There will be no graduation for the Class of 2020 – at least not one that would’ve forced seniors to wake up early and file into an auditorium with their peers, dressed in flimsy gowns and caps they’ve been told they can’t throw.
Prom is canceled, too – so the budget that would’ve covered the photo booths, catered canapes, DJ and dance floor has gone to waste. Ditto to all the prom dresses hanging in closets, unworn and untainted by spilled punch.
Classes have been conducted virtually for weeks, and teachers feel pressured to inflate their course loads. Students wake up to take exams from bed.
In the time of coronavirus, traditional hallmarks of the high school experience have all but disappeared. And as everyone settles into new routines inside, at home, teens are feeling angry, anxious and reticent. Their identities are fracturing in isolation, and the people who love them, teach them and study them fear they’ll wear the effects of the pandemic for years to come.
“Honestly, I feel as though I have been robbed,” Shanice Dawkins, an 18-year-old from Broward County, Florida, told CNN. “I’ve been looking forward to my senior year since I was a freshman, and now I have nothing to remember for it.”
Adolescents have a heightened reactivity to stress
It’s hard enough being a teenager on a good day. But the conditions that accompany social distancing may exacerbate the painful parts of adolescence to the point of crisis. Adolescents typically have a heightened reactivity to stress, thought to be the result of hormonal fluctuations and changes in brain development.
Now, throw a pandemic in the mix.
“I think this is a recipe for difficult, big emotions for them,” Camelia Hostinar, a developmental psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at the University of California - Davis, told CNN.
Hostinar described this period of isolation amid coronavirus as “social reorientation” for teens.
Teens normally spend a sizable chunk of their days at school, tuned into their peers on whom they rely to form their own feelings and opinions. Now they’re tuning in (or out) to the adults with whom they live.
The people they rely on aren’t there in person
Research shows when they were younger, their parents were buffers for their stress who could absorb the hard stuff for them. Now, the people teens rely on for that job – each other– aren’t there, not in person at least.
Although teens are considered digital natives – and therefore are likely better at navigating virtual friendships – they’re still missing the vital, in-person benefits of relationships, Hostinar said.
The lockdown is limiting their identity
Adolescence is the time when young people start to piece together who they are, or at least who they’ll be right now, she said. Many of the pieces that once defined them are lost to the virus.
“In a way, it’s limiting their identity,” Hostinar said.
All this change is overwhelming – and the autonomy and independence that teens crave is next to impossible to achieve when most places, besides their own homes, are off limits.
“There’s more anxiety about the future,” she said. “And the spillover effects from family members who are themselves anxious, and they’re smart enough to understand what’s going on.”