Quaran-Teens 2020: Cultural Impact on Health

Quaran-Teens 2020: Cultural Impact on Health

[The following students are high school seniors at “KTH School” taking International Baccalaureate Social and Cultural Anthropology. After their final IB exams were cancelled, they decided they would like to do an auto-ethnography of their life in coronavirus quarantine. They have collected data for three weeks (including photographs, screenshots of social media and virtual school, interviews, and personal reflections) and written anthropological analyses focused on different terms (communication, society, belonging, materiality, classification, the body, health, and conflict).]

By Yagmur Onder, Shivani Koka, and Steven Gao

During these unprecedented times, we have sought mental, physical, and social health in a variety of ways. We documented our time in quarantine, collecting data through participant observation, unstructured interviews, and photography. Our auto-ethnographic data illustrates the importance of ritual and kinship to our individual and family health. Having a place of belonging and classifying with our kin shapes identity through shared memories of being required to perform all activities at home.

Home Workouts

A person with long hair is planking on a yoga mat.
Photo taken by author of participating family member is in the middle of her designed home workout on the back porch

On April 6th, in the late afternoon, I went on a walk through nearby neighborhoods with family member DO. We discussed the extremes we observed since beginning self-quarantine and the largest shift, regardless of any individual’s position, seems to be the break in routines: Healthcare workers prioritize COVID-19 patients; teachers prepare online lectures and activities; coaches lead workouts over video chatting; athletes suspend their traditional practices and substitute them with home workouts; and so many other schedules flipped upside down.

With this time, DO prioritized bettering her mental and physical health by changing her routine in order to sleep healthier hours and working out more. She feels this quarantine has shaped her for the better because it’s taught her how to motivate herself at her own pace and schedule. One way she believes this period has been influential for her is understanding the “mindset that you’re not changing something about yourself, you are kind of making a lifestyle”. Her cultural habits seem to have altered towards a healthier direction, something she wants to continue when COVID-19 cases have plateaued and decreased, and it’s a healthy habit I’m working on as well.

Social Distancing Routines

At the beginning of my family’s 4th week in quarantine, I wanted to observe my family’s actions and conduct unstructured interviews about kinship. Kinship, or family, is a system of how people are related to each other. Today, I observed my family doing a puzzle after we all ate breakfast and sat down with our coffee. I noticed that my family is in a better mood due to less stress and more time at home. We are getting along much better because we are bonding more. Activities like cooking, going on walks, yoga, and movies have elevated our moods. Kinship is one of the most important, universal, and complex social organizations into which humans organize themselves. Often seen as central to the stable foundation of society, kinship and family relationships strongly affect your individual identity. Through observing my own family during quarantine, I have noticed the emotional support that it has provided me. My family gives me a place of belonging and shapes how I develop, personally feeling the most stable and simple way of organizing society.

A completed puzzle of what seem to be old travel posters or book covers.
Photo by Author. My family and I have been working on this puzzle as a fun way to get together and kill time during quarantine. We have spent more time doing activities that do not involve screen time.

With this time I have also focused on observing myself. I used my own memories as a form of collecting data. I have memories of my daily ritual before quarantine. Rituals are symbolic actions that help people physically express their beliefs, values, and cultural identity. I would wake up, go to school, go to lacrosse practice, do homework, then go to sleep. Now my daily ritual has changed drastically. I wake up late, do a couple hours of school, workout in my backyard, and then watch Netflix. This drastic change in ritual has also affected how I see my identity. My previous ritual gave me balance and purpose. I felt that a big part of my identity was the ritual I go through. Today I noticed myself longing for my old ritual to keep my sanity.

Various foods are laid out on a granite counter.
Photo by Author, cooking with her family.

Rituals and routines function to provide a sense of comfort in the human experience. Rituals are stylized, usually repetitive acts that take place at a set time and location. They can contribute towards the affirmation of our identities through a certain performance. For example, DO’s routine of specialized workouts in addition to the transition from traditional to virtual learning, establishes her sense of self and belonging as the place in which her identity is largely influenced as a teenager (her high school) has changed to her bedroom. Malinowski (Pountney and Maric 167) explains that rituals can have a psychotherapeutic quality. Understood in that way, rituals may bring comfort and reassurance in this time of a global crisis, especially for the youth who are unaccustomed to completing their school work at their own schedules. My school shifted all plans from campus to virtual software.

There is always disagreement within cultures, however, and some individuals resist self-quarantine and continue their normal pre-COVID-19 routines, such as the people I’ve observed in the news protesting the self-quarantine. These disagreements by people of different backgrounds unite in feelings of powerlessness and tension in the bubble of self-quarantine in which the rituals are a symbolic source of comfort.

Gaming During Quarantine 

Under the current situation, many people in quarantine and home all day like me play a lot of multi-player online video games, such as Call of Duty, CSGO, and Fortnite. Like me, the majority of students across the globe are attending class online and some play video games afterwards for hours. I generally play at least three hours a day. However, the increased time spent playing video games could be considered good and bad for your mental health. The good benefits entail increased brain activity and emotional connection and comfort. The negative consequences entail sitting at home and a lack of motion.

A computer desk with two large monitors and a gaming chair
Photo by Author of his gaming and work space.

So, despite my limited space, I do plenty of at-home exercises to keep mentally and physically active. I found that video games positively enhance my mental well-being: My favorite daily moments are derived from interactions with other gamers. As our world shifts from traditional social interactions to virtual, it becomes more significance to understand how video games may influence our mental health.

Ethical Evaluations

A large three-story house with a big green front yard.
Photo taken by author to display specific sense of place and social position in which families of different social & economic positions may respond to quarantine differently: My family is not struggling during self-quarantine with consideration to my economic status as displayed by my ability to live in a suburb outside a major city

The primary role of the anthropologist is to accurately share their understanding of the human experience without putting individuals at risk in terms of their privacy and safety. My interviews (verbal consent given) represents only the individual perspective on the quarantine experience, not necessarily representative of the broader population. I realize that my position (social, economic, and geographic) affects my opinion of quarantine because of what’s discussed around me. Because of this, I talk to friends across the United States and even family in Turkey to understand how they’re dealing with self-quarantine. The data from my family members restricts my ability to generalize towards the larger population because my family consists are two health-care workers and a twin sister who live comfortably: I’m not in direct access with individuals that may be suffering from self-quarantine and my understanding of psychotherapeutic comfort in rituals during this time could be enhanced by observing what families of different positions are doing during this time. However, analysis of my auto-ethnographic data in terms of ritual and kinship connect these individual experiences with broader themes in anthropology.

During my observation of my family members during these unprecedented times, I considered many ethical issues. One of the main issues is consent of the participants.

My goal was to be able to observe my participants without doing any harm. I received verbal consent from all family members. An advantage of auto-ethnographic observation is that it has no or very low cost since I have been observing inside my home. It also is practical due to no travel and having time because school is now online. Though our data may not be representative of the whole population, it does present the situation for our specific families. To make final conclusions, more research will have to be done. However, given the breadth of all who are affected by COVID-19 and the logistics of quarantine, this kind of auto-ethnographic random sampling could be the only kind of data we have.


As COVID-19 has been spreading across the globe, each person has to take a step forward and be responsible of their health as well as others. I think you should wash your hands every time when you leave or enter the house. Make sure you wipe the door handle and use all other precautionary methods to keep yourself away from the virus. For example, I would wash my hands after working out on the treadmill, making sure to apply the hand soap at least twice. I’m personally a clean person, so when it comes to self-precaution, I try to make everything perfect. Everyday morning and night, I would take a shower to make sure that I’m clean and ready to go. After each meal, I will for sure to wash my hands several time and keep it as clean as I possible could. I know that hands are the easiest tool that can possibly transfer things onto your body. Just by doing all these things, makes me feel safe and clean. And not just that, I also do feel that I’m doing all these things to help others as well, because the more precautions I do the less risk there will be. So, it makes me feel better and more positive under the current situation.

Here are the steps of preventing the spread of the coronavirus and taking up the responsibility to maintain self-hygiene:

A pump-bottle of soap sits in front of a bathroom sink
Photo by Author.

Clean your hands often. Use soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand rub.

Maintain a safe distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.

Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth.

Cover your nose and mouth with your bent elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

Stay home if you feel unwell.

If you have a fever, a cough, and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention. Call in advance.


Photo by Author.


Pountney, Laura, and Marić Tomislav. Introducing Anthropology. Polity Press, 2015.