The COVID-19 pandemic is a moment in time that will shape our children’s perspectives about life and leave a generational mark. While we can’t control everything during this uncertain time, we can influence the big lessons our teens take away. It is these lessons that will make a difference in how they parent, even how they grandparent. We can hope this generation gains a deep-seated understanding of how much relationships matter. If they do, it will enhance their ability to get the most out of good times and their resilience through life’s inevitable tough times.
Relationships are at the forefront of every aspect of this pandemic. Social distancing is a way to protect yourself and demonstrate your care for others. It can be maddening. And awkward. It can create separation from friends, activities, and family. But it also can bring out the best in us. As we are told to stay apart, it reminds us how much we are driven to be near. As we create physical space between us, our creativity generates ways to maintain a connection. From online celebrations, to clapping in unity for healthcare heroes, to becoming pen pals with elders who are on their own, the efforts are bountiful.
Imagine how much meaning things previously taken for granted will hold when this is over – being in a classroom to soak in knowledge, cheering on our teams at sports events, and worshipping together with our families and community.
Imagine how grateful our children will be to hug their grandparents.
To build resilience, we cannot deny difficulty. We can’t pretend that nothing is wrong, or tell others to put aside their frustrations. We mustn’t suggest they should “just get past it.” Instead, we must use a language of resilience, one that says, “as tough as circumstances are, we’ll get through this together.” The language of resilience doesn’t use cheerful words or sugarcoat realities. It guides others to create hope and generate a sense of control through their actions. It helps others to express their emotions in healthy ways and learn that buried emotions lead to the loss of the ability to feel. We know that expressing emotions leads to better health and well-being.
This reminds me of one of Aesop’s fables. I’ve adapted it for this unique time in history.
A young person was frustrated, angry, and feeling powerless. That young person even felt as if they were at their breaking point. Sometimes this showed through the spoken (or screamed!) words, sometimes through flowing tears, and most often through silence. A loving caregiver approached the young person and said, “ I know that these moments are frightening, and sometimes it feels as if we have no control over our lives. Sometimes it even feels as though we will break, like a stick about to snap.” The lesson is driven home when the youth is given a stick and challenged to break it. The young person easily breaks the stick in two, relating deeply to its fragility. The caring adult then gathers several sticks, ties them together, and hands them to the child. “Go ahead and try to break the sticks now.” The young person tries and can barely even get them to bend. The compassionate adult guides the youth to own the wisdom, “Each of those sticks by themselves can easily break, but when joined with others, they become stronger than if we added all of their strengths together. We are like a bundle of sticks. Each of us can be fragile at any moment. Together we are strong. We will get through this because we are together.”
If our children and teens appreciate togetherness, just a bit more, and cherish relationships more deeply, they will forever reap the benefits. If this generation learns that when times get tough, people unify, it will be the generation who can lead us into a better-shared future. One in which we hold those we love nearer and offer those who are vulnerable the extra support they deserve.