The spread of the coronavirus has turned life upside down, almost overnight, for millions of people around the world. Being a teenager is complicated even without a global pandemic in the mix, and we wanted to know what it feels like to be a teen at this particular moment in time — navigating a new reality of remote schoolwork, lots of family time, and a ton of uncertainty about what happens next. These teens responded to a request on Facebook to submit their stories of what life at home has been like for them so far. Here’s what they had to say.
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Natalie Radu — 17, Manalapan, New Jersey
The whole thing's been a false utopia. First day was really hype. A nasty chem test swerved! My Google calendar loaded with self-care and projects I'd been putting off for months because of schoolwork. I spent my waking hours with my cats. My skin cleared up. I literally said the words "I am so happy!" for the first time in years, just because I couldn't contain such genuine emotion. My siblings and parents started working from home that afternoon. We didn't butt heads at first — the constant presence of our beloved cats had put us all at ease — but it was inevitable.
Technical difficulties with online school had the 9-year-old howling from downstairs. I took my first day of online school pretty seriously, but by day two, my focus had waned. I deleted TikTok and Snapchat to try to keep the ball rolling with my projects, but my enthusiasm is fading. Most of my projects were for competitions that are probably gonna get canceled. My friends feel far away. But I had to actually exercise for gym — and provide a screenshot proving I went for a run — so that's pretty cool. The world kinda feels like it's quietly on fire.
Eli Irwin — 13, Baltimore, Maryland
I am sending two photos of my journal since my school shut down. I miss hanging out with my friends (which seems like so long ago even though it’s only been a few days). I’m lucky to have a fun dad at home who can help me make TikTok videos.
Al Eburne — 14, Bellefonte, Pennsylvania
In the week of “extended spring break,” a term used to disguise the fact that there is a deadly pandemic spreading across the world, I’ve been avoiding the news as best as I can and doing activities that one would naturally do in a moment of crisis: make an apple pie, weave, watch cooking shows on an exercise bike, and talk online with friends from a trans sleep-away camp.
Isabell Michi — 16, Seattle
The coronavirus is history in the making. Not just the disease, we’ve had plenty of those before, but us. The human race, the kids being pulled out of school, the global efforts to socially distance ourselves from our friends, neighbors who are willing to shop for their elderly or immunocompromised friends. It's odd, what feels like a prequel to summer break (which, as prequels sometimes are, is infinitely worse) is going to be read about in textbooks when I'm gone. You always kind of know that your life is going to be history, but to be confronted with something which no one alive can recall anything similar to feels powerful. Even when it is just your mother yelling at you to use hand sanitizer and not being able to see your friends.
I live in Seattle, which I’ve heard people call the “corona capital” of America. The difference the coronavirus has made has been clear for weeks in the reduced number of cars on the road, the empty shelves at grocery stores, and yes — the lack of toilet paper anywhere that sells it. School has been out for a week and I’m already feeling the effects. My sleep schedule is shot (I don't think I’ve gotten to bed before 1 a.m. since school let out) and I’ve played 15 hours of the PS4 game my mother got for Christmas in the last three days. But I’ve been doing what Gen Z does. I’ve adapted, I’ve overcome, and I've been on my phone too much.
Grace Wong — 16, Morganville, New Jersey
When I first went into self-isolation, I expected almost nothing to change. After all, even when I had to physically go to school, I mostly kept to myself, ever the introvert. Even at home, I would shut myself in my room and spend all my time on my computer, limiting my interaction with others as much as possible.
If there's anything this self-isolation has taught me so far, it's this: It's never too late to bond with family and awaken new interests.
But now, I find myself actually venturing out of my room and interacting with others more than ever during this isolation. Maybe it's the boredom already getting to me, but I've started bonding with my parents more, my mom especially. She's started teaching me how to cook and bake, and she's been encouraging me to find recipes that I'd like to try out. So far, she's taught me how to bake banana bread, and she let me help prepare dinner! In all honesty, she's not the best at cooking, but she wants to teach me all that she can while she still has time and I'm still interested. And honestly? I'm thankful for it. It's nice cooking with another person; it's like you're a team on a mission to make the most delicious treats and meals you can, and I'm a little regretful that I didn't start cooking with my mom earlier in my life.
So if there's anything this self-isolation has taught me so far, it's this: It's never too late to bond with family and awaken new interests. I can only hope that I'll be able to cook and bake with my mom for years to come. And to think, it all started because for once in my life, I decided to interact with other people during a time when I was supposed to self-quarantine.
Sophia — 15, Chattanooga, Tennessee
I’m lucky with this quarantine in that I don’t rely on school for food and that my parents can continue to work and make money, but I’ve got something different: I have to work on a farm. I don’t usually work and live on my parents’ farm, but for the next month I will live, breathe, and sleep out in the middle of nowhere. I help with the chores of feeding 34 horses and mucking 16 stalls and I help run a riding camp. In the meantime I get to ride and horse vault (look it up; picture horse gymnastics) amid schoolwork.
It’s definitely a fun balance, camp running from 10 to 4, riding taking two hours, and mucking taking another one. I’m trying to be a good student and a good friend, but geographic isolation and demanding work win out again. It’ll be fun trying to manage all of it amidst a pandemic and the ever-present flooding north Georgia seems to hold. Will I have to swim to catch horses tomorrow or will I just metaphorically drown in schoolwork? Who knows? Guess I’ll find out.
Davis Norma Ouriel — 17, Los Angeles
Like most of my peers, I am navigating a pandemic to the best of my ability. Which is to say, we're all eating, playing video games, and watching Seinfeld until self-loathing dawns. We seem to share, thankfully, some productive commonalities, like being creative. We plan to paint our walls and film period pieces. Open a new tab with that free Harvard coding course. Everyone wants to learn embroidery from their mom.
Gen Z is no different than most living in this period — we see no nearing end. Thus, many of our ideas lie in wait at the conceptual stage. We want to do everything — with many exclamation points — but we're holding out for the prom or graduation that may never come. We are mourning the memories we counted on. Mourning complicates our call-to-action.
If social distancing was worthy of comparison, I could liken it to an endless "mental health day." Sitting on my bed and doing nothing for eight hours reminds me of last week, when I had the choice to stay home — not the executive order.
We want to do everything — with many exclamation points — but we're holding out for the prom or graduation that may never come.
l want to be happy, if I am privileged enough to be lazy. A few days ago, I informed my boyfriend that I really can't exercise during "quarantine." He replied, "What did you even do before?" I'm grateful to leave my apartment at all — impossibly more so to see him and his family, who I strictly social-distance for. At home, I'm trying to grapple with the future less. Yet no one knows how to.
On a phone call to Huntsville, Alabama, my mother corrects herself when she sputters the word "fear." She knows that this era "will be over soon," and hopefully her theater won't disappear with it — "God's got a plan," she says. She is the hardest to miss, obviously. The only boundary between us is some intangible risk which just outweighs cheap Delta airfare. My friends' families have long since retreated to their Bay Area, Ojai, or Malibu houses as cohesive units.
Yesterday, the first Monday of my online curriculum, my friend and I hosted a group FaceTime during our "lunch period." Even our classes cannot guarantee social interaction — some teachers don't livestream at the risk of being screenshotted and memed. Nevertheless, we added people to the call one by one, gleefully chain-laughing as we asked them, "Wanna sit at our table?"
Today, quotes on Facebook and letters from their school administrators imbue teens with hope that they can thrive in isolation. The truth somewhat daunts us: We must figure out how to. Socializing, creating, or working alone leaves no blueprint for the generation still reconciling their identity. Everyone speculates that we will emerge stronger. That is, after we know ourselves intimately and each other from a distance.
Tristan, 12 — Lewiston, Idaho
I'm not exactly a teen; I'm 12, just so you know. My experience with COVID-19 or the coronavirus is different than most. You see, I live in Idaho — Lewiston, Idaho, to be exact. One of four states with no more than five confirmed cases of the coronavirus [as of March 17], this means that such drastic measures that are being taken in some states like Washington, for example, are not being taken in Idaho. Some measures have been taken, though.
My school was closed for a week to decide what to do about the virus, and to clean the school. Spring break is next week, so my mom, who runs a childcare center, was already preparing for a huge amount of kids, but she got them a week early. This caused a chain reaction in the community, as already apprehensive parents were now in a panic. My mom would not let us go to her childcare center because she said it was too crazy and stressful.
My brother and I then had to go to our grandparents' house. They live in Clarkston, Washington, a city right across the Snake River from Lewiston. Also, due to the closing of restaurants and other places because of the virus, it is very hard to do anything. Then my mom got sick and I was not able to see her. Due to my asthma I am in a higher risk group and have to social distance. All of this plus not being able to see my friends made me feel very lonely, kind of scared, kind of worried for the health of my family, and overall just wanting the pandemic to be over.
Max Bielawski — 17, Kahului, Hawaii
Aloha, my name is Max and I am a 17-year-old from Maui. I am a high school journalist for my school, Kamehameha Schools Maui. The whole coronavirus predicament has affected my life in ways I could have not imagined just a mere month ago. A lot of things have changed. People have seemed to change with some kind of spell cast on them, compelling them to hoard toilet paper and meat. With both school going online and prom being canceled, I can say my junior year of high school is a bit unique.
I'm on spring break right now, but we'll eventually "go back" to school, through videoconferencing, I guess. Being stuck on island, we have this existential threat of the ports being possibly closed, so that's quite gloomy. Resources and job security have been a challenge. While in line at a local grocery store, I overheard this guy talking about laying off 75% of workers in this tour company, due to nobody traveling or doing anything anymore, and it was quite sad. The one silver lining to this situation is that at least the beaches won't be closed anytime soon.
Morgan MacDougal — 17, Lincolnville, Maine
I am currently three days into isolation with my family [as of March 17]. My sister, my mom, my dad, and our Italian exchange student, Giacomo, all together in 1,620 square feet. I hear from Giacomo firsthand about how his family and country is struggling, and it frightens me. Watching what he has to go through certainly helps put things in perspective.
Today, I did a few hours of online school from my bed, FaceTimed my friends, and even resorted to painting my old jeans out of boredom. Okay, okay. You're waiting for me to talk about my phone, aren't you? Yes, my screentime has skyrocketed the past few days. Yes, my friends and I are sending back and forth coronavirus TikTok memes. Yes, I have a handheld computer with infinite knowledge and communication, and way too much spare time to use it.
But I don't enjoy sitting on my couch watching movies all day. Sure, it sounds fun for an hour or two, but I miss doing things that make me happy. I miss going out for breakfast with my mom. I miss watching pingpong tournaments at my school during breaks. I miss going to Dunkin Donuts to get coffee with my friends on weekends. I miss feeling like I have control over what is going on in my life. Because right now, I don't. I don't know if I will be able to work my restaurant job this summer. I don't know if I can book any upcoming travel plans. And I don't know how many more people our world will lose to the virus called COVID-19.
Aiden — 13, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
I moved to Mexico three years ago after traveling the world for a year. I was originally born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and my mother is a journalist so we traveled frequently. I had my 4th birthday in England, then lived in Cambodia for three months while my mother completed her graduate work. We moved back to Santa Fe for four years before traveling in Central and South America for one year and finally settling down in San Miguel de Allende. We followed the development of COVID-19 from afar.
The truth is, lots of Mexicans don’t even know what COVID-19 is, so we started quarantining before it was required by the Mexican government. I have been fine with staying inside all day because I am an introvert, but it has been annoying that I can’t hang out with my best friend. To keep healthy, we have been running the dogs around a lot in the front yard and playing Just Dance on my Nintendo Switch.
The worst part is my birthday party was canceled because of the virus but my mother allowed me to get me a couple of games. I spend my time watching YouTube videos about art and other things. Since all schools in Mexico were canceled this week, my classes have moved online.
Noelle Johnson — 18, Fullerton, California, and Traverse City, Michigan
I attend an international performing arts boarding school called the Interlochen Arts Academy, located in northern Michigan. I'm a theater major, and we were almost done staging the final scene in our production of As You Like It when we had to pause everything and head to the biggest theater on campus for an emergency all-school meeting. The president of our school stood on the stage and told us with tears in his eyes that we were being sent home due to the outbreak. I have never seen a room so filled with crying.
This is one of the hardest things that my generation has had to deal with. None of us could have expected this.
I'm a senior, and I have been dreaming about the perfect second semester of my last year of high school for the entire time I've attended Interlochen. The weather gets warm, flowers bloom on campus. Our academic classes dwindle, we get more free time to spend with friends. We perform a senior showcase as well as the four productions we've been rehearsing the entire semester. I'm playing Rosalind in As You Like It, which is my first lead in a mainstage production here at school. When I've had struggles in my personal life, I poured my soul into this role. All my friends and I take our art very seriously, it gives meaning to our lives. The one thing we've been saying over and over to one another is "I wish I could make art again."
The students at my school come from all over. My best friend lives in Tennessee and I live in Michigan right now. The actor who plays my love interest in As You Like It is from the Dominican Republic. Even our teachers and faculty are citizens of places all around the world. Other teens get to hang out in small groups with their friends, go on walks, pull up in drive-thrus. We turn to FaceTime and group chats to stay connected. Lots and lots of group chats.
People my age have had a lot of world-altering events happen in our very young lives and it's hard to cope with it all. Social media is both a blessing and a curse, and we've grown up with it our entire lives. It's shaped our entire world and it's almost impossible to escape. But this is one of the hardest things that my generation has had to deal with. None of us could have expected this. ●