NHS Corner: One year into the COVID-19 pandemic

Two teenagers stand next to one another wearing masks on a sunny day in Ottawa
Miriam Felman and her brother Saul get outside for some fresh air. Photo courtesy of Miriam Felman.

By Miriam Felman

March 11 marked Canada’s first National Day of Observance to commemorate the impacts of COVID-19, as well as the one-year anniversary of the virus being declared a pandemic. The events of the past year have permanently altered adolescents’ outlook on life, and, as we face this uncertain future head-on, there is value in taking time to look back and reflect. 

From an Ontario high school student’s perspective, Friday, March 13, 2020 was the day it all began. It had been announced the day before that March break was being extended by two weeks. We all came to school that day with varied emotions and a doom-like sense that we were living through something big. Little did we know, it would be the last in-person school day until September, and those in Grade 12 would never return again, save for dropping by to return and pick up items. 

The first lockdown period last spring was a troubling and uncertain time, but 50 per cent of survey participants from Nepean High School say they feel a sense of nostalgia for those times. “I miss how relaxed I was,” one student said. “There was a lot less pressure on me.” 

Students spent their time on social media; doing schoolwork; talking to friends; going on walks; watching shows; playing games with family; being creative; and trying out new recipes, to name a few activities mentioned in our survey. One student recalls the popular dalgona coffee trend, also known as whipped coffee. Social media played a large role in helping teens avoid boredom and stay connected, with many people posting on the increasingly popular video-sharing app, TikTok, as well as Instagram and Snapchat. Social media sites also became notable platforms for activism when the killing of George Floyd launched a new era of Black Lives Matter protests and anti-racist activism. 

Many teens experienced a decline in their mental health since the pandemic began due to being isolated from their peers, being stuck with toxic family members, having anxiety over the state of the world, feeling hopelessness for the future and several other factors. For many, extracurricular activities such as sports, band, or theatre provided a sense of identity that was lost when these activities were put on hold. Meanwhile, some found it beneficial to slow down and reconnect with themselves and their families. 

It has been a strange year, but adolescents have learned a lot. One Grade 12 student remarked, “One thing I have learned during this period is that no matter how much control I would like to have over my life, I must always be prepared and ready for basically anything.” 

We now know to keep loose expectations for the future, and not to become attached to any long-term plans. Years down the line, when COVID-19 is a distant memory, we will never forget that even when we least expect it, anything can happen.

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