‘A Year Full of Emotions.’ What Kids Learned From the COVID-19 Pandemic
Too many young generations have been shaped by the global crises they faced—Depression-era poverty, Cold War nuclear fears. Add to them the COVID generation. The virus itself may typically go easier on kids than it does adults, but the mind of a child is another thing. It’s dependent on certainty, safety, the comfort of routine. Take all of that away—shutter schools, keep grandparents at a distance, cancel summer camps—and kids suffer. But as the following lightly-edited stories from young people show, they also grow and learn, gain maturity and wisdom. The virus has been tough; plenty of kids, it turns out, have been tougher.
Jeremy Liew, 13, Riverside, Conn.
The last year made me comfortable with being uncomfortable.
I was uncomfortable being singled out for how I look (I am an Asian-American Pacific Islander). A year ago, people looked at me with suspicions as if I had COVID-19 or brought it to my community. I felt embarrassed to be me. I usually use jokes or magic tricks in awkward moments, but people didn’t want to be around me. That made me empathetic to how others feel based on how they look.
Learning without the social cues of a classroom was difficult. At in-person school, I took notes when I could see that everyone around me did. During Zoom, I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing. That made me take risks like asking my English teacher for help or raising my hand first to share my thinking. I learned change happens, pandemic or not. People adapt and become stronger even with uncertainty. I can deal with it too.
I am still uncomfortable. But now I am confident. I appreciate who I am. I am grateful for what I have (my education, health, and three annoying sisters). And I believe that people and science can make a difference, maybe with the help of a little magic!
Roman Peterson, 14, New York, N.Y.
The last year has been the year of getting to know COVID too well. Some people think kids don’t get COVID, or that, if they do, it’s no big deal. In our house, it was a big deal.
When our school announced it was going to remote learning in March 2020, I thought the pandemic might feel like vacation. But then my mom got COVID. She was really sick. We quarantined in our New York City apartment. My younger brothers and sister and I tried to stay away from her. But a few days after she was diagnosed, I got a fever. Doctors told me I had COVID, too. My fever lasted four weeks. I lost my appetite and got really bad headaches.
Researchers at New York Presbyterian/Columbia asked me to be in a year-long study. In the early stages, the study was one of the only ways I could get in-person care. The researchers saw me as many as four times a month. They took my blood and spit and even studied my braces to figure out how long COVID stays on kids’ teeth. I still get “COVID headaches.” But I know I’m lucky. COVID taught me not to take my health or the opportunity to be with people, in person, for granted.
I now have headaches less often. And our eighth grade graduation will be in-person. It will be the first time we’ll be together as a full grade since COVID began.
Mira McInnes, 12, Leawood, Kan.
I struggle with anxiety and depression, and although I was in a good place mentally when the first wave of COVID-19 cases hit in the U.S., the pandemic created a greater challenge for me.
Up until March 2020, I was seeing my psychologist in person. COVID changed that almost overnight. Although it was weird at first talking to her through a computer screen, I quickly became used to it. I’ve been able to get the help I need, and I’m grateful for how much she has done for me. In between appointments, though, I needed to find a way to take my mind off things. So, I turned to writing.
Over the past year, I’ve spent several hours most days writing short stories, poems, and songs about how I’m feeling and what my hopes for the future are. Staying unfiltered on paper or on screen has helped me validate my struggles with mental health and allows me to be open and honest with myself in a way I haven’t truly been before.
Nirav Pandey, 15, Kathmandu, Nepal
2020 was a year too unpleasant to remember, yet too hard to forget. I was expecting something totally normal. Nothing dangerous, nothing out of the blue. Just another ordinary year. However, 2020 was just another pandora’s box, waiting to be opened. The pandemic began taking a toll and I was already disheartened, knowing that things wouldn’t be the same for a very long time. Nothing could go worse, I assumed. I was dead wrong.
In December, I felt terribly sick. On the day I reached the hospital, I was grey with fatigue. I stayed for observation and a few check-ups. The results were distressing. In the matter of a few hours, my liver, heart and lungs were struggling to keep up. I was shifted to the ICU. Before I was put into the ventilator, I told my parents that I’ll be back soon, uncertain if I would ever see them again. Over the next four days, my health deteriorated significantly and there was little hope of my survival. In the nick of time, with the right treatment, I made it back to life, after what seemed an eternity. I greatly respect all front line workers.
I was diagnosed with Pediatric Inflammatory Multisystem Syndrome, a rare and dangerous disease discovered in April 2020 associated with COVID-19. The odds of me getting the disease were less than 0.5%. Through this struggle, I have come to realize how precious life is and the hurdles we need to overcome at every step.
Isaiah Magala Destin, 10, Charlotte, N.C.
The COVID pandemic has made me feel a lot of ways—good, sad, weird, but mostly sad. I haven’t seen my old friends in person. I can only FaceTime them on my mini tablet. My best friend Leland finally came to visit me a few weeks ago, which was great. But he was the only one who did all year.
Things seem to be getting better with the pandemic. I know President Joe Biden is doing his best to end COVID. At my school, I heard all the teachers got vaccinated! And at school, sometimes you can take your mask off for like 20 minutes while exercising during P.E., which I like.
At home, I spend a lot of time playing with my cute twin siblings in and outside our apartment. I also draw a lot and make videos on my tablet, which makes my life better.
I feel sad that I don’t get to meet my family in Uganda and Florida. To tell you the truth, if COVID-19 wasn’t real, I would not be that careful about getting sick. I wish that COVID was so weak that it would become like getting chickenpox.
Shanaya Pokharna, 12, Memphis, Tenn.
I had never imagined that at age 12, I would be witness to something so unusual, something that would become history—a pandemic, something people only hear about in textbooks. Unimaginable, unfathomable, unforgettable is how I describe 2020.
This was a year full of emotions. My mother was sick in an isolated room for 20 days. She got COVID-19 when the world was waking up to “just another flu” in early March. My father, who is an infectious disease physician, tirelessly cared for COVID patients in inundated hospitals, navigating the lack of supplies and finally contracting the infection himself.
2020 has matured me by a few years. I learned the virtues of compassion, patience, hard work, selflessness, dedication, gratefulness and passion towards one’s profession and family from my parents and people around me. There are so many things we take for granted—like family and friends—but 2020 has made me realize how important these things are. This whole experience has made me realize that we humans are capable of overcoming any adversities as we all strive to get over this catastrophe.
Abby Rogers, 11, Lahaina, Hawaii
I can’t believe all that has changed in one year. Like most kids, my school was shut down. Every day the news would report about the virus spreading quickly throughout the world, and it was scary for me because I have reactive airways disease. Due to my condition, my exposure to people outside of my family was limited. While my world became physically smaller, my online world began expanding. To give me something to do, my aunt recommended scientific livestreams, where I could learn from scientists from all over the world. Now, my new “best friends” are explorers who educate me on the importance of climate change, kelp forests, cotton-top tamarins and so much more!
The more I’ve learned, the more I’ve wanted to do something to help make the world a better place. I started by trying to become as eco-friendly as possible. I cut down on my single use plastics, ate less meat, and became an avid recycler. I have recently gone back to school two days a week and I’m super excited to be there. However, I was a little concerned as to why there wasn’t a recycling bin in my classroom, but my teacher kindly allowed me to bring one in!
Valentina Efendiev, 6, Jackson, N.J.
I got a purple skateboard. I also like to roller skate, ride scooters, and ride my bike on my driveway and in the park. I also like to paint and color. I am starting to paint a mermaid canvas and it has so many details. I drew a paw print and a flamingo in my art class. My class was on the computer. Now it’s in my classroom, but hopefully soon it can be in the art room.
In the winter I made a big snowman, and we had a big snowball fight. I hit Daddy in the glasses! He was O.K. And I did a chat with my friends and showed them my loose tooth, and they said it was really cool.
I used to ride horses but they shut down. My horseback teacher’s mom got sick, so we were meant to be away. I was sad because I couldn’t do gymnastics, swimming, or horseback riding anymore. Now I don’t know how to swim. I want to learn how to do a cartwheel.
As told to TIME via interview
Afton Campbell, 12, Surprise, Ariz.
I haven’t had COVID-19, but the pandemic still changed my life. Distance learning started in March 2020. Since then, I haven’t gone back to in-person school; I chose to continue online classes because I enjoy spending more time with my mom and baby sister. I’ve missed my teachers and friends, but I can wear pajamas!
My dad works at a cancer hospital. As other hospitals were busy treating COVID-19 patients, they transferred cancer patients to his hospital. I saw him less as he worked overtime.
Before the pandemic, my family visited my aunt in a memory care facility every week. I loved spending time with her and the other residents. Her facility has banned visitors since March 2020. We FaceTimed, but it wasn’t the same. Then she caught COVID-19. Watching her decline was horrible. She passed on New Year’s Eve, and our family had to hold her funeral virtually. When we needed our family most we couldn’t be together.
The pandemic changed my life, but not in entirely bad ways. I’m grateful to realize all the things I took for granted, like how lucky I am to be healthy and to spend time with my family.