Adolescent Meaning Making: Processing What COVID-19 Means for Sense of Self, Place in Society, and Future Trajectory

COVID-19 represents a major shift across various aspects of life—economic, educational, health, etc.  Furthermore, the impacts on the near and long term future are still uncertain. Given the current moment of flux, we are seeking to better understanding how various groups of adolescents are processing the current moment and integrating it into their developing senses of self. In terms of human development, older adolescence is a prime time in the life course for developing and affirming a sense of self (an identity) as well as considering this in relation to a future orientation and as to one’s place in society. 

The aims of this research are to use an online survey to collect older adolescents’ perspectives and thoughts on COVID-19 and its impact on their lives and communities. We believe it is extremely important to gather students’ voices and perspectives to better understand what they are going through and ultimately be able to support them.

We conducted two rounds of surveys with middle and high school students in the spring and fall of 2020.  Additionally, a small sample participated in both rounds of surveys and will be interviewed in the winter/spring of 2021. We ask young people about:

  • Their understanding and processing what COVID-19 means to humanity and their societies
  • Their thinking about themselves and their places in society during this moment
  • Their thinking about their future trajectories and opportunities
  • Their trust in different institutions and groups in their society

Preliminary Findings from First Round of Surveys Spring 2020:

  1. Not all are impacted, and some have opportunities for growth
  2. School changes matter, but for a host of reasons
  3. Online communication is not sufficient for social needs
  4. A sense of missing out
  5. Daily routines, social life, and mental health are interconnected

For more details, please see the full report.


Preliminary Findings from Second Round of Surveys Fall 2020:

  1. Amid Challenges, COVID Life is Normalizing for Some and Students Are Coping
  2. Many Experience Continues Stress and Remote Schooling Impacts Mental Health
  3. Emotions Reflect Social Experiences and Challenges, As Well As Mental Health Impacts
  4. Schooling Experiences Are Mixed, And Often Reflect Impact of People Around Them
  5. For Many, Social Connections and Lack Thereof Shape Experiences of COVID-19 and Schooling

For more details, please see the Fall full report.

This study has been approved by the Marquette Institutional Review Board, #HR-3589.

If you would like to know more about the results or the project, please contact Dr. Gabriel Velez.