For many, high school is a quintessential part of the American experience. Prom, athletic events, drama performances, school traditions, lifelong friendships: these are in the fabric of adolescence—the things worth cherishing for years to come. And while everyone’s high school experience differs, none will compare to the unprecedented now.
As of April 8, 2020, 180 countries suspended schools across all levels to prevent the spread of COVID-19, forcing millions of students into a sinkhole of uncertainty. And while remote learning has allowed some students to thrive, for many: this is a time of mourning. Especially those who feel robbed of these pivotal moments.
Student Interviews on Mental Health during Lockdown
The implications for talking to teens about mental health are staggering. Shelter-in-place, social distancing, and remote learning save lives, but also pose grave implications on adolescents’ mental health. First-year high school students from the most affected area of Washington state, Hailey and Yuriy, discuss how the pandemic has challenged them to intentionally and consistently care for their mental health. Their commitment to flexibility and optimism shows that many adolescents are more resilient than we may give them credit for.
“This pandemic has affected me in both positive and negative ways,” Hailey reflected: “I’ve felt more motivated and driven in my schoolwork with the endless amount of time I have.”
Still, like many students, Hailey finds herself sometimes falling into a “coma of laziness, making it impossible to get up and be productive.” And one of the main adversaries against productivity is the endless amount of content social media offers us, which can often leave us feeling more distant than connected: “At times, I’ve just stared at my phone for countless hours.” This, she admitted, has caused her to feel both “lonely and empty at some points.”
The Silver Linings for Teenage Students
What’s helped her, though, is reconnecting with friends and finding happiness and joy around her. “I’ve done a lot of small crafts: I love making lunch or breakfast for my mom and brother, and I’ve loved spending time with my animals.” Before the pandemic, Hailey often took these blessings for granted. But now, “I’ve learned to appreciate the things around me more.”
Yuriy too expressed the blessings this pandemic has revealed to him: “thanks to my family, teachers, and friends, I am able to keep a positive attitude while completing my schoolwork and staying in shape.”
Lucky for those in the Evergreen state, the pandemic has widened the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors, which Yuriy has taken advantage of. “I am so glad the governor has allowed Washingtonians to go fishing because it’s one of my favorite activities. I’ve gone fishing a few times now and have caught quite a few fish! It’s very relaxing and fun.”
What’s helped both Hailey and Yuriy balance their obligations and maintain strong mental health is the support of their family, friends, and teachers. “My mom makes an effort to go to the park with me or even just go get a drink from a coffee stand with me every day,” Hailey shared, “we like doing this just because it’s important to get out of the house (while social distancing). Being stuck at home makes it feel like the days just blend together, which for me, makes it tough to find energy and motivation to get through the entire day. So just getting out of the house with my mom for a little built each day really refreshes and cleans my mindset.”
Yuriy too reflected on the ways his teachers have supported him during this time: “what I have come to understand is that our teachers want to see us succeed. No teacher that I know would ever want to see a student go down a bad path and fail their class. If anyone needs help or has a question, they can just contact their teacher and the teacher will do their very best to assist them with anything they’re struggling with.” Yuriy’s noted that his parents’ support has helped him succeed academically as well: “my parents have been making sure that I get my work done, and they’ve been making sure that I’m eating well too. Some things can be easy to forget, and even a little reminder from my parents helps me out extremely.”
Finding Inner Strength
Remote learning has also pushed these two students to find their inner strength and resiliency like never before. “During this time, I have learned that anything is possible as long as you put your mind to it. This phrase has been said many times, but it holds true meaning.” Besides maintaining strong grades, Yuriy is also dedicated to becoming a better, stronger athlete. “I have tried to stay healthy throughout this remote learning. Lifting weights at school was something that I would just do. Now that I have to lift at home, it is a bit different because I don’t feel as motivated to do so but I know that I really should. My football coaches have recommended that I focus on lifting weights so that I can get stronger for the football season. I am taking their advice because getting stronger and faster is something I really want to do.”
Hailey has also pushed herself to take control of her happiness. “In order to feel good and happy, it’s essential that I’m productive and active every day. I obviously don’t have perfect days all the time, but the best way for me to mentally take care of myself is to get dressed, make a nice meal, go outside, and be away with my phone.”
Hailey and Yuriy aren’t just lucky: they are resilient. And while neither are completely free from hardships, they are dedicated to go beyond simply surviving this pandemic. When asked if they could share any words of wisdom with other students wrestling to stabilize their mental health, Hailey encouraged her peers to always remind themselves of the beauty around them. “It’s so hard to find happiness and motivation amidst these times, but if you just find the small blessings around you, it really can make a difference and hopefully make your day a little better.”
Why you Should Help Mentor a Teen Today
Supporting adolescents throughout these unprecedented times will help them grow into resilient adults. Once this pandemic subsides and the United States returns to some semblance of normal, the coping skills they learn will help them battle adversity for years to come. So whether you’re a parent, relative, or influential adult in a teen’s life, help them cultivate habits of success now.