Remote Learning Takes Mental Toll On Teens

Students struggle to participate in remote-learning due to the lack of interaction with their peers.

Alleyna Pitaso

Students struggle to participate in remote-learning due to the lack of interaction with their peers.

Alleyna Pitaso

By now we’re all aware that scientists and doctors are warning us of the physical dangers that Covid-19 can bring. We social distance, wear masks, and attend online school in order to stop the spread. But how has this lack of human interaction truly impacted teenagers across America? Many people don’t acknowledge the mental strain that remote learning can have on this demographic.

Adolescents across the country are struggling to adapt to their “new normal”. With cases going up in many states, and lockdown regulations becoming increasingly strict, how will teens cope with being kept apart from their friends? The article “Why COVID-19 Loneliness Can Be Especially Hard on Teens” by Geoff McMaster (2020) discusses the emotional impact of social isolation on adolescents.

While early childhood social interaction within the family is critical, relating to peers in adolescence becomes important for social development, determining beliefs and forming healthy relationships as adults, McMaster explained. Without face-to-face interaction, teens are experiencing increased feelings of loneliness, craving for social contact, and decreased happiness. With teens being the most emotionally vulnerable age group, the lack of human interaction exacerbates their susceptibility to mental health issues. 

West Springfield High School students are feeling the mental impact of online-learning. Senior Meghan Pinter explained how herself and other students are feeling the strain of social isolation. “I think that students are at a much higher mental health risk of developing anxiety and depressive disorders than the risk would be of getting COVID in school if all safety precautions are met. Being alone is not safe for anyone, and not getting to be in contact with friends or teachers can be hard on people who need personal connections to be happy,” she said. Many of her peers feel the same way. In a survey sent out to students in early November, multiple students mentioned that while they understand the importance of not returning to school in-person, they still feel that their mental and emotional health is at risk as a result.

One student mentioned that they never knew how much they missed talking to their peers until it was time to do virtual learning. “One of my teachers puts us into small groups, and it is so nice to have our cameras on and talk to people. I didn’t realize how much you need communication outside of asking questions about a subject until online learning.” A commonly shared sentiment between students is the idea that they took in-person learning for granted. Another student talked about how one of their teachers takes time at the beginning of each class period to do a wellness survey to see how students feel each morning. Small gestures like that can go a long way in making the remote-learning experience less isolating.

As cases of Covid-19 rise across the country, many schools are choosing to remain online in order to keep their students physically safe and healthy.  However, we now know the effect that online learning is having on teens. A survey conducted earlier this year by a Gallup Panel polling of parents with school-aged children revealed that about 29% of parents say that their child is “already experiencing harm” to their mental health. Another 14% stated that their children were “approaching their limit” of social distancing until their mental health began to suffer. They were also most likely (45%) to say that being separated from teachers and classmates is a major challenge. It is a struggle to destigmatize what is believed to be a taboo topic, so it’s important to emphasize the tools available to help students. 

With the aid of resources like Zoom, Google Meets, and Talking Points, school adjustment and guidance counselors have been able to provide support to students who are struggling with their mental health. By increasing their availability through the use of some of those platforms, counselors are giving students access to a trusted adult they can confide in. Guidance counselor Colin Moge said that “students are encouraged to reach out their counselors for additional information on resources available to them through the school and local community.”

As for adapting to the “new normal”, teachers are striving to make their virtual classes as personable as possible and are making it clear that they are trying to be understandable to their students’ issues. School administrators and members of the Student Government are brainstorming ways to create school spirit remotely. And most heart-warmingly, students are reaching out to each other to make sure they’re doing alright. Despite the chaos of everything going on, teens across the country are finding ways to come together during a time when they’re forced to be apart.