Editor’s note: Josie Johnson is analytics ace at research consultancy Smarty Pants, Los Angeles. 

As part of our ongoing Navigating a New Normal study, Smarty Pants set out to understand the attitudes, feelings and behaviors of U.S. high schoolers ages 14-18. The results of our qualitative inquiry into the lives of 62, 9-12 graders reveal several truths of being a “quaran-teen” in 2020.

One would assume that high schoolers are the most well-poised to thrive during a pandemic, given the ubiquity of digital connections in their lives. It is true that teens are “hanging out” with their friends via screens more than ever. They are connecting via the usual methods of text, social media and video/ gaming chats, and adding new tools to their social kits like Netflix parties. Yet, teens unequivocally agree that not being able to see their friends in person is the most difficult part of being stuck at home. They desperately crave the hallways, car rides, hugs and high fives that tether them to their peers and give them the “feels.”

“The hardest part is I can't go and hang out with anyone. I'm a very social person, so being home just sucks.” – 10th grade girl, South Carolina 

Unable to see friends or engage in organized activities, high schoolers are experiencing high levels of boredom and low levels of energy amidst the abundance of unstructured (but restricted) free time. Many also admit feeling a sense of uselessness – lacking clear goals, direction or purpose. Their usual highly structured, event-driven schedules have screeched to a halt, leaving them lost, confused and struggling to find new motivators.

“I feel stuck, unmotivated, bored, useless, cabin fever, stagnant, helpless, uncertain.” – 12th grade girl, Tennessee 

Feelings of disappointment and frustration are running rampant among high schoolers, who are watching important events and occasions they’ve awaited for years suddenly b...