Don’t You Forget About Teens

The general population is more tuned in to the needs of our elders than we have been for a long time. We are helping neighbours, we fret about those who have lost jobs, and our hearts go out to moms and dads of small children who have to juggle parenting and working from home. But do you know what population is largely forgotten right now? Teenagers.

“I definitely feel more isolated and alone,” a graduating teen told me. “Nobody in my home is having the same experience as me with this pandemic, and I’m not around people who can relate.” Teenagers can feel a bit different from the rest of society because we treat them differently. Adults don’t usually know what to make of these almost-grown-ups. With the corona crisis thrown in, teens are dealing with more than one major life shift.

For this month’s piece I was able to talk separately with two young women who attend Fernie Secondary School in normal times. Now they are doing online learning and wondering what the future holds. “When I first heard about the coronavirus it seemed far away and I never imagined it would impact my own life,” the girl in grade 11 described to me. She said reality hit during spring break at the end of March, and when she found out schools would be closed she was shocked.

When I asked about her feelings at that time the first thing she told me is how grateful she was to be living here. “I think we are lucky to be able to go outside. I could still snowmobile with my family. We have fun ways to isolate ourselves.” The girl in grade 12 reported similar thoughts, “I feel privileged to have the option of staying home and being safe with my family. I’m grateful for the forest and natural spaces, and how easy it is to get outside and be active with fresh air.”

A recent post from the FrameWorks Institute points out, “From preschoolers missing interactions with gentle and attentive playgroup staff to high schoolers bereft without their friends and activities, our children are reminding us that young people grow in an environment of relationships.” Although many of us are cherishing extra time with our teenagers, we can’t forget the teen years are about expansion and exploration. Getting locked down at home isn’t exactly the shift that nature has in mind for adolescents.

The young woman in grade 11 told me the hardest part of dealing with COVID-19 is not being able to interact with her friends and others in her community circle. She also said she worries about how dramatic the situation is in the United States, and the risk that might pose to Canadians. The teen in grade 12 reported that not seeing friends or connecting with peers and other people she knows is the most difficult. She said, “I miss my friends, and grad will probably be cancelled. That’s a big deal.” Both youth shared that they are unsettled about such an uncertain future. The graduating student wonders about all the plans she’s been making to attend post secondary in Alberta come September.

The grade 11 student said, “What will next year look like? How will the world be changed?” These are concerns that most young people haven’t felt in over a generation. On the upside? The older teen expressed how wonderful it is to spend so much time with her family right now because she will (probably?) be moving away in the fall. She also said, “It’s been a great opportunity to learn about motivation and self-directed learning; those are skills I’m going to need in university.” The younger teen revealed, “I am definitely much less stressed and my anxiety is way down.” When I asked how come she explained the pressures of high school and stated, “It is full-on over there.” She also appreciates the time and space to get better acquainted with her own thoughts and feelings.

The shift into young adulthood is a big one for teenagers. The current situation makes it even more daunting. Remember the teens in your life are processing a lot right now, and they are missing their village.