Whether you are a parent, teacher or adult who works with youth, this series of Q&As will provide perspectives and considerations through a positive youth development lens. With a focus on the whole child, we talk with experts about mental health, medicine, and hear directly from youth themselves.
In this Q&A, we talk with three youths who share more about their experiences during the pandemic and what they are hoping for in the next year:
- Sarvasrika is a 10th grader in Virginia at Albemarle County’s Community Lab School. The principal and teachers at this lab school are involved in Remaking Middle School, an initiative co-supported by Youth-Nex.
- Emma is a 9th grader in New York and a teen entrepreneur from the non-profit WIT – Whatever It Takes. She wrote for the Youth-Nex blog on “The Unspoken Social Impacts of Virtual Learning.”
- Juan is a 7th grader in Virginia also at Albemarle County’s Community Lab School.
We sat down with these youth to listen to their voice and understand more of their perspectives.
Question: What do you want adults to know about the last year during the pandemic?
Sarvasrika: I think I want adults to know that I am grateful to them because the last year was so hectic and full of crazy stuff happening. For me and a lot of other teenagers, there were long stretches in the last year where we were basically isolated. We were learning about stuff on the news, like the unemployment rate, but we couldn't really do anything about it personally. Many adults are essential workers and they're working so many hours and then at the end of the day, they go home to take care of their children and elderly parents. Adults have been suffering and us teenagers see this too. Our relatives are dying but our parents or guardians are dealing with the technical details of funerals and other stuff. I think sometimes adults shut off their emotions to show strength. I'm so very grateful for the adults that helped us throughout this last year with their strength and sacrifice.
Emma: I hope adults know that the way teenagers have behaved this past year in both academic and social environments should not be entirely indicative of their capabilities, or truly represent who they are as young adults. High school years are already a time of change, where we are “supposed” to work on developing strong relationships, perfecting work habits, and preparing for the “real world.” With those heavy expectations already placed on us, having to then make a sharp pivot into a virtual world added an entire new layer of unexpected stress that we weren’t necessarily prepared to cope with. It will probably take us some time to remember what it’s like to be a “normal” teenager, and get readjusted to life as it should have been.
Question: How has the pandemic changed you and your friends?
Juan: We learned how to use Zoom and computers better in the pandemic. I mean I Iike Zoom but I’d rather go to people's houses and interact with them directly. There is more stress on Zoom and my friends are breaking down. One of my friends was struggling and I wasn't there to help her because everything was on computers. I couldn’t be there for her, or get close to her to help. I just hope this ends, and I can be closer with my friends. I want to go to their houses and play sports again.
Emma: The pandemic has made me realize that your “friends” are sometimes your friends because you happen to be around them, and not necessarily because they are the people that you value spending your time with. When you’re forced to rely on intentional communication to stay in contact with people, and can’t just speak to people in between classes or at a designated activity, it’s much easier to see what friendships you really care about, and which you’re okay with letting go.
Question: What did you learn during the pandemic that affected you and that you expect will continue as we come out of COVID-19?
Sarvasrika: One thing most teenagers learned in the pandemic is how to be a lot more self-reliant. We had to deal with what cards we've been given at that present moment. Some have suffered throughout this pandemic but others were thriving, like me. I was lucky that I did not have to bear the brunt of many things during the pandemic, and I thrived because I’m an introvert. As a generation, we have gone through something together with all the stuff happening around us. This experience will be a catalyst to see what our generation will become in the future. I think we as a generation have changed our priorities and realize there are so many things that are wrong in this world. We want to try and fix them, but it's not quite in our capabilities to do so yet. We don't quite have that power, but we are joining together to become an entity that will actually change the way things are happening in the future. My generations’ priorities have changed and we’ve evaluated a lot of ourselves. I think we're going to be a more driven generation in the future.
Juan: Parents are doing the best they can by giving us the things we need to go forward in life. But sometimes school stuff is just hard and your family doesn’t know it or how to help. Like for me, math is really hard and especially when at home without hands-on teacher’s help. I can’t learn it well on the computer and need to do it on paper with a teacher. Some other students may need help when they come back to the classrooms too.
The other Q&As in this series highlighting perspectives on community, education & research, medicine, and mental health & wellness are available at education.virginia.edu/YN/COVID.
Youth-Nex was founded in 2009 to expand and apply the science of positive youth development to address fundamental challenges facing societies around the world. Through science and community partnerships, Youth-Nex enhances the strengths of children and adolescents and prevents developmental risk. Our vision is that our nation’s youth - a rich, often untapped resource - may flourish.