By Audre Pachuta
The past year has been one for the history books. In a world caught up in the valid stresses of the pandemic, working from home, and keeping students productive and safe, it becomes easy to lose sight of another major focal point in teenage lives: socialization.
As much as academics transform students from ignorant children to productive adults, what happens in the halls proves to be far more important than that of the library. With this in mind, it is imperative to acknowledge that the way kids hang out with people outside of their household has changed dramatically in the past 10 months.
For most kids, evenings that were once spent eating french fries at the diner, attending Sweet 16’s, or seeing a movie, are now consumed by lengthy group FaceTime calls. The weekends that previously included bowling and midnight trips to Wawa are now often spent at home watching Netflix in bed.
“I’m still occupying my time with the same things,” noted Marisa Landi, 9th grader at Kingsway Regional, “but it’s slightly different to accommodate pandemic protocol. Before the pandemic, I always did the musicals and plays at school, and now we can’t do it the same way because you can’t have large groups. Kingsway is still doing the play, but it’s going to be outside, socially distanced, and recorded instead of performed live”.
Since becoming teens, Generation Z has been ridiculed for their attachment to computers and cellphones, but if nothing else, the past year has amplified that their technological obsession is actually beneficial. Simply put, this generation of young people was ready for a world turned virtual, yet time and time again, adults have proved that they were not.
In all walks of life, people have endured the difficulties of a life forever changed by the pandemic, but too often this mental health toll on high school aged kids is overlooked. This integral stage of emerging into young adulthood should be used as a time to find oneself; however, instead it consists of navigating a new virtual school system that overwhelms students with assignments that continue to pile up with no end in sight.
Kingsway Middle School Eighth grader Jessica Arena mentioned that she wishes Kingsway would make sure everyone was doing okay. [She] feels like sometimes teachers just rush along without students understanding the lesson or work.
“They just don’t have the students in mind,” adds sophomore Victoria Cato. “I literally have to start failing my classes before I get any sort of attention.”
Students continue to emphasize that the downfall of a virtual learning environment is not their teachers. “Right now it’s especially hard for teachers because we just switched to a new schedule. It’s like having to manage two classrooms at one time because they have to make sure all the people in-person are understanding the lesson, and all the virtual students are as well,” pleas Landhi.
Unfortunately, not all kids are acknowledging the proper social distancing protocol meant to keep themselves and those around them safe. Large gatherings without masks continue to take place indoors, despite the threat of exponentially increasing positive cases in New Jersey.
“A lot of people have the mentality that coronavirus doesn’t affect them,” claims Marisa, “until it does”.
The choice between COVID-19 integrity and maintaining friendships revolutionizes the way students view their classmates. “I’ve gotten into a lot of fights and ruined relationships with my peers on account of their lack of response to pandemic safety,” disclosed Cato.
Drowning in essays and adapting moral standards, are teenagers really the ones to blame for their difficulties in adjusting to physically distanced social life?