Entering Adulthood Indoors... and Online

By Rebecca Vega

Published on 2021-06-27 Updated 2021-07-06

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LEAVING SECONDARY SCHOOLING behind is supposed to present endless possibilities. Significant milestones are to appear, together marking a rite of passage into adulthood: Obtaining a driver's license, dipping one's toes in working life and living independently for the very first time.

With Covid-19 walling up self-explorations and postponing futures, how is this age group managing? How do youths today feel their way into adulthood? Here is what Gen-Z Malaysians have to say about the last 15 months.

Anywhere but Home

Some who had just left Penang to pursue their tertiary studies in bustling KL had to return home soon after the pandemic hit.

"It was a big milestone having left Penang to kick-start my 20s in a metropolitan city," says Tianna, 20. "Since then, my personal progress has decidedly regressed. It felt a bit like going back to square one."

Tianna Chua.

Having experienced a new-found self-reliance, adjusting to being back home again must not have been easy; the need for privacy must have been greater than ever. L* agrees: "With everyone holed up at home, it has been hard to learn new skills, especially when there is often unsolicited input from family members."

Practicing self-reliance was made even more difficult when at the start of the pandemic, the SOPs only permitted heads of families to leave the house to get household goods. "To have the freedom of doing these really simple acts get taken away was very depressing. Isn't it ironic how we didn't feel that way before the pandemic?" muses 19-year-old Joshua Vega.

A big part of transitioning into adulthood is finding a job, but Joshua was forced to give up his part-time work for fear of infecting his family with Covid-19. "It's so hard now to even get a job. There is so much uncertainty. And what about after university? Can you imagine the competition for jobs once the pandemic is over?!"

Shania Erin.

There are also those like Shania who feel robbed of their youth. "I feel like I lost a huge chunk of my last year as a teenager. The year was wiped clean of memories that would have otherwise been made if Covid-19 had not happened. My friends and I would have hung out more, attending concerts and such, and solidifying our bonds before our different futures scatter us around the world."

Virtual Social Exhaustion

With most forms of communication now taking place online, "after a while, you just want to shut off your phone and disconnect from the world," says V*. Previously used as a coping mechanism against bleak realities, social media has now blurred the lines between work, studying and socialising. Many are finding themselves socially fatigued despite not having seen their friends in months. "It is just hours on end of scrolling, ending up with us watching the same content again and again."

Joshua Vega.

But Covid-19 has also led to introspective explorations. Youths are now learning what it feels like to have time on their hands. "It feels good to just be, to sit with my thoughts and actually ask myself if I'm doing OK? Am I happy with the direction of my growth, emotionally and mentally?" asks V.

L shares similar sentiments, "I find that my thoughts get more contemplative as I approach adulthood."

Normalising the Need for Therapy

Time can seem interminable when one is sequestered at home, and many find their mental health whittled away by loneliness and exhaustion. More and more young people seek therapy to regain some sense of self and control. "The first three months into the pandemic, my mental health deteriorated to the point where I had to seek therapeutic help," says Tianna, "but because of it, my friends and I have grown so much closer. They are my support system, propping me up whenever I feel down."

Some, like Shania, however, grappled with grief. "I don't think grief is something that can be properly processed, let alone comprehend. I lost three family members last year; it was a very difficult time for my family," she says.

Karen Lee.

But the pandemic also gave Shania time to bond with her grandmother before her passing. She reminisces about the time when the SOPs were loosened enough for her to go on drives with her grandmother. "And later, we'd go for ice-cream. I might not have had this opportunity otherwise, so in a way, I'm grateful."

Some turned to creative pursuits that under normal circumstances, they wouldn't have started. Karen Lee is an Economics major with a love for animation. She uses YouTube to upload videos of her artwork and animation. "It has been my bright spot during the pandemic because there are people out there who really enjoy watching what I do. I have about 900 subscribers now, it is not a big amount. But I love what I'm doing."

Illustrations by Karen.

Life Inevitably Moves On

It is a wholly unique situation for Gen-Z Malaysians to be in, weathering the trials and tribulations of early adulthood during a global pandemic; and where there are now many more uncertainties and questions than assurances and answers.

But as L puts it, "Whether you like it or not, the world is going to move on... You're not going to get this time back." Karen agrees, "I guess it is possible to try transitioning into adulthood online. I mean, in these circumstances, what choice do we have?”

*The interviewees wish to remain anonymous.

Rebecca Vega

is an editor, writer, embroidery enthusiast, and bibliophile. Her current writing projects explore our relationship with mental health, social media, and the social landscapes of Gen-Z. She is also managing plant parenthood with hopes to expand her green family soon.