Throughout school, Charlie Dane had always looked forward to college, imagining that he would have the best years of his life, meet new friends, and spread his wings as an adult.
What the 18-year-old didn't expect was that he would spend most of his first term away from home in solitary confinement.
When Charlie arrived to begin an engineering degree last September, he found that freshman events were online and classrooms were closed. For the next lonely weeks, he would try to chat with others in the eerily quiet stairwells and hallways only to be told by university staff not to congregate.
Then, on a rainy November night, security guards beat Charlie with a £ 100 fine by security guards for standing in a small group in front of his block.
Poppy Vernon, 17, (left) from Tavistock, Devon, initially found the first ban liberating and a chance to catch up on hobbies like reading and playing the piano. Anouska Ornstein, 15, (right) from North London, has also found that social media is a double-edged sword
"After that, I was afraid to leave my room," says Charlie, who is now at home with his parents Bill, a real estate agent, and Wendy, a teaching assistant, in Ashford, Kent.
Too nervous to name the prestigious West Country university, Charlie says his life is in the balance. "When you're in a tiny, eight-foot-wide room with only your laptop to go with, one day spills over into the next." It destroys the soul. “He sounds defeated when treated like a criminal when his only crime is being a teenager in a pandemic.
Of course, over the past nine months we have all had to radically adjust our lives to try to fight the virus. However, among teenagers who are less likely to contract Covid-19, their main battle has been against two other enemies: loneliness and despair.
At a time when our young people never needed education and resilient mental health to weather the long-term economic shockwaves of the crisis, many feel that both are wearing off.
Freddie Faragher, 16, (pictured) a boarding school student from Telford, Shropshire, hasn't seen a friend in over six weeks since the end of the fall semester
Being a teenager is never easy as many struggle to find out who they are and what to do with their lives. But so far at least our teenagers' lives have had organization and purpose.
Critics may point out that previous generations lived through the trauma of war and that all our young people now have to do is sit on the sofa. However, it is hard to overstate how disastrous such a loss of direction can be at this age.
While this may be peacetime, aimlessness forces many teenagers into an entirely different fight, one that is fought alone in their rooms. And the older the teenagers get, the more they feel it. According to a survey by the UCL Institute of Education, 19-year-olds suffer most from depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
This week, the Royal College of Psychiatrists warned that NHS numbers, which show the record number of referrals for mental health problems among children and adolescents – now 4,615 per 100,000, an almost 20 percent increase from last year – are running the risk of many in this generation will be lost for life & # 39; Mental illness.
16-year-old Raakhi Bhagdev from Stockport, Cheshire, is a freshman from Manchester High School for Girls
For some, the initial lockdown had been too much. Two students took their own lives in October after struggling with isolation.
The family of second year history student Lily Arkwright from Cardiff University shared how the 19-year-old went from being a “smart, fun, partisan life” to being a “light and a life”.
Lockdown was 100 percent to blame, says her mother Annie of Ludlow, Shropshire.
Six ways to beat the pandemic blues
Knock on her door
Don't allow your teenagers to stay in their room for hours. If you haven't heard from them before, invite them to do something with you. Avoid criticism. For a feeling bad teen, what sounds like a helpful suggestion to you will be heard from them as an excavation.
One day at a time
If your teen seems overwhelmed with worries about their future, they are probably thinking emotionally, which leads them to believe that those fears must indeed be well founded.
Tell your teen that their worries are a natural, self-protective response. Feeling unhappy during these uncertain times doesn't mean something is wrong with you.
Let go of certainty
Life is full of uncertainties and we have little power over major events, especially a pandemic. Psychologist Becky Goddard-Hill, author of Be Happy, Be You: The Teenage Guide, recommends teenagers make a list of the things they cannot control, and then find a positive alternative that they can control for each. Becky says, "For example, while you may not be able to see a particular friend in person during lockdown, you can take control by arranging a regular video call with that friend."
Look you can handle it!
Worry turns into fear when teenagers believe they cannot cope with it. Speak during a neutral time when they are not upset, through times when they have overcome difficult obstacles.
Limit social media
Talk about the signs, such as fear of their looks, that may show they are being pulled into a black hole on social media. Suggest that when they feel self-critical, alarm bells should go off that it is time to switch to another activity.
Psychologist Susan Jeffers suggests that teens write a list of things that affect them such as, "I'm worried I won't get GSCE grades, now I'm not taking exams" and substituting, "I'm doing myself." Worry "through" I "wonder if". Curiosity is better than fear.
That same month, 19-year-old freshman Finn Kitson was found dead at the University of Manchester after he had committed suicide. His father, Cambridge economist Michael, said, "If you lock young people up with little support for Covid-19, expect them to suffer from severe anxiety."
Papyrus, a youth suicide prevention charity, said 80 percent of calls from young people mention the block and that every time a block is announced, they notice an increase in calls and messages.
Poppy Vernon, 17, from Tavistock, Devon, initially found the first ban liberating and a chance to catch up on hobbies like reading and playing the piano. The third exhausted her.
She says, "I don't sleep so well because I subconsciously worry – not just about the fact that the virus seems to be approaching, but also about my future."
Poppy attends community college and usually moves between the homes of divorced parents, Bracken, a public relations consultant, and David, who owns a real estate company. Now that her high school exams have been canceled, she doesn't feel deserved or taken seriously no matter what grades she gets.
"Without exams, I think," Will my grades be enough to take the university courses I want to take? Will there still be any jobs after I graduate? "The whole thing that doesn't know what the future will bring is so exhausting."
In the meantime, some of Poppy's friendships are disappearing, and milestones she was looking forward to, like her prom, are less likely.
She says: "It's my 18th birthday in March. A few years ago I might have imagined a party. Now I pray that I can at least see a friend."
When the third lockdown was announced earlier this month, Poppy collapsed. “When Boris spread the news, I just cried. This is the toughest lock yet. All teenagers need space, but now it's harder to get outside because of the wintry weather.
“A lot of my friends have problems. Yes, we are all in the same boat. But as one of my friends pointed out: the boat is sinking. "
Poppy's younger sister Hazel, 16, is battling her own disappointment. As a tennis player of national standing, she saw her future stand. "I'm again training alone with a tennis ball against a wall," she says. “To a lot of people, not being able to play tennis may not sound important. But it's my life Without it I have nothing. So I was very tearful. "
The greatest struggle for all young people is against loneliness. Longer isolation makes teenagers more prone to self-critical thoughts. Urgent referrals for young people starting outpatient treatment for eating disorders hit a record 625 from July to September last year.
Emily Dennis *, 16, who lives in Hendon, north London with her two sisters and parents, had never been on a diet before the lockdown.
But when her secondary school closed in March, she spent so much time alone in her room that she was drawn into a social media whirlwind that followed influencers who encouraged her fan base to spend their time engaging in workout challenges . She followed Chloe Ting, who has three million fans on Instagram, and worked out in her room every day trying to get Chloe's washboard abs.
However, Emily felt too slow and began to make herself sick after eating. Her friends were so concerned about her dramatic weight loss that she agreed to get in touch with a school counselor who helped her see how much she was harming herself.
In retrospect, Emily says, “In lockdown, everything felt out of control. I felt so trapped at home like all I could do was control my weight. That was the only thing that made me feel better. But when I looked at the fitness issues on my phone, the algorithms showed me more. Social media reinforced the idea – to a really unhealthy extreme. "
In the absence of friends to hang out with, 15-year-old Anouska Ornstein has also found that social media is a double-edged sword. Anouska, who lives with her parents, Zoe, an interior designer, and Dan, a lawyer, and her two younger brothers in Crouch End, north London, says: “Friends are so important because we are at such a difficult time in our lives.
"We are not children or adults. We still have no idea who we want to be or what we want to look like. When you are alone, you start to rethink your personality and appearance. You have no friends who contradict your negative views .
‘You just scroll and scroll (on social media). And when you gasp for air you say, "Why don't I have a thigh gap? Why don't I have hip dips?"
“Friends help you define yourself, and school makes you use your brain. When I didn't have one, I felt lost. "
Boys suffer from missing friends as well. Freddie Faragher, 16, a boarder from Telford, Shropshire, hasn't seen a friend in over six weeks since the end of the fall semester.
For most of the year his parents, teachers Richard and Gill were his only human contact.
"I'm a very sociable person, so I've never spent so much time alone – 80 percent in my room." My mood has gone up and down, between anger at being stuck at home and accepting it. "
Although Freddie meets his male friends online every night to play video games like Counter Strike, it's not the same, says Freddie. Such isolation meant there was little distraction after his grandmother Edna died of old age in a nursing home.
"Covid restrictions meant we couldn't visit her and it's terrible to think about her dying on her own. School would have stopped me. Though I never thought I'd say that a few years ago , I miss the community and the sense of belonging. "
And the underlying fear is that while teenagers are the least likely to get sick, they may be the Trojans that bring the virus to more vulnerable family members.
Sixteen-year-old Raakhi Bhagdev from Stockport, Cheshire, is a freshman from Manchester High School for Girls. She has lived with fear that she could bring the virus home to her father Parag, 54, an IT manager with type 2 diabetes.
Raakhi says, "When I went to school there was always an intense worry that I would be the one to bring it home." I would disinfect my school desk and, when I get home, take my bag straight up and undress.
“On the bus, I always tried not to touch the handles or to sit next to people. However, if someone next to you is sitting against the rules of social distancing, it can be difficult to tell them to keep their distance when you are younger. It's stressful. "
How does this generation see the future? Despite the lows, there are also young people who feel that if they can survive this, they can survive anything.
In fact, Raakhi believes she learned a lot. “Yes, there have been lows. Just as I found my independence, my freedoms were taken from me. But I also think it was character building. It's true I won't get this time back. But I have a long life to live and I am sure that I can make it up to me. "
Beth Toeman, 18, also admits that her first semester at Birmingham University studying English is far from what she was hoping for.
For one thing, Beth, who lives in north London with her photographer dad Paul and retailer's mom Louise, hasn't set foot in a classroom and is furious that she'll have to pay back her £ 9,000 tuition fees in the future.
After the 10pm curfew went in her early weeks, Beth recalls that from "being outside until the wee hours of the morning to meet people" she was in bed until 11pm, feeling like a grandma. I feel a little betrayed by the university experience, ”says Beth.
"But it is against my nature not to believe that things won't get better." I am optimistic. We must. Even if there are new variants, I trust in scientists. You have learned so much about it in such a short time. "
"It's valid to be angry, but we can't afford to feel this way forever." Whatever my generation has been through, we can never lose hope. It's getting better. "
* Emily's name has been changed. For confidential assistance, call the Samaritans (samaritans.org) on 116 123.
Tanith Carey is the author of What’s My Teenager Thinking with Dr. Angharad Rudkin, published by DK.
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