Remember how “they” always told us that high school and college were some of the best years of our lives? That these were the times to be free, live it up and soak up as much of life as we could? It always seemed like nothing would ever compare to our teen years and that they would be something we could look back on fondly for the rest of our lives. Well, that kind of thinking may have worked for other generations, but I am willing to bet that today’s teens just don’t see it that way.
Take a look around. Today’s teenagers face unprecedented obstacles that are unique to them. They have had regular school interactions ripped away. They have had to miss out on many important last firsts like their last sporting event, or prom, or even walking in a graduation ceremony. I realize that there are those of you out there puffing your chests as we speak stating that the challenges facing today’s teens are nothing like what you had to face. For example, some of you had to face the possibility of going off to war after high school. This cannot possibly be compared to missing prom or graduation. I get it, but, before you get all upset and entitled, who was trying to? Was anyone really trying to suggest that missing prom and being drafted were comparable? I really don’t think so. As I mentioned, this generation of teenagers is facing a different level of challenges that are unique to them. It is not an implied competition between current and past obstacles. No is better or worse off than anyone else. The situations are just different. Let these kids have their pain and attempt to deal with it the best that they can. Even if you chose not to embrace it, these kids are, in fact, in pain and this pain is very real to them.
I see examples of this every day. A few weeks ago, I had a group of my daughter’s friends over (under five kids and no hugging or snuggling allowed) and just observed. First of all, it was the first time some of them had really seen anyone else, much less each other. There were tears and rambling speeches about how much they had missed each other. Their conversations were particularly intense and loaded, as if they were trying to communicate as much as possible in the shortest amount of time, just in case the opportunity never presented itself again. There was a deep sadness and angst that pervaded their conversations. Instead of talking about gossip, boys and gum, they talked about their anxiety, their tics, their medications. They talked about how toxic school was. They spoke of parents as enemies of ideas. It was all so negative. They had spent so much time with their own thoughts with no one to bounce them off of that they had developed whole conspiracy theories about school and all of their relationships. It was as if their faith in any sort of return to normality had been destroyed and they developed a series of psychological walls to convince themselves that normality was truly overrated anyway and that there was really nothing to miss in the first place. I sat back and listened with my heart heavy. I wanted to interject and grab them all and hug them ( not very COVID PC) and remind them that it will all be ok at some point. Still, I didn’t make the gesture for two reasons: 1) I didn’t want to interrupt. These were the wild thoughts that they literally and physically needed to get off their chests. and 2) I wasn’t entirely sure myself that things would be ok eventually and I didn’t know what further harm I could cause by raising false hope.
As I said, these kids are in pain and they need help. Now more than ever they need us to listen and provide counsel and a sounding board. They need some kind of structure to cling to and see their way through life. I know that we all have our own frustrations right now economically, physically and emotionally as well, but we have to suck it up somewhat as adults. These kids haven’t had enough life experience or tools to effectively deal with all of the change happening around them just yet. Whether they want to accept it or we want to admit it, they need us more than ever right now. All of our roles have changed. We are no longer just parents or just teachers or even just friends for them. We are sometimes their only consistent connection to the world at the moment. We all need to be a little understanding and work a little harder to make sure that that connection is a healthy one. Otherwise, who knows what the future will hold for them….or us.