By Nikhil Shah
While it is widely known that COVID-19 online schooling has caused teenagers’ learning abilities to suffer, a lesser-known impact is the loss of socialization with peers.
A survey of 10 Summit Denali journalism students was conducted in Feb. 2021, roughly a year after the beginning of quarantine. It found that a majority of students have been negatively affected socially by the pandemic.
Of the 10 respondents, five said isolation has had a significant effect on their social lives, and of those, four said it was negative. Only 30% of students said that face-to-face interaction was unimportant to them.
Many people do not consider school when thinking of major sources of social interaction. However, nine out of 10 students listed school as their primary means of socialization prior to the pandemic. All 10 presently use almost exclusively social media, texting and other forms of online communication.
Another result of spending what will likely be over a year in quarantine is a sense of unfamiliarity with normal social interaction. According to the CDC, “Some children may experience anxiety about going back to school in-person.”
These effects, caused by such a long period of isolation, may last much longer than the isolation itself. According to the journal, The Lancet, “Feeling insufficiently connected to others is associated with profound and lasting negative consequences on physical and mental health, even leading to increased mortality.”
Isolation has particularly affected teenagers, because they are used to large amounts of in-person contact due to school, and according to The Lancet, “Adolescence…is a period of life characterized by heightened sensitivity to social stimuli and the increased need for peer interaction.”
Online school poses many challenges to students, however, due to the unfamiliarity of pandemics such as COVID-19, both teenagers and schools are ill-equipped to handle these problems.
Lack of social interaction in quarantine negatively impacts teenagers
Teenagers’ mental health has been deteriorating over almost a year of online school due to no longer having the opportunity to talk to their peers.
While the shortcomings of virtual school have been notably impacting students’ learning, physical school is additionally turning out to be a crucial facet of teenagers’ social lives.
In a survey of Summit Denali students, 90% said their primary method of socialization before the COVID-19 pandemic was school. However, since March, those students have been unable to talk to anyone in person and all of the respondents have resigned themselves to primarily using social media or other types of online communication.
Just 30% of respondents said that face-to-face communication was not important for them, leaving a significant majority who have likely been struggling for the greater portion of a year.
Gunn High School junior Alex Kirner said in an interview that online school has been difficult for both socialization and learning. “You lose so much information when communicating online,” Kirner said.
Social interactions are highly important for the mental health of everyone, teenagers in particular. Not only are they used to being with people for seven or more hours of the day, they are also at the stage of life where interaction is the most important, according to the journal The Lancet.
This effect is further magnified by the lack of interaction between students in online learning. Replicating the social aspect in-person school is most likely not feasible.
The pandemic’s detrimental effect on the education system is painfully clear. Students are unable to learn or socialize. After 11 months, a plan for safe reopening has yet to come.
The current state of education can be considered a failure, and its varying consequences will only grow more prevalent.
High school student says pandemic greatly affects mental health
In an interview conducted Feb. 7, Gunn High School junior Alex Kirner said social isolation due to COVID-19 has had a negative impact on his mental health.
Kirner said he believes in-person interaction to be crucial for an ideal social life. “You lose so much information when communicating online,” he said.
Like with many other teenagers, Kirner said that consistent social interaction is a major factor in his mental health. Even though he usually avoids talking to people at school, not having anybody to talk to has taken a toll on his well-being.
It is a common belief that only those who are extroverted are affected negatively by quarantine, however, Kirner identifies himself as an introvert, and said that he believes that many other introverted people experience similar things.
Kirner believes that social isolation is inherently too different from regular life to become accustomed to it. “I don’t think we can really create a full normal online, even with time to get used to it,” he said.
Kirner said not having physical school has resulted in too much time spent alone, which has allowed his mental health to deteriorate significantly, especially in recent months.