Teenagers are young and spirited people. We love to have fun, love the freedom and independence we get that leads us to believe that we can conquer both small and big battles. In this tough exterior, is a child, who has a sense of insecurity or fear of the unknown. To kindle this fear or bring out this insecurity, is not easy. However, the lockdown in 2020, triggered by the deadly CoronaVirus, just did that for many teenagers.
Though mental health of teenagers is not generally a concern, it has gained prominence of late. With 2020’s unprecedented events looming large on the minds of the students, there has been a surge in mental health problems reported among teenagers.
A survey conducted among 40 teenagers in the 13-19 age bracket, evaluated their mental health through various parameters: mood swings, optimism, family interaction, energy levels, eating habits, sleep cycles, etc. From these 6 characteristics sleep, and energy levels were observed to have poor ratings. Whilst 40 teenagers do not represent all Indian teenagers, they present a significant school of thought to be acknowledged.
The new ‘normal’ is defined as being in front of the computer for 7-9 hours a day; using gadgets continuously to stay connected with the outside world; adapting to new ways to stay calm instead of chilling in Starbucks with friends or having dinner/movie with our family. The transition from our old lives to new, is something we will remember long enough to tell our own kids. The once-in-a-lifetime pandemic that impacted millions and killed thousands of people globally. While people infected and those killed by the virus are reported on a daily basis world over, but the millions of children who are going through major mental trauma, does not feature in any report or news article.
Since March 2020, more than 600 million students globally have been forced to miss school and study from home. Of these, a large percentage did not even have any digital device and had to rely on the smartphone of their parents to continue studies. For the students who got the device, it was ironic that parents who would not allow kids to use gadgets even for a few minutes, now were given gadgets to use for hours daily.
After six months of online learning, it’s important to assess the impact of online education on the students, especially the negative effects. Whilst school management systems’ adaptation to the virtual platform was commendable and facilitated a smooth transition, many students found it too much to handle. Though a larger survey would be needed to understand the quantitative impact of online learning, a significant number of people (from the aforementioned survey) felt online learning had adverse, detrimental effects and they were less receptive to the format. Sitting in front of a screen for 9am to 4pm, learning complex subjects like math without face to face interaction, no lab experiments; the process brought a lot of stress, anxiety and anger as reflected in the falling performance grades. The ordeal impacts optimism and enthusiasm/energy levels of the students, directly influencing their mental health.
The online school and inability to live the conventional, free routine had a great effect on daily habits. Since we were not supposed to go to school, we could afford to sleep late and talk to our friends late on HouseParty, or playing Among Us, Ludo and what not! However, the changing sleep cycles impacted our optimism and productivity during classes in the day. Many students who, at school were learning decently, even if it was a bare minimum, now saw their grades falling as they could conveniently skip class. Online school could just as easily be treated as an option instead of a necessity. Several articles online cite an increase in obesity over the span of the lockdown. With no steps to climb or walk between classes, no sports practices and of course, no dancing in parties, teenagers, especially those disinclined to home workouts are at a major health risk. Obesity or weight gain can too bring trauma to the minds of young teens, gullible to the societal beauty standards.
Though the lockdown has had detrimental effects on many kids, every teenager is different, and every cloud has a silver lining. These include the stronger bond with family, or making new friends on FaceTime over ritualistic game nights. The lockdown helped many students, grow new skills and develop their talents. The only condition was that students had to reach out and make the effort to find this silver lining. Some began home workouts, developed new hobbies like singing, cooking, vlogging, etc. The lockdown had a certain beauty that promoted individualism, a connection to the external, natural world as well. Some teenagers were forced to address their internal problems, deal with whatever they were ignoring, be it anxiety, falling productivity, familial problems. Being stuck in your home helped some realise that running from your problems is a race that you can never win. Eventually you’ll have to sit down, apply your mind and work on your thoughts and find solutions.
It hurts to be caged, as teenagers we like to be wild and free, however, adaptation is an important skill we had to learn one day anyway. The chapter isn’t over yet, that’s why I implore everyone to stop worrying about what they are missing out on, and take this time to truly learn and connect with yourself. When it comes to your mental health, it’s always you who can make the biggest change. Make your voice heard; stay positive and stay safe! A personal suggestion: light up candles, stay calm, and hope for the best.