This year has brought about some of the most unpredictable and challenging events some of us have ever seen. As a teenager, the COVID-19 pandemic has completely disrupted how I live my life.
Teenagers are in a unique position in that we are expected to make adult decisions but are rarely treated like adults. We’ve been told to stop seeing our boyfriends and girlfriends to protect our grandparents, and to quit our jobs that we were working to save money for college. This has put a lot of people my age in a stressful position. On one hand, as minors we have no option but to do as we are told. On the flip side, how are we supposed to tell our parents that Aunt Sarah shouldn't come and visit for Mother's Day after working a 12-hour shift at Kroger? That would be considered rude.
It's also been hard knowing how to balance safety and general enjoyment. Some of my friends are being extremely cautious and insist that if we do hang out that all social distancing guidelines are followed, while I have other friends that are fed up and ready to start hugging everyone again. Where do you draw that line?
To add to that, our losses and experiences are often belittled by adults telling us to “look at the bigger picture”. The class of 2020 is currently in the process of mourning the loss of their senior proms, their graduation parties, and possibly their first semesters of college. And with that, there are comments like “At least you’re not dying” and “Some people have it worse right now”.
While true, minimizing the loss of important high school experiences by comparing them with the death toll from COVID-19 doesn't exactly make us feel any better. We are all coping differently, and being told to “deal with it” is very harmful to our grieving process. It shouldn’t be expected to move at a certain pace. We can never get these years back, and a decade from now I may not even talk to my current friends anymore. I want this chance to enjoy their friendship while I still can, and it hurts me to know I’m missing that time with them.
Another factor that really concerns me is the mental wellbeing of my generation right now. Teen mental health is so fragile, even when the world is functioning normally. Recent studies show that 20-30% of teenagers struggle with depression, and around 10% have an anxiety disorder. Being unable to see your friends and do the things you enjoy is frustrating at any age, but for many high school students, those things were our only outlets. Not everyone has parents they can go to with their mental health needs, and our problems are often left unaddressed because we can’t seek care by ourselves as minors.
Now that many of us are unable to do the things we love, it's more difficult than ever to remain positive. I’m fortunate enough to have a family who is well off, but even my household has seen more financial issues than we’re used to. Both of my parents are out of work right now, and many of my classmates face this problem as well. Although it's not an ideal situation, I also know that there are kids in less fortunate communities who if both of their parents stopped working, they may not be able to eat that week.
Surprisingly, online learning has actually helped me in a way. I was finishing my junior year when the public schools shut down in Michigan, which is very important academically. With online school, it's a lot harder to screw up my GPA, and many colleges are dropping the SAT/ACT requirement for my class. This lifts a ton of stress off of my shoulders, and now the schools I apply to will be able to look at my resume for me and my work ethic, rather than my ability to take one specific standardized test. Personally, I also work better on my own than in a classroom. I can take my work at my own pace and eliminate things like speaking in front of the class or taking exams that normally stress me out.
However, I recognize that not everyone has had the same experience. Many kids lack the motivation to do things on their own, and with no teachers or counselors sitting over their shoulder making sure their work is done, I worry some of my friends will fall too far behind. There can be a lot of procrastinating that happens with independent learning. Our brains are still developing, and not everyone has the ability to make great decisions yet.
To anyone who has a teenager at home, I’d like to ask you to be as understanding as you can. Every part of me right now hopes that I will get my last homecoming dance, that I can go to football games and school plays in the fall, and that I get to live my senior year to the fullest. It honestly breaks my heart a little knowing that there's a chance I won’t see any of that, and I’m sure most people my age feel the same way.
While we’re not always good at asking for it, some of us will need help facing the reality of it all if things start to get bad again. Don’t let your kids do this alone. And in return, we won’t let you do that either.
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