The activities that young people previously relied on for stability and joy have been disrupted. Extracurricular clubs and birthday parties are mostly canceled. So are rites of passage like prom and homecoming. Students spend vast portions of their weeks staring at Zoom screens. Without school events and traditions to anticipate, many say they are struggling to get out of bed in the morning.
“Everything is stagnant now,” said Ayden Hufford, 15, a high school sophomore in Rye, a suburban area north of New York City, whose school now has blended in-person and remote learning. “There’s nothing to look forward to. On virtual days I sit on the computer for three hours, eat lunch, walk around a bit, sit for three hours, then end my day. It’s all just a cycle.”
Ayden identifies as an avid “theater kid,” and was looking forward to his school play and science Olympiad. With those out of the question now, he turned to a recent online meeting for student leadership council for inspiration. But that proved demoralizing because he had trouble staying engaged with the Zoom conversation.
“I laid down with my camera off and waited for it to be over,” he said. “It’s sad and somewhat lonely.” And he added that forming new connections with classmates is nearly impossible in a virtual setting: “Unless you try extremely hard, there’s no chance to make new friends this year.”
The isolation has been particularly challenging for young adults who struggle with chronic anxiety or depression, and who would typically rely on their social circles for comfort. Nicole DiMaio, who recently turned 19, developed techniques to manage her anxiety over the years. She talks to friends, hugs her mom, exercises and reads books — so many that her family calls her Princess Belle, like the “Beauty and the Beast” protagonist. But nothing seemed to work during the early months of the pandemic.
Nicole’s mother fell sick with Covid in late March after caring for a patient with coronavirus at Coney Island Hospital, where she works as a nurse. Nicole became her mother’s caretaker, and her family’s. She woke up daily at 5 a.m. to clean the house, watch over her younger sister and cook protein-rich foods, which she deposited outside her mother’s bedroom door, while squeezing in schoolwork. Her mother did not want to be ventilated if her lungs failed, so each time she went to the emergency room seeking treatment, Nicole feared she might never come back.