What was life like when I grew up as a teenager? How does it differ from today? A main difference was that schools remained open. There was no COVID scare. The Korean war was going on, but that didn’t affect situations back home. We had dances that other schools attended. I was involved in band, different societies, and clubs, and was kept busy with a part-time job. Teenage years should be a social time of one’s life, full of activities.
Today it has been quite different for teens. For two and a half years, there have been restrictions and isolation. COVID has played a destructive role. In speaking with two teens who graduated from high school, both talked of missing being with their friends physically. There were no junior and senior proms, football games were cancelled, sleepovers were nonexistent, and getting together on weekends did not happen. Graduation was strange because students waited with their parents in an isolated hall where their name would be called to receive their diploma in the company of two other people (parents), all wearing masks. These kids were isolated from other students who were also graduating—certainly not the way it is supposed to be. Most of us are social beings and to be deprived of this has had a detrimental effect, mainly resulting in debilitating depression and anxiety.
Some of the behaviors resulting from this isolation include lack of hygiene care such as not showering or brushing teeth and wearing the same clothes for several days. Behaviors can also include overeating, especially with junk food, or stopping eating altogether. These teens seem to have no desire or lack the energy to take care of themselves. Being around them, one can feel this lack of enthusiasm and interest in doing anything. These are signs of depression and could last for years.
In addition, there is an apprehensive uneasiness and dread that something awful is going to happen. The teen could show signs of perspiring, an increase in blood pressure, and lack in confidence in their ability to cope. These are signs of anxiety and are due to the isolation, as is depression.
Teens’ brains are still developing and there is limited ability to manage their emotions and challenges of life. This makes teens, and even people aged of 25 or older, vulnerable to the psychological impact of social isolation. Teens are also missing out on the normal development of identity, a sense of who they are and their role in society.
There are those teens who cut themselves using razor blades, almost so deep as to destroy the functionality of their hands. Others burn themselves with cigarettes or use other means to harm their bodies. Some do this behavior to feel the pain or because they “hate” themselves. The loneliness they experience does not allow them to be able to confide in another person.
To understand these destructive behaviors more fully, I refer to the Netflix series, Marcella. The main male character pays a group of men to violently beat him up. The pain from the beating was his only way to experience the pain of losing someone he loved. He could not feel the pain of his loss until he experienced the severe pain of being beaten. According to James F. Masterson, M.D., this is one indication of a possible borderline personality disorder diagnosis, which involves problems of attachment. I view this as a feeling of being isolated and completely detached from people.
Parents can help their teens by becoming familiar with these signs of mental distress. By doing so, they validate the teen’s experience and acknowledge what has been taken away from them during this period of isolation. Mental health therapy should be sought, especially when the teen is doing such things as cutting or any other self-destructive behavior.
Get help by calling 988.
What is 988?
The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) offers 24/7 call, text and chat access to trained crisis counselors who can help people experiencing suicidal, substance use, and/or mental health crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress. People can also dial 988 if they are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support.
When calling 988, callers first hear a greeting message while their call is routed to the local Lifeline network crisis center (based on the caller’s area code). A trained crisis counselor answers the phone, listens to the caller, understands how their problem is affecting them, provides support, and shares resources if needed. If the local crisis center is unable to take the call, the caller is automatically routed to a national backup crisis center. The Lifeline provides live crisis center phone services in English and Spanish and uses Language Line Solutions to provide translation services in over 250 additional languages.