and so will the quarantine. No one knows when for sure, but it certainly will. Until then, it is important for communities to work together, and for teens to stay sound-of-mind.

Sahana Narayan is a senior in high school. She loves reading and writing, and has written many stories of her own. Her short stories pull together a blend of American culture, Asian culture, and worldview ideas. She is the editor-in-chief of her school’s literary-magazine.

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