By Laxmi McCulloch
Germantown Friends School
Last fall, my family and I gave our porch a makeover.
It used to be essentially a storage area, a home for broken but still usable rakes, piles of firewood, and leaf bags that never got to dry completely between rainy days.
One sunny day in October, we hauled away the bags and banished the rakes to the basement. We tidied the firewood into a neat little pile. We swept and dusted. We bought two couches, two chairs, a coffee table, and a rug to match it all. We installed heaters for the winter and a fan for the summer.
And then, finally, it was finished. Our own little lounge area, outdoor oasis, and most important, COVID-19-friendly space.
Before the pandemic, I never really thought about where to hang out with my friends. I would just go to someone’s house or they would come to mine — there wasn’t much to it. However, with social-distancing guidelines in place, location became a huge factor. If you wanted to see anyone outside of your bubble, you needed an outdoor space in which you could be six feet apart, which got more difficult the more friends you had getting together.
I’m lucky to have my porch as an option, but for many teenagers — and probably every other age demographic, too — this was a predicament that required thinking outside the box.
“Driveways, backyards, and parks,” said Claire Miller, a junior at Carrollwood Day School in Tampa, Fla., when asked where she has been spending time with friends over the last year. “I think it’s been a good experience; it’s been a nice thing because it forces you to get creative with your hanging out options, but sometimes it is an inconvenience.”
The inconvenience for Miller and others seeking enjoyment in the great outdoors during the dead of winter is the reality of bad weather. As the winter set in, it got harder and harder to spend time outside.
“We continue to make an effort to come up with ways around that, like fires and lots of blankets and just accepting being cold,” said Ada Yeomans, a junior at Germantown Friends School.
There often isn’t a choice, so a lot of teenagers just deal with the cold and the inclement weather. “I don’t really like seeing my friends when it’s, like, pouring rain outside,” said Jack Maguire, a sophomore at the Dalton School in New York City, “but I’ll go sledding with them when it snows. I just bundle up.”
All of this, while not ideal, has given teenagers a greater appreciation for open spaces around them. I, for one, over the past year, have been to more parks and nature trails in and around my neighborhood than I knew existed.
“I’ve definitely spent time in parks in the city with my friends that I hadn’t before and I’ve explored the Wissahickon a lot more,” said Yeomans. “Even though it’s really close to my house, I mostly had just been on the same trails and on Forbidden Drive, so I definitely spent more time exploring some of the side trails.”
It’s easy to assume that a situation like this — having to be outside in freezing temperatures, trying to find COVID-19-safe spaces — would discourage teenagers from socializing and encourage them to instead stay at home, watching TikTok in their pajamas. While it is true that’s one of my favored pastimes, I would also argue that if anything, the pandemic has prompted me to spend more time with my friends than ever before.
Because we’re spending less time in the classroom, the amount of time I spent with my friends decreased immensely at the beginning of quarantine. To make up for the lost time, I spent every free moment I had FaceTiming them, texting them, or, ideally, with them in-person, socially distant and masked.
Yeomans agreed: “I no longer have those interactions during school or after school or in between classes or extracurriculars, but I have found that I’ve hung out with my friends more … just to see each other, which has been really nice. I think because we’re not getting to see each other every day at school, the lack of time spent together is more prominent and we miss each other more, so we go out of our way to see each other rather than waiting for an event or a special occasion.”
It’s great to get in touch with nature and spend some time outside, but I have a feeling that people — especially teenagers — won’t take for granted the ease and comfort of hanging out in a friend’s living room or bedroom or kitchen post-pandemic.