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American Psychological Association

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Translational Issues in Psychological Science

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DOI: 10.1037/tps0000326


The COVID-19 pandemic will mark the lives and trajectories of adolescents who lived through it. The pandemic upended social contexts, disrupted schools, and, for many, impacted the physical, financial, and psychosocial health of themselves, their families, and their communities. Contextual changes, however, are not solely deterministic of developmental outcomes. As Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory and Spencer’s Phenomenological Variant of the Ecological Systems Theory demonstrate, young people interpret, make meaning, and respond to socioecological contexts as part of their developmental processes. The current study explored meaning making qualitatively through how adolescents in the United States were experiencing COVID-19. Participants were asked via an online survey about their emotions, how they felt COVID-19 was impacting them, and challenges in their lives. Participants (N = 816, mean 15.86 years old) came from 18 states and responded between April and June 2020. Thematic analyses identified 3 themes related to experiences of shifting socioecological context: inadequacy of virtual means of communication; interconnection of daily routines, social life, and mental health; and missing out on key experiences and milestones. Limited socializing fed into emotional responses and connected to the disruption of everyday life. Further analysis focused on Latino/a participants per the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on Latinx communities and 2 subgroups by location that had experienced differential extremes of COVID-19 rates during this timeframe. These analyses allowed for examination of different patterns based on socioecological contexts. Translational impacts for those working with young people include considering their processing of the varied and expansive socioecological shifts caused by COVID-19.


Accepted version. Translational Issues in Psychological Science, Vol. 8, No. 2 (June 2022): 269-281. DOI. © American Psychological Association. Used with permission.

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