My Daughter Feels the Pandemic is Stealing the Best Years of Her Life
BY CRAIG STEPHENS
Photo © CassMcD/Twenty20
Mar 9, 2021
"It feels like my teenage years are being taken," my daughter laments as she turns from the screen to look out the window on a sunny, cold March Sunday. Something in her voice tells me to pay attention.
"Really?" I respond, "like what?"
"My first year of high school — and probably my second — will be ruined, or at least they won't be what I'd hoped for."
"Why do you say that?" I ask.
"She fears that her teenage memories will be blank, and that all she'll have to look back on is the recollections of sitting at home waiting for her life to resume."
"The social aspect has been pretty much taken away. We only go half-days, two or three times a week. And when we're at school, we have to distance, so you never get to meet or talk to other kids."
It's all stuff I've heard a hundred times before, but something in the sadness of her voice makes me feel like I'm hearing it for the first time. I remember how much my friends meant to me during my first few high school years. They weren't just one thing. They were everything.
"What about your art courses? Are you still enjoying those?"
"Sure, but it's not like we can do drama over Zoom, so we're getting a lot of writing assignments. It's like every class has become half an English class."
To me, that sounds pretty ideal, but I resist going into my look-at-the-bright-side parent mode. I've learned that it's best reserved for those situations where there is a "bright side" to promote. Instead, I listen and acknowledge her sense of loss and say that I can only imagine how she must feel.
"Are you sad about anything else?" I ask.
She shares her concerns about drifting from friends over the winter because it's too cold to hang out outside. She fears that her teenage memories will be blank, and that all she'll have to look back on is the recollections of sitting at home waiting for her life to resume.
At the beginning of the lockdown, it was important for Laura Mullin to shift her focus and prioritize her daughter's mental health.
My daughter is worried that she is losing the best years of her life. These are the precious, carefree years when she is too young to work, not yet old enough to stress about her marks, or post-secondary education or what she wants to be when she grows up.
At 14, it's hard for her to comprehend that she has many exciting and interesting years ahead. Add that to a teen's perception of time: A month goes by in the blink of an eye for me. To her, it seems like an eternity.
Part of what she is struggling with is the uncertainty of the future. And the news varies from troubling to hopeful and back again at a dizzying speed. The benchmarks for when life might return to normal keep shifting. In the meantime, we are placing much of the burden of preventing COVID-19 spread squarely on their shoulders. There's a lot to resent, and who can blame them?
"We don't have all the answers, or even most of them. But there is light at the end of the tunnel that grows brighter each day."
I think of how this same scene must be playing out in millions of other Canadian households as kids struggle to cope with pandemic restrictions. It hasn't been going well for many. According to a recent Sick Kids-led study, 70.2 per cent of school-aged children and 66.1 per cent of preschool-aged children showed deterioration of at least one aspect of their mental health. The study showed that while some kids were doing better during the pandemic, most were faring worse.
And what about parents? Many have had to deal with reduction or loss of employment, homeschooling and living in an uncertain world with more questions than answers. When will we be vaccinated? Will the variants cause a catastrophic third wave of COVID-19? When will things get back to normal? And when will our kids be able to safely return to school?
We don't have all the answers, or even most of them. But there is light at the end of the tunnel that grows brighter each day. Over the next few months, millions of Canadians will be vaccinated, significantly reducing the virus's spread and dramatically lowering cases of life-threatening illness.
In many ways, we are like exhausted marathon runners hitting that last mile, knowing we must summon the inner reserves to finish the race. While the next several months will test us, we will get through it. I believe that many of the kids who emerge on the other side of it will be significantly changed — more resilient, more mature and more appreciative.
Brianna Bell believes that at this point in the pandemic, it's time to deprioritoze academics for kids' (and families') well-being. Read her POV here.
"When this is all over, we're going to celebrate. It'll be the roaring '20s," she says.
I think she may be right and make a mental note to brace myself for unfettered teenage exuberance when they are finally released back into a world without restrictions.
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