MHS Zoomed for the Stars, While Students Crash and Burn

by Mikayla Salib ’22

Published Oct. 4th, 2020

A new set of emotional and social obstacles for students arises with the new “normal” of virtual learning.

Clicking from one meeting link to the next, confined to a box on a screen, students are finding that Zoom is an insufficient substitute for the regular classroom. Constant Zoom interactions are negatively impacting students mentally and emotionally, creating a virtual version of MHS that is almost unrecognizable.

In a survey conducted at MHS, 50% of students are finding themselves to be quieter and less willing to participate, while 40% are more anxious to speak, worrying about what people think of their appearance. 

Bobby Battle, an MHS student, said, “The zoom ‘classroom’ introduces new insecurities that I previously didn’t have to worry about. During classes, I am constantly focused on worrying about what I will say next, if my connection is stable, or if I look good enough.”

Humans are extremely sensitive to facial expressions, perceiving emotions demonstrated through slight movements around the mouth and eyes. With glitching screens and pixelated images, understanding these small signals becomes an impossible task, leading people to misread expressions, making them more anxious. 

In a recent NY Times article, Palau Niedenthal, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said, “Our brains are prediction generators, and when there are delays or the facial expressions are frozen or out of sync, as happens on Zoom… we perceive it as a prediction error,” causing people to be thrown off and misinterpret how the other person feels.

Students often portray a different “version” of themselves when at school versus at home. When in school, students found it easier to blend in with other students, talk to people they weren’t necessarily “close” with, and distinguish their home life from their social and academic ones. Now, when the classroom is inside of their homes, teens worry about their image and which personality to show on camera. 

For others, the loss of the real classroom is a loss of an important outlet. “There are certain things that I wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable discussing with my parents, so school has always been a somewhat safe space, but now I don’t have this separate space anymore. While Zoom school doesn’t necessarily change my identity, it definitely limits my self-expression,” said Melanie Zhang, a junior at MHS.

If you would like someone to talk to, you can reach out to 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255- toll-free, 24-hr. National Suicide Prevention Hotline) or 1-866-615-6464 (the National Institute of Mental Health).

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