When you were a teenager, could you have imagined, outside of being put on restriction for something you did, being told you couldn’t leave your house or see your friends face to face for two months or longer? The angst! The anger. The frustration. The drama and the sorrow! And what if, on top of that, you were told there would be no Junior/Senior Prom, no sports banquet, no academic awards night, no honor society induction? No dates. Nothing!
What if suddenly, your life was just put on hold when it was just beginning?
I mean, yes, as adults, our lives have also been put on hold. We, too, are limited in where we can go, what we can do, and whom we can see. But come on…we all know it’s different. As adults, we’ve pretty much done most everything worth doing.
For teenagers though, the world is just opening up. Everything, every moment, every experience is ripe with potential. For many kids, the teen years may be the first time they’ve had any amount of freedom, or the opportunity to start making their own decisions on a regular basis. The radiant freedom of adulthood shines just out of their reach, but the small freedoms, celebrations, rites of passage, and responsibilities they experience now prepare them for the hot glow of stepping into the spotlight of adulthood.
It would be hard to blame any teenager who expresses anger, frustration, or sadness right now.
As a parent, it has broken my heart to see all the experiences both my boys have missed out on. But, I especially mourn the friendships put on hold. My younger son changed schools this year and had only recently found his tribe, a group of friends to whom he felt a connection and sense of belonging. He can still connect with them via video games, but as one of the few kids who doesn’t have a phone, it’s one of the few ways he can connect. Also, by virtue of being a new kid, he’s still on the periphery and I wonder if his friends even think about him. Beyond that, I worry about how all of this has impacted his learning. As a kid with ADHD, he’s most engaged in creative, hands-on activities. His school has a tradition where the kids in his grade work in teams to build and race boats in a mock regatta as part of a lesson plan. It’s one of the things the kids talk about and look forward to all year. And it’s exactly the kind of project where my younger son shines. Online tasks, reading…not so much his jam. And because I work all day, I haven’t had the bandwidth to really stay on top of whether or not he has been doing those assignments. So, when I got emails from two of his teachers telling me he hadn’t turned in any assignments for two weeks, I was frustrated, but not surprised. It turns out that not only had he simply fallen behind because his interest had lagged, but he also had technical issues that required me to call the county tech hotline and get help getting him logged back into the system so he could see his assignments. A perfect storm that under other circumstances might have raised my ire. Right now, under the great shadow of COVID-19, I have nothing but sympathy for my kid. We discussed why it’s important to keep going, how he still has things to learn. I talked to his teachers. We came up with something of a plan (just do as much as he can to catch up) and he has been putting in what I think of as reasonable effort every day.
I know that’s not how all parents would approach this, but we are not going to know the mental toll this pandemic and all the subsequent fall out will have on our kids for a long, long time. Why would I pile on and make it any worse by yelling, criticizing, demeaning or doing anything other than trying to understand what he’s going through?
I want to extend the same grace to my high school junior as well. He has continued to do very well in school. He helps out around the house. And only once have I heard those words every parent hates, “I’m bored!” He has been at home and locked down since his school got out for spring break on March 6. He went to school one day after that to pick up books for at-home learning. While he and his friends talk every day on Snapchat, Houseparty, FaceTime, or any other number of apps that allow them to hang-out virtually, he hasn’t seen a friend in person in two months. He missed out on the promposal he had planned. Prom, itself. He missed being inducted into the National Honor Society and awards night. He was stressed over missing an opportunity to take the ACT this spring. He had to choose between attending Governor’s School or having an exchange program with a high school in France and we nudged him toward Governor’s School because we knew there was a COVID-19 outbreak in Italy and it made us nervous. Now, of course, after a few nervous weeks fearing it would be canceled, Governor’s School has been moved to a virtual experience, which is simultaneously a relief and a disappointment since attending in person and meeting peers from across the state while attending college classes is part of the experience. Plans to visit colleges to help him narrow down his options have been replaced with trying to figure out which schools offer virtual tours and simply trying to do our research on which schools seem like a good fit. It’s not quite as fun.
Through all of this, including being stuck at home with his parents, my son hasn’t complained.
He hasn’t tried to sneak out or argued with us about why he should be able to see friends in person. But, even if he did, I couldn’t blame him. This experience has taken so much away from his generation. And I worry for them. I haven’t heard from any of my friends who parent teens that their kids have been anything other than completely understanding of why they need to stay home, practice social distancing, and miss out on so many of the defining experiences of being a teenager.