Changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing have greatly impacted teens. They’re not in school or seeing friends in person, and many are struggling with the reality of missing milestones they had looked forward to celebrating, like graduation or prom.
It’s normal for teens to feel anxious during this period of their lives, and we want them to know they’re not alone. We checked in with our teen advisory council to see how this time has impacted them, how they’re coping with these changes, and their tips for other teens struggling with changes prompted by COVID-19. Despite the challenges of this uncertain time, they also shared good things that have come out of this period.
Read on for their experiences and advice, plus more tips from CHOC experts.
Layla, age 14
I’ve had two performances, a school tradition and my spring musical postponed. My volleyball season is paused, and sadly, I do not think that we will be able to resume. The first week of cancellations and postponements was very rough, with more and more bad news piling on top of each other.
Strangely, as much as I miss my friends, I have not been contacting them as much as I thought I would. A huge part of our friendship was seeing each other every day at school and having many opportunities to joke around. Since being in quarantine, I find myself texting them about once a day.
Instead of talking with my friends a lot, I have been having more alone time. This has given plenty of time to think, which has come to be both good and bad. Sometimes when I am alone too long, I begin to feel negative and I put myself down. The most effective way of balancing this out with good is hanging out with my family or trying out new activities and putting my energy toward productive things.
There are good things that have come out of this time. One of my favorite things to do is to discover and listen to new music, and I have had a lot of time to do that recently. Another good thing is that I feel like I got a break. Before, I was balancing school, theater, volleyball and other extracurriculars, and my life seemed to be moving incredibly fast. This time has given me a chance to reflect and take a breath.
My advice to others is that it’s important to remember that during this time, we are all sacrificing something so that our Earth can heal sooner.
Carina, age 17
Some special events that have been canceled or postponed because of stay at home orders includes my junior year softball season and a concert. The softball season getting canceled was really disappointing considering my teammates and I have been practicing hard almost every day before we got the news. Currently, the softball season is over, but I see my teammates and my coaches every Monday through video calls. My concert getting postponed was devastating because it is an experience that you can’t recreate on a video screen. The energy, the music, and the emotion are all something that I was looking forward to, especially since junior year was getting stressful.
I’ve kept in touch with friends by having a group chat via text and group FaceTime with them almost every day. Most of my friends have been keeping themselves busy with schoolwork and video games. However, we know that if someone calls the group chat, they are lonely. That’s why most of us answer the call and talk about school or relationship drama. It is really effective, and we can add anyone to the call at any time. I also play video games with my friends and it helps me work on my problem-solving skills within a group while also joking around and having fun.
The stay at home orders aren’t difficult to follow, but being able to see my friends has taken a toll on my emotions. I have sometimes struggled with motivation to do my schoolwork or exercise but this time has given me a chance to reflect on what I want to do in my future in regard to college and beyond.
During this stressful time, I have noticed that I am more aggravated and have less of a patience with my brothers and family, but that talking to my friends over the phone helps me a lot.
The good thing about these stay at home orders is that I get to spend more time with my family and get to do some of my hobbies. This has given me more time to write in my journal, sew and draw with all my free time. I also have more time to focus on my homework and actually work through problems rather than find a quick solution and not understand the concept.
Lauren, age 15
My church had several events planned that were canceled or postponed. This has impacted me a lot because my faith is very important to me, and with mass gatherings being cancelled it has been quite a challenge to adjust to new routines. My family also had to cancel a few fun events like our kayaking trip and other bonding activities. Having these events cancelled has made me really sad because it prevents me from spending time with some of my family and closest friends.
To keep in touch with friends, I have been FaceTiming and texting them every day so we can chat and catch up. Working together on school assignments has also allowed me to collaborate with my friends.
The pandemic has its ups and downs regarding my emotions and mental health. While staying at home allows me to have more time for myself, it takes away a lot of the social aspects of my life. Staying home has its perks, such as how it has allowed me to dedicate more time to self-care, learn new hobbies, and relieve me of the pressure that comes with going to school with other students and teachers. I’ve also been able to catch up on all the sleep I missed out on during the school year. I have also taken more time to read the books I didn’t get the chance to finish, and to finish learning piano pieces. Distance learning has allowed me to work on schoolwork at my own pace rather than following a specific schedule at school.
I am closer to my family as a whole as a result of being quarantined since we are spending all of our time with each other. We have been going on family walks around the neighborhood and nearby trails.
Zoe, age 16
COVID-19 has caused a lot of cancellations. I was planning on spending a day at Disneyland with my friends on my birthday, but Disneyland has closed until further notice. I still find time to catch up with my friends, however. FaceTime and Zoom calls have been a good pastime and a great way to keep in touch.
In terms of my emotional state, it’s been difficult to stay positive when nothing is definitive. Everything is up in the air and there’s no answer to when things will return to normal. There are a few positives, however. I have a lot more time during the day due to the fact that all schooling is online. I get to watch more movies since I can’t go outside and it’s a lot easier to relax. I get to spend more time with my sister and parents which has certainly brought us closer.
Overall the coronavirus has made it hard for everyone in at least some way, but everyone is learning new ways to adapt and thrive in uncertainty.
Christian, age 17
I am currently a senior in high school and all my senior activities, including prom, graduation and grad night have been canceled. Our graduation ceremony will be virtual, and the day we get to pick up our diploma I must wear a mask and gloves and I am allowed 10 minutes to clean my locker out and leave the campus. My family had to cancel an upcoming vacation that was originally planned to celebrate my graduation and my parents’ 20th wedding anniversary. All these changes made me very upset. I felt robbed because I spent my entire life working very hard to get to this moment of graduation, yet I will not receive a celebration or commencement as others have received.
I am now feeling better and I am thankful that my family and I have been healthy through this pandemic. Also, knowing that I am not the only one dealing with this has helped. I am among many students in this country not able to walk across the stage on graduation and celebrate their achievements with the people they love. I feel this pandemic has brought many students together and knowing my generation, we will come up with a way to make up for our losses.
During this time, I have mostly kept in touch with my friends through texting and social media. I have also played video games with a few of them to pass the time, which has been fun. Although in the end, talking to them through social media or a video game is just not the same as physically being able to talk to them.
Since the start of the stay at home order, I have noticed my mental health change as a result. After a while of no major human contact, except for close family, it starts to get a little lonely. I have also noticed that sometimes I get the feeling of frustration from being indoors all day. Despite these feelings, I try my best to stay occupied so that these feelings do not occur.
While most of the effects of this pandemic have been negative, I have noticed some positives. One example is that I have been able to spend more time with my immediate family. Since the start of social distancing, we have been watching more movies, playing board games together and cooking. Before this pandemic we were all so busy and hardly spent time together. Now we do a lot of activities together and I am thankful for this time with my family.
Trevor, age 16
My volleyball season and my 16th birthday party were canceled due to COVID-19. It’s a shame the season had to end. We went undefeated last year and I was looking forward to repeating our success. My mom did the best she could to still celebrate my birthday under the circumstances. We got takeout from my favorite restaurant and she even had a cake shipped here from New York City.
I’ve kept in touch with my friends through social media and group chats, but I’ve started to feel claustrophobic. My room’s four walls seem closer than usual. I play video games, do homework, browse social media, and even eat some meals in my room for a change in routine.
A good thing that has come out of this time is that I’ve gotten even closer to my mom.
Sam, age 13
Some birthdays, graduation and school festivals have been canceled. I have kept in touch with friends through FaceTime, Zoom, texting and phone calls. Once I found out we could do group FaceTimes, I was so excited to be able to talk to more than one of my friends at a time and actually see all their faces at once. Zoom and Google Meet have also been super helpful for soccer team meetings and school meetings.
I have noticed that I am becoming much less social since I have not seen my friends in more than one month. Though I have been talking to my friends on the phone, it is different from being able to interact and see them in person.
During this quarantine, I have much more down time to spend with my family. Since both my parents work in the hospital and work pretty much every day, I have had a ton of time to get to know my grandpa and learn more about him since he doesn’t live with us full-time. I have also learned to be more productive and active during the day because of this extra time from no school or soccer practice. I have taken this time to really take care of myself and family.
Tips for parents of teens struggling with stay-at-home orders
Many teens are complying with stay at home orders and social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, many of us have also heard stories about teens who were seen hanging out with friends in large groups, celebrating birthday parties in person, as well as being upset with parents who are trying to implement rules to keep their families safe. For those cases where teens are struggling to understand the seriousness of the pandemic, and observe social distancing, the question is, how do we promote increased teen understanding and compliance? Read more from a CHOC mental health therapist here.
How to help your teen cope with COVID-19 cancellations
To high school seniors, schools being closed doesn’t equal a vacation – to them, this is time they won’t get back with their friends. It’s normal for teens to feel anxious during this period of their lives, as they close one chapter and begin another. However, teens may feel especially anxious as they realize they may never walk through their high school hallways again, attend prom, perform in their final theater production, compete in their final season, or celebrate graduation.
If you’re a parent or guardian of a teen who is struggling with a loss of control and trying to cope with canceled celebrations, we have tips for talking about it and coping. Read more from a CHOC psychologist here.
Get mental health resources from CHOC pediatric experts
The mental health team at CHOC curated the following resources on mental health topics common to kids and teens, such as depression, anxiety, suicide prevention and more.