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Then & Now: ‘QuaranTeens’ Share Their Mental Health Struggles a Year Into the Pandemic

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One year. It seems hard to believe, but it’s officially been one year (and counting) of pandemic living. Last March, the full effects of COVID-19 — the sweeping scope of the tragedy, the destructive impact on our daily lives — weren’t yet fully clear. We didn’t know we’d be wearing masks for the foreseeable future. We didn’t know we’d go months without hugging grandparents. We didn’t know that more than 500,000 American lives would be lost. All we knew was, it was new, and it was terrifying — for us parents, to be sure, who suddenly had to worry about jobs, health, and homeschooling, but also for our kids. There’s no getting around it: COVID-19 quarantine has been tough on our “quaranteens.”

Last April, a month into school closings, we asked a group of teens — our Hatch Kids — to share how they were faring with the stress of quarantine isolation at home. (Spoiler alert: not well. “There’s a breakdown coming,” Reed, 15, told us. And just a month in! Little did we know.) A month later, at the end of May, we talked to them again, and they opened up to us about everything from the school milestones they missed to their mental health. Back then, what scared Jack, 15, the most was “the prospect that we will be doing this for another 18 months.”

Now, after a full year of pandemic living, they’re sharing just how debilitating and stressful this year has been for them. What’s eating at them now isn’t so much that it’s new and unknown, but that’s it’s ongoing and exhausting. “It is permanent now,” Jack tells us, “and it felt temporary in March.”

By their own accounts, these teens are lonely, low-energy, and depressed. They’re going crazy inside their own houses. “Have I felt anxious? One thousand percent,” Julia, 15, says. They’re also not sleeping enough, and they’re spending too much time on their screens. “I’ve spent so much more time on my phone than I did before, like seven hours a day,” Reed, 15, admits. “That’s so bad.”

But is it really? What used to be a source of stress for parents — worrying about our kids’ screen time and the effects of social media — has turned out to be a lifeline for them.

“Since none of us were connected physically, social media made us feel somewhat connected,” Evan, 15, says. Adds Henry, 15, “I’ll be on FaceTime with some of my friends for up to five hours just talking because we don’t have that in-person contact; we have to use FaceTime.”

All of this tracks with how parents nationwide are reporting their teens’ experiences with COVID-19 quarantine, according to a new C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, which asked parents to detail how pandemic restrictions have emotionally impacted their teenagers. More than 70 percent reported that COVID-19 “has had a very or somewhat negative impact on their teen’s ability to interact with their friends,” while just shy of half (46 percent) said they noticed “a new or worsening mental health condition for their teen” since the pandemic’s start.

Despite the toll this past year has taken on these teens’ mental health, it’s also shown us how resilient they are. Reed realized that being “alone with yourself” and “bored” isn’t always a bad thing. Emma enjoyed more frequent family dinners. Jojo, 15, struggled before being diagnosed as bipolar and finding the right medication mix to manage her condition. And Juno, 15, despite feeling lonely, found strength in the social justice movements that have taken place, “seeing people stand up for Black lives, Black trans lives, and Asian lives. It’s so important and it’s something that’s really been lacking in previous years.”

Do we know, then, exactly what the long-term effects of this “lost year” will be on our kids? We don’t — and experts don’t either. But we do know that there are ways parents can help teens navigate quarantine stress and anxiety. And we know that, despite everything, our kids still have hope.

“I definitely feel less scared of covid than I felt a year ago,” Evan says: Jojo agrees — and she’s willing to bet on it. Go ahead, watch the video.

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