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The Kids Are Not Alright

Most adults today are under insurmountable stress due to the global pandemic and the loss of normalcy which has accompanied it. We have lost loved ones, jobs, and a general sense of safety and security. We are sad, afraid, confused, or frustrated a lot of the time and at this point, the source of all that suffering seems endless. Now, imagine you are twenty, thirty, or even forty years younger, less the coping strategies you have learned and the knowledge you have gained while managing the level of distress you currently experience. This is what we are asking our adolescents to do.


Try to recall your adolescence, full of angst, emotions, hope, and misunderstanding. Your mind is full of grand ideas with limited power. Figures of authority were a source of concern and at other times support. Consider yourself now, as an adult, specifically as the parent or guardian of an adolescent. And finally, consider how different your life would have been back then if you were going through all those developmental, emotional, and psychological changes in the midst of a global pandemic.


We as adults place a great deal of pressure on adolescents. We want their lives to be better than ours, for them to have more opportunity and fewer struggles than we ourselves endured. In order to push them towards that, many adults place an extraordinary emphasis on our adolescents to conform, produce, and perform at levels that we ourselves can barely maintain lately.


Things are not the same as they were one year ago.


Here in the United States, we have experienced the intense effects of this global crisis for over ten months now. Local public schools closed in March and have been unable to successfully reopen and return to normal. Adolescents have been disconnected from important sources of support and validation that are key factors in their development for their own safety. Those who are able to attend school privately are often placed in small groups, with or without their closest peers, and wearing masks up to eight hours per day for safety. Imagine learning in a room strategically spaced out according to guidelines with a mask on, unable to look forward to lunch at your favorite table or recess to break up the day.

Imagine not seeing some of your friends for several weeks or even months at a time because you are being safe, avoiding unnecessary contact, and honoring societal expectations for safety. No Friday nights at the movie theater, No eating after school with a large group of all your friends in a restaurant. No dances. Drive-thru/virtual graduation and awards ceremonies after years of hard work. Having your sports seasons canceled or significantly augmented to keep you safe. All your outlets for strong emotions have been disrupted.


Let’s give adolescents a break. They have every one of our emotions with half our life experience and significantly less access to coping strategies we use as adults. They cannot all just get in their cars and go for a drive, pop up at a friend’s place unannounced, or take a mini-vacation. They have to get up, day after day, month after month, and each day seems much the same as the one before. Wake up, have breakfast, get dressed (or don’t), log into classes and watch a screen for hours then follow it up with more hours of work offline. Or wake up, get dressed, go to school one day and not the next. Some are lucky to still have similar access to all their friends, and many of them do not. Their entire network of support outside family often exists online and that access is the often first thing we take away when they are not performing to standards appropriate for a different time.


Remember, none of us know how to cope with what is happening today because none of us have been through this before. We are all doing the best that we can. Adolescents do not know how to deal with this lack of normalcy and level of disruption to their schedules. Adolescents need structure and most days lately, there is not a whole lot of it going around. Every day is filled with change and uncertainty. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. It is the very least we can do for our adolescents, in the midst of a global pandemic.

Sheena Beach, MSW, LCSW

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