Although severe cases of COVID-19 mainly affect the elderly and physically immunocompromised, young people have been emotionally and mentally challenged over the past two years. High school students ranging from freshmen to seniors had shared and varied experiences. While all have done their best to adapt to a new normal of remote learning, each individual has handled sudden and unexpected changes differently depending on their situation.
Quarantine restrictions have forced schools across the country to switch to remote learning. “No one was prepared, not even my teachers. The lessons were more like recorded videos. I felt lonely learning everything because I was reading and doing homework all day,” said an Asian American teenager from Connecticut. Without the ability to see their friends and teachers at school, high school teenagers suddenly found themselves staring at computer screens. all day. Attending classes practically led to feelings of social isolation, increased general anxiety, and limited educational support from teachers outside of scheduled class times. A September 2020 poll found that 59% of teens viewed online school as worse than in-person education, with 19% describing it as “much worse”.
Some students felt that remote learning caused them to fall behind in scheduled subjects and curricula. The class didn’t seem as productive and engaging, and some middle schoolers starting their freshman year felt unprepared. “I’m a freshman this year, but straight out of my college days with distance and blended learning, I felt way behind,” said an Asian-American student living in MA.
The United States has relied heavily on technology during the pandemic. In addition to online learning, teens were using their devices to stay in touch with friends and family, attend virtual health appointments and, most importantly, for recreational purposes, to stream videos, play video games and other forms of entertainment. It has also led to an increase in mental health problems among teenagers. Social media use has increased by 39% among young people nationally. Although widely used as a coping mechanism, social media has also contributed to teenage stress. Social media provides both places of comfort and support in shared experiences, but also toxic environments of hate and shame. Over 70% of LGTQ+ teens and over 60% of POC teens said they felt affected by hate speech on social media platforms, and young girls also experienced a 30% increase in dissatisfaction with respect to their body and weight. “It was like an escape but also a trap. I felt drained, so I went on social media. But it just brought me back to that feeling, so the cycle continued,” said a Korean-American junior. living in New York.
The pandemic has exacerbated xenophobia and bigotry towards Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. Anti-Asian hate crimes jumped 169% in 15 major US cities between 2020 and 2021. A few Vietnamese American students tested positive for COVID-19 at a school of 1,000 in Everett, MA and felt the disdain of first hand. A minority of 5% in school, Asian American students felt judgment and fear from others. “It was bad enough with the Asian hate movement going on, but then people felt like it was kind of ‘proof’ that Asians had indeed spread COVID when a few of my friends have tested positive.” shared a Vietnamese-American freshman from Everett, MA.
In stark contrast, graduating seniors had a difficult year socially and felt like they missed out on traditions like prom and graduation. Many had to transition from high school to a college environment in a purely virtual setting. Even the already stressful college admissions process has been made more difficult due to changes in testing standardization and restrictions at visiting universities. With an imbalanced ratio of college counselors to students, many teens found their virtual college counselors to be impersonal and unhelpful.
Juniors who see their seniors go through such harsh isolated experiences are afraid of their senior year. Although most students have returned to school and in-person classes, some feel that it will still not be possible for them to go to university campuses and it is not certain that they will be able to celebrate their celebrations. before graduating from high school. Some also believe that lifting indoor mask mandates at school could be a “step backwards” from the progress schools have made in preventing cases and that it could be too soon. Physical health and safety remains a concern for students who sit close together in classrooms every day.
COVID-19 continues to have a huge impact on everyone’s life and rates of depression have doubled among young people. For some, a sense of security has been threatened. Others have lost the motivation and support needed to succeed in school or in their personal lives. Some are grieving and coping with the loss of a relative, friend or loved one to COVID-19.
Only time will tell the long-term impacts on today’s youth. The physical, emotional and mental health toll of children and adolescents has yet to be determined by research.
SAMPAN, published by the nonprofit Asian American Civic Association, is New England’s only Chinese-English bilingual newspaper, acting as a bridge between Asian American community organizations and individuals in the Greater Boston area. It is published biweekly and distributed free throughout the Boston subway; it also ships as far as Hawaii.