May 9, 2020

Students Share Life-Lessons Learned By Navigating the COVID-19 Pandemic

Due to COVID-19, middle and high school students are taking a crash course in free time, connection, and self-care.


When our team at The Social Institute speaks with students across the country, we often hear how structured their days are: a rigorous class schedule, followed by after-school activities, dinner with family, not to mention a healthy amount of homework to top off the day. Simply put: It’s hard to find a breather!

Just when students thought their day couldn’t get more challenging, COVID-19 entered our world (and theirs). This world of structure for students suddenly vanished, leaving them to figure out a world of questions: How do I navigate a whole different schedule? How do I stay connected with friends? How do I fill in all these gaps of free time?

Students now worry that this sudden lack of structure could lead to intensified feelings of anxiety, stress, and isolation — feelings that no student should experience, especially K-12 students.

But there is hope. Schools across the country are quickly adapting to address this unexpected strain on students’ social-emotional health. Student leaders, educators, and parents are taking significant strides in empowering students to navigate unstructured free time through connection, self-care, and mindfulness.


At The Social Institute, we believe students are the true experts when it comes to using technology to connect and socialize. So, we asked Kharynton, one of our Student Ambassadors at The Social Institute, to share her favorite creative ways for students to stay connected during this uncertain time.

Netflix Party is a Chrome extension that allows us to watch shows and movies with friends remotely. The cool new way to socialize, launched as a result of stay-at-home orders, can help students both combat boredom and connect with others.

“Try picking a season of a show and watching it only with a friend! It will keep you from binging on your own and you can share the experience with someone else,” says Kharynton.

Watch this student’s short Netflix Party tutorial to learn how to get started.

Although Zoom has been around since 2011, COVID-19 suddenly made it a household name. Students quickly flocked to the platform and introduced “Zoom Parties.” This is not your standard conference call. Friend groups are hosting theme nights, birthday parties, and even dance parties on Zoom.

That’s right, Zoom dance parties are exactly what you think. Students hop on Zoom and pick a song to play, and everyone dances in their own room. As Kharynton shared, “The dance party was hilarious and we couldn’t stop laughing. My mom even came up to ask what in the world we were doing!”

Zoom charges fees though, right? Not to worry, students are savvy and have found a work-around. Free Zoom limits calls to 40-minutes long, and so friends are having multiple people each run a free 40-minute call and stacking the time blocks. They share the links ahead of time and boom: hours of free Zooming!


As Kharynton shared, “It’s equally important to balance social interaction with self reflection.” Here are two more pro tips from students for controlling the controllable and protecting the five inches between our ears.

Lock in on interests and activities you enjoy doing solo. “I highly recommend coloring,” says Kharynton. Remember, it’s okay to simply not be productive for a little while. Studies show that boredom is a great jumping off point for creativity. We have the unique opportunity to put down our devices for a bit and see what we gravitate towards naturally.

When Khyarington first experienced meditation in middle school, she says the teacher was met with rolling eyes and giggles throughout the session. “But I’ve used that lesson about focusing on one thing at a time to find calm ever since.” Key takeaway: Life skills classes and workshops that students may initially giggle at could be embedded with meaningful, life-long lessons.

“Encouraging self-care is a protective factor and requires reflection and awareness of one’s current emotional state and needs. This self-awareness opens the door to acknowledging and recognizing emotions and needs, which ultimately allows individuals to employ strategies to regulate these emotions and strategies to fulfill needs. Of course, this all leads to good mental health,” says Lake Forest Country Day School Social Worker, Nancy Watson LCSW/CADC.


Although middle and high school students are tackling these life lessons much earlier than expected, this situation empowers school communities with the unique opportunity to lean into social-emotional health now more than ever before. The current disruptions may exacerbate existing social-emotional challenges in your school community, but there is always a silver lining. We can proactively support students in helping them take care of the five inches between their ears with skills that last a lifetime and support them in future challenges ahead.


Related Articles:

Students Share Pro Tips To Stay Physically Active While At Home

Students Nationwide Step Up to Help Their Communities Stay Positive

EMA Special Report: ‘The Next Normal: How K–12 Independent Schools Can Survive and Thrive in a New Landscape’


The Social Institute partners with schools nationwide to empower students, parents and educators to navigate social-emotional health, social media, and technology positively through comprehensive, gamified lessons that meet students on their level. We have partnered with forward-thinking institutions across the nation, including Ravenscroft School, Gaston Day School, Miss Porter’s School, Gilman School, Woodward Academy, U.S. Olympic athletes, Duke Men’s Basketball, ESPN, and others. For more information, contact us.