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How the COVID-19 pandemic has affected teen girls: A year in review
Picture this: It’s March 15, 2020, and you just opened Twitter to see #coronavirus trending. As you scroll through the hashtag, you see articles featuring unfamiliar words like “social distancing” and “quarantine.” Later that day, you get a call from your school’s principal alerting you that your spring break has been extended another two weeks. You’re bummed that you won’t get to go to your school dance that week, but you’re excited for a few more days of sleeping in and relaxing with your family. You’re not stressed out, because your BFF said she heard this would *all* be over by summer.
Now...Back to 2021.
It's safe to assume that none of us *ever* expected we would still be living amidst the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic over a year later. What was once seen as an excuse for an extended spring break eventually morphed into a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of over 2.5 million people globally, with the United States’ death toll lingering around 524,000 deaths.
If early 2020 feels like a distant dream now, you're not alone. This period has been hard for Americans of every walk of life, but one demographic that is often left out of the conversation is teenagers. Across the world, teenagers are missing out on the rites of passage that generations have taken for granted as integral parts of their formative years.
While missing graduation and prom is unfortunate, the mental, physical and social repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic have been even more long-lasting and destructive for teenagers than many might presume.
If you're interested in learning about the mental health and socialization of teenagers, keep reading, because we examined the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has affected teenage girls over the past year and the results are sobering.
Disruption of normal routines:
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of billions of people around the globe, as it has changed the way we do school, work and function as a society. Because these key structural areas are responsible for maintaining societal expectations and rules, many teenagers adjusted their schedules to match their newfound freedom once the structure provided by in-person school and work disappeared.
These disruptions have caused many teenagers to begin functioning without the necessary amount of sleep, struggling to maintain a schedule and spending copious amounts of time on social media.
The pandemic has been difficult for a myriad of reasons, but atop of the list for many teenagers is social isolation. According to a study done by The Rox Institute, 80% of adolescent girls feel “more lonely and isolated than before,” which can be attributed to the rise of virtual learning and social distancing. Because most teenagers were used to spending upwards of eight hours a day with their peers, it was shocking to be sent home mid-semester without a chance to say goodbye.
It is understandably difficult to lose out on the fun memories you expect to make during your most formative years. From prom to graduation to late-night hangs with your friends, it is important to take time to grieve the social stimulation you had pre-pandemic, but make sure to invest some of that energy into finding new ways to have fun, too. Whether you and your besties meet up for socially distanced picnics or you plan weekly zoom calls, make sure to feed your social-side every once in a while.
The amount of family time that the average family spent together quickly increased in March of 2020. While many people found spending more time with their families fulfilling, many households also experienced increases in disagreements among family members, especially due to the lack of traditional buffers and distractions that typically exist in the forms of school, work and extracurricular activities.
Now that teenagers are home more often, many teen girls have been asked to take on familial responsibilities like childcare, housework and part-time jobs, which can be difficult to balance while still taking classes.
According to a study by GENYOUth, the best way to address familial concerns and disputes is to communicate your feelings politely and directly when problems arise. Being transparent about your concerns will hopefully create an open-dialogue that will help all parties involved feel more understood throughout the remainder of the pandemic.
Between transitioning to online school, dealing with social isolation, losing structure and forgoing extracurricular activities, teens have been faced with enormous amounts of stress with limited outlets or resources to process their feelings.
According to a study analyzed by Mission Harbor Behavioral Health last summer, 7 out of 10 teenagers surveyed reported that they were struggling with their mental health. Over 50% of respondents said they struggled with anxiety, 43% dealt with depression, and 45% felt more stressed than usual.
The changes, disruptions and stressors caused by the pandemic are damaging for many people's mental health, so whether you have lost a loved one or you’re mourning the time and experiences the pandemic has taken from you, know that you aren't alone and that your feelings about the COVID-19 pandemic are completely valid.
Resurgence of free time:
On a more positive note, the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed teenagers to allot more time for passion projects, hobbies and self-care in a way they may not have before. Although some amount of structure is necessary to properly function and accomplish your goals, the United States has become so focused on productivity that people, teens included, often don't make time for activities that feed the soul. Whether you practiced TikTok dances, learned to bake or started a tie-dye business, the pandemic has provided people with time to reflect and determine what truly makes them happy.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has proven anything, it is that teens are remarkably resilient. The GENYOUth study found that teens have gained a new sense of perspective during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the majority of study respondents agreeing that the pandemic has had "silver linings" like sleeping more, increased free time and reduced academic stress. Most teens also reported their expectation that they will easily be able to rejoin the real world following the pandemic—what a great outlook!
Being a teenager is difficult in normal times, so when you factor in a global pandemic and national unrest, the odds of teenagers not feeling the effects are slim.