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The Reality of Covid-19 Is Hitting Teens Especially Hard

Author: Christopher Null

Null, Christopher. “The Reality of Covid-19 Is Hitting Teens Especially Hard.” Wired, Conde Nast, 6 Apr. 2020,

A teenage girl watches a series on the bed in her room


JUST A FEW weeks ago, the conversation in my household revolved around one thing: Where my daughter was going to college. She’s a senior in high school, high-achieving, and very driven. We spent the fall slaving over college essays and applications, 11 in total. The wait to hear from the schools she applied to was agonizing for her, and even though today’s college admissions messaging is fully electronic, she would even bring in the mail at the end of each day—otherwise unheard of in our household—to see if there was something from a school waiting for her.

Now all we talk about is Covid-19.

The coronapocalypse has been devastating for us adults, but its impact on teenagers is arguably far greater. At age 48, I’ve seen a fair number of society’s ups and downs. I was born during Watergate, panicked about nuclear holocaust thanks to The Day After as a tween, and watched the first Gulf War unfold on the televisions in my college’s student union. Sure, I wasn’t standing in bread lines or facing the firebombing of my city, but the last 48 years have had their share of tragedy and upheaval.

Zoe was born in 2002, a year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Things were looking up at the time, and they’ve stayed pretty rosy by comparison. Yes, we had the invasion of Iraq, the spike in school shootings, climate change, the 2008 housing crisis, and #MeToo, but we also had an unprecedented explosion in both creativity and commerce. All of the tech services we now love, from Facebook to Netflix, got started in these years. Barack Obama was president—for eight years. The iPhone was invented, and they got Osama bin Laden.

Even the election of Donald Trump couldn’t take much of the shine off the last two decades. As of 2019, our “Goldilocks economy” was seeing the lowest level of unemployment since 1969, minimal inflation, and a stock market at its all-time high. Not only was Zoe going to college, we were going to be able to pay for it and she was going to be able to get a job when she graduated.

In the space of a few weeks, none of those things are certain any more, and it’s hitting her hard.

But most of all, they are bored. God, how teens are bored. Many schools have hastily implemented online learning, but teens widely dismiss it as ineffective, at least for now. “Online schooling is mostly a joke,” Zoe says, “just to say that we ‘did school.’ I do maybe 30 minutes of work a day now. The Zoom chats are super unproductive, just a waste of time.”

Without hours and hours of daily structure, teens are left to fill virtually the entire day alone, and technology is not providing the answer. Netflix and Xbox can only get you so far.

Every teen I spoke to cited how crushingly bored they had become in just a few days. Aiden (16, Alamo, California) says the boredom is causing him to “go crazy.” Jackson in South Carolina says: “It’s so bad it can disrupt my sleeping. If this lasts a lot longer, everyone will be so bored. We’re going to have to come up with a new way to do things.”

There’s a lot of denial in the mix as well, though that is probably not unique to teens. The “taking it one day at a time” metaphor was also well-cited in my conversations.

So how do you help a teen cope? My personal experience would suggest you can’t, that you are best off staying out of a teen’s way, but Ryan Fedoroff, National Director of Education at Newport Academy, a mental health treatment center for teens and young adults, offers some tips. She says, “Be compassionate and truly listen to your child when they speak about their worries and the fact that they are upset with activities being canceled. It’s important to validate their feelings during this time, even if they are disappointed and sad. Ask your child how you can support them through this time. It is important to not try and solve their problems when they are upset. Just show compassion, validate, and be present.”

She also notes, and this is important, that kids watch adults for psychological cues. “If you are obsessively and overtly worried about coronavirus, or continuously mentioning how upset you are that their activities are canceled, your kids will likely have anxiety about it too. We all need to vent, but try to do it in a private place where your children can’t hear you.”

Fedoroff also suggests trying to create as much structure as possible in a teen’s life: family meals, workouts, and reasonable “virtual learning time.” (Khan Academy is still an awesome online tool.) If graduation is canceled, you can have one at home on Zoom. Good news: Your kid is the valedictorian and gets to make a speech! Remember, this is an event that will define a teen’s outlook for the rest of their life, a virtual 9/11 for Gen-Z. Positivity is unilaterally a good thing wherever you can find it.

Zoe does have a glimmer of optimism and hope underneath it all, as most teens do, as we all do. “I’m still hopeful that this is temporary,” she says. “I’m not ready to give up the last three months of school, the last three months of being a kid. I want to prepare for the worst, but that’s not me. If I think that way, I’ll fall apart.”

Really, she just wants a little more time, a few weeks to finish her high school career strong and officially close the book on her adolescence. More than prom, more than graduation, more than a medal in track, it’s clear there’s one thing she wants more than anything: the chance to say goodbye.

DMU Timestamp: March 26, 2020 18:18

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