New classes, earlier alarms set, and more homework. A new school year comes with a lot of problems, but none as bad as the self isolation a lot of teens are experiencing as a new school year begins.
For most kids, summer was spent outside, having fun with friends and family, making the return to school exciting, while other kids felt much differently. As I walked down the crowded hallway, I felt an extreme anxiety all throughout my body. I didn’t want to be there. Seeing all those faces and hearing all those voices was too much to take in when, for the past months, I had gotten so used to being in my room, all alone, only communicating with people through the small box of light that felt glued to my hand.
It was complete culture shock. At first I thought I was being overly dramatic, letting my grandmother’s words get the best of me, “You need to get off that phone and make some friends.” I have friends, but talking to them face to face felt so unusual. When I opened up about how I was feeling to some of my friends, I learned some of them felt the same way.
I explained this situation to a classmate and she completely understood. She lives under a somewhat strict household, unable to go out, but would prefer to stay home anyway.
“I feel comfortable staying at home…I usually live through my phone, seeing what others do. Sometimes it’s easier talking to others without having to face them…” 17-year-old Liz Rico told me. She went on to explain the benefits of a life online, such as carefully thinking out a response via text before sending to avoid saying the wrong thing. Saying the wrong thing is bound to happen in the real world, which was something Rico wasn’t ready for.
“When returning to school, I was completely thrown off and it felt uncomfortable and overwhelming with all these people,” she said. “Especially since I only talk to a few people and the adjustments to it usually take a while for me.”
At school, people I enjoy spending time with began hugging me and trying to catch up through casual conversation. I couldn’t breathe and got a really bad headache either from all the commotion or feeling the sun on my skin for the first time in forever. During the first week of school I found it very difficult to talk to people and maintain eye contact, which hadn’t been an issue for me in three years. Somehow I backtracked into that same shy girl I was back then, erasing all the confidence and growth I’ve gained.
To be clear, I wasn’t completely isolated for the entirety of summer, I spent a lot of wonderful time with my family, but everyone is someone different when they’re around family. The only social interactions I had were online with people I didn’t really know. When you’re online, you can create a whole different persona and you feel like you’re living a whole other life.
I still think that it may be OK to live that other persona. The internet is a great place to meet people that have the same interests as you. Over the summer I got to be a part of many online communities with people who are excited about the same TV shows and music I love.
Compare that with school, where my peers assume I’m a music snob for not liking what they do. The fact of the matter is, I can’t live my life online, and I really don’t want to. It took awhile, but after a few weeks, things were back to normal. I was speaking in front of entire classrooms without feeling the need to pass out, and attending football games, screaming with the crowd. I still don’t fully understand why I had such a serious problem coming back to school, but as odd as this state I was in seems, I’m not the only one who’s experiencing this.
This issue of self isolation is strongly connected to social media, and is a problem only my generation has faced so far. Adults may not be able to relate to our anxiety, but hopefully they can try to understand. I suggest that any student who shares the same feelings of discomfort when offline tell their story, so that we all can figure out what to do to fix it.
As more and more kids get attached to the internet at much younger ages, it’s crucial that parents limit their children’s time online. The dependency and addiction to the online world is a big problem for youth, and if we don’t take action now, it will only get worse.
VoiceWaves is a Long Beach youth-led journalism and media-training project. The youth, ages 16-24, are learning to report, write, and create digital journalism content. Read more at VoiceWaves.org.
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