In honor of National Mental Health Month, seven Girls Inc. teens talked with each other about how COVID-19 is challenging and changing their lives. The teens, ages 13-18, interviewed each other over Zoom to share their unique insights into how a global pandemic is affecting their academic, social, mental, and emotional well-being. Excerpts from their interviews will be published in the Voice SB.
Sofia Chavez, 14 / Sarahi Larios Cruz, 17 / Maxine Knocker, 13 / Simone Oberg, 13 / Lee Palomares, 18 / Sawyer Peña, 14 / Mia Ruvalcaba, 15 /
What was most important to you before the pandemic?
MR: Before the pandemic, it was my grades and doing well in school. Now, it’s my health. I want to make sure I’m staying healthy.
SC: Before it was keeping my grades up. Now it’s mostly living life to the fullest. I’m trying to do things I would have done before.
LP: I’m trying to keep a healthy mental state. After the first two weeks of quarantine I really struggle with keeping myself mentally healthy. What’s most important to me right now is keeping myself in a healthy mindset and not being too hard on myself. I’m trying to do my best with what I can.
How has living in quarantine affected your self-esteem?
SC: I’m an extrovert and not used to staying inside and keeping to myself. It’s kind of messing with my brain.
SP: It has lowered my self-esteem by like 80%. I catch myself thinking ‘I have so much time why am I not doing something?’ Even though I can bat that mindset down quickly, it still hurts. The fact that there are no grades, no structure, has thrown me off my game.
SO: It’s making me bored and not as uplifting as I would be. I still get to talk to friends but it’s not the same, so I’m different socially.
What are you worried about now that you weren’t worried about before the pandemic?
SC: My parents. They are older. They are working outdoors and inside houses and around people all day. And we had to cut our wi-fi.
SO: When we can go back to school and what it might look like because it will be a lot different – we have to wear masks and maybe sit farther apart in classes. I’m worried about how everyone is going to cope.
MR: Not being able to go out for such a long period of time. Before we would want to stay home from school. Now we all want to go to school!
MK: I’m concerned about people in my family with health issues and getting into show choir next year.
I want adults to understand that yes, while we are younger and may not be as experienced, we have a lot of things going on, too.
How are you coping with the “new normal”?
SLC: I think we ‘re all coping in different ways. My mom is working more, which I understand but that is one of the disagreements I have had with her. I am glad she has a job, but she works too much so she is coping in a different way. My brother is coping in a different way than me. I need all doors and windows open to have sunlight and fresh air not to feel trapped. At the end of the day we make up and get along. We try our best. I am grateful for the opporuntiy to have a roof over my head, and have food and a bed and a shower. I am grateful for those things.
What do you wish adults understood better about your experience during this pandemic?
SP: Sometimes, getting one out of five things done is good. I feel like adults wouldn’t understand that mindset. They don’t understand how much time I put into doing just one thing right now. It’s a lot of effort and it drains me a lot faster. If adults realized that they would be more understanding.
SLC: I want teachers to know that, yes, we have so much time during the pandemic and we aren’t as busy as normally but that doesn’t mean we have all our time to just do assignments. We are stuck at home, have family problems and responsibilities and aren’t able to focus, and our mental health may not be as good as it was before. I want adults to understand that yes, while we are younger and may not be as experienced, we have a lot of things going on, too.
MR: That it’s not just school. Some of us have little siblings to look after. Our parents are working – they have to keep in mind we have at-home jobs.
MK: I feel like the adults in my life understand what’s going on pretty well. But sometimes I’m just not in the mood to play with my sister. I just don’t feel like it now. Being on screens is the only thing I feel like doing.
How is COVID-19 changing your attitudes about school and homework?
LP: I miss school. I want to go back to that structure. I am getting less work now and you are less engaged with the teacher. It’s harder to ask for help. It’s made me appreciate the school structure a lot more.
SC: I feel like I’m being less productive. I have that mentality that I am home and I can do whatever I want because my mom is at work. But then I remember it’s my last year of junior high and I have to make something out of that.
What are you learning about yourself during the pandemic?
LP: The quarantine is bringing back things that I learned about myself before. But before I didn’t have time to deal with those parts of myself. Now with more time I am figuring out these parts of myself and trying to understand them.
SLC: I need to be consistent or I lose focus. When I was at school, I had a routine: wake up, go to school, socialize with friends, go to Girls Inc. I was never bored. I’ve learned I need to be doing something and I need to be able to entertain myself.
MR: I’ve learned that I am more patient than I thought I was. My sister is a 6th grader, sometimes it’s stressful because I don’t know how to help her with her homework, so I am more patient with her now.
What resources do you wish you or your family had access to?
SLC: For my family, we don’t have any room at home, so we don’t have any privacy – all of us are in one big room so we constantly see each other without any doors and without any walls. It’s nice at times, but it gets a little frustrating and overwhelming. I want people who feel overwhelmed to be able to go to a (Girls Inc.) Zoom call and express themselves and say something to someone so they don’t bottle up their stress.
LP: Having more resources to connect to be able to get wi-fi at a low cost so my mom can be able to afford it would be helpful.
How is Girls Inc. helping you stay connected?
SP: Girls Inc. has led to a lot of really in-depth discussions that I really like, like climate change and feminism and gender identity. I don’t get that with my parents, so its really nice to hear ideas from people who think the same things that I do.
SC: We have awesome staff members to talk to – they understand what we are going through…They are like my other therapists.
SLC: I enjoy being able to hear the stories everyone has during the pandemic and how they are coping. I like seeing their faces and hearing their troubles and stresses. I joined a [Girls Inc.] call last week after an AP test when I was super stressed. [Teen Center Director] Brenda said I could join a Zoom call whenever I like. That gave me an opportunity to let go of the stress I had – that keeps me connected.
SO: Since we don’t get to go to Girls Inc., it’s nice to be able to learn the lessons and still be able to listen online. It’s also fun because of the activities, especially the art projects. When my friends go to Girls Inc. [Zoom] meetings it makes me happier to see their faces and interact with them. It’s good to be around nice people.
Sometimes, getting one out of five things done is good. I feel like adults wouldn’t understand that mindset. They don’t understand how much time I put into doing just one thing right now. It’s a lot of effort and it drains me a lot faster. If adults realized that they would be more understanding.
How are you staying positive?
MK: Other people asked how I was going to spend my time. Girls Inc. asked me [at one of our first Zoom meetings] “what’s the first thing you are going to do when this is all over?” I like that because it was focusing on the future. This all going to end sometime. We should just be patient and let time do its thing.
SO: I am watching movies I like and listening to music to calm me down. Sometimes I draw landscapes like beaches and sunsets to get my mind off things.
In what ways has life changed for you socially?
SC: I talk with my friends on FaceTime but it feels weird to not be talking with them personally. I don’t like it.
SO: I’ve grown a stronger relationship with some of my family, but with friends I only get to see them on Zoom or FaceTime. I don’t get to see them as much and build a stronger relationship with them now.
What are you most optimistic about now?
SLC: I’m in the [Girls Inc. National] Teen Advocacy Council and we are doing a project making a video about girls and leadership and being a leader at any age. I’m excited about that. We’ve been working on that for a long time – it’s coming out in a couple of weeks.
MR: Right now I’m most hopeful that this is going to get better if we all do our part.
SC: Spending more time with my mom and dad. Surviving this pandemic.