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Amid anxiety, youth relax, discover hobbies

A month ago, I was ecstatic at the prospect of having time off from school, but now I long to replicate the sense of routine that has completely disappeared from my life over the last few weeks.

Although I dedicate a few hours of every week to Zoom calls for my classes and extracurriculars, most of my time is filled with endless boredom. To alleviate this, my peers and I are searching for other things that satisfy the typical pillars of teenage life. Finding social, creative and productive outlets has been difficult, but not impossible; many have been successful in finding interesting new hobbies within the confines of our current situation.

Shortly after we began social distancing, the Northampton Youth Commission sent out a survey inquiring about the experiences of Northampton’s high school population. Around 200 teenagers told us about what they were doing in isolation and we found that, to a certain degree, everyone is enjoying their extra free time.

Many people treat downtime like downtime, choosing to relax and attempt to quell their anxiety. Many people are using the internet and social media as an escape from their current situation; this is apparent from our survey’s results, as 84% of teens said they’ve seen an increase in their screen time.

Of course, much of this screen time is spent in the pursuit of social connection. One respondent reported that they’ve been posing a question to their Instagram followers every day in order to start conversations with people they don’t normally talk to at school.

In fact, in some ways, teenagers are more connected than ever. Western Massachusetts and Northampton High School-themed bingo boards — interactive games in which people showcase experiences ubiquitous to certain institutions or places — have been cropping up on many people’s Instagram Stories.

Other Instagram Story challenges have included digital pushup contests, as well as a prompt to share appreciation for the strong young women in one’s life. It seems that every day there is a new trend and that has certainly kept spirits higher.

While I’ve gone through the process of organizing neglected parts of my house, a few of our peers have decided to completely redo their rooms, feathering their nests in preparation for the months they may spend inside. This also provides a creative outlet, something that many teenagers find missing due to social distancing.

One of our respondents, a musician and participant in the school music program, continues to arrange a cappella pieces, despite the lack of a singing group. Another, also musically inclined, hopes to kick-start their musical career by posting original songs online. Other teenagers have adopted hobbies not typically associated with our generation, such as knitting, embroidery and woodcarving.

With countless daily posts emphasizing the epidemiological importance of social distancing, it’s clear that most of my generation has a good understanding of the severity of the pandemic and are contributing in any way they can. In fact, many of our peers have gone above and beyond in dedicating themselves to pandemic-related causes.

Matthieu Johnson, a junior at Northampton High, is part of a group of young people using their 3-D printing skills to make masks and face shields for front-line health care workers. Having taught 3-D printing classes since eighth grade, Johnson was quickly able to apply his skills and start producing shields. These shields are being delivered to Cooley Dickinson Hospital and other medical facilities across western Massachusetts and beyond.

He has already printed and delivered hundreds of shields and is hoping to deliver at least 2,000 more with support from the community. I encourage anyone with disposable income to visit his Gofundme (tinyurl.com/noho-face-shields) to help sustain his project.

Upon hearing that their school would be transformed into a shelter, NHS students Amelia and Charlotte Bourne volunteered to work in the school building. They thought it was important to put themselves at increased risk rather than someone else, as young people are more immune than adults.

Although I’ve enjoyed reading about my peers’ new hobbies and newly applied skills, I’ve still found myself worrying about how this time off has affected my future. Spring is a time for renewal, but this year it is missing its usual markers: college visits, SATs, and excitedly planning out the summer before senior year.

Things feel static, and it’s hard to get excited for my future when the world’s future seems so unknown. Keeping busy is important, but it only provides moments of temporary distraction from the mounting anxiety I feel as the days tick by.

Oliver Lawton is a member of the Northampton Youth Commission and a junior at Northampton High School.

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