by Helen Burke, BYS Counselor

These days, I find myself gently hoping that we are in the “beginning of the end” of the pandemic – that though it may be slower than I would like, we will gradually open our doors again to friends to gather in celebration, and for important traditions and rituals. Though I am eager for the pandemic to end, I also find myself wanting to take time to focus on and remember some of the important things I have learned over the last year that are too important to forget. 

Together with my teen clients at BYS, we have been exploring how the pandemic has impacted their lives and changed them in significant ways. They wonder how their “new self” will be received by their peers as they go back to in-person school. We consider these questions: what were the losses? Were there any surprising bright spots? What did they learn about themselves? The invitation is to pause and reflect before life gets back to its busy fullness and notice the imprint left on our lives. What I hear from my clients is wise, inspiring, and unique.

What were some of the biggest challenges and losses you faced over the last year?

  • Lack of connection to peers, teachers/coaches, and extended family
  • Worry/anxiety/fear about getting sick or a loved one getting sick
  • Missing out on school/sports/club traditions and rituals 
  • The loneliness of Zoom classes/break out rooms where everyone had their cameras off; Zoom school was all the work with none of the fun
  • Things did not feel real – it was hard to find motivation and energy

Surprising bright spots or positive things that have come from COVID?

  • Doing school and taking finals in bed, wearing pajamas, with my pet on my lap
  • Learning to appreciate my parents/siblings more/we fight less (some days 🙂
  • A natural opportunity to reassess friendships and let go of those that were not healthy
  • Being less busy and noticing more beauty in/gratitude for simple things – sunsets, cafeteria food not available right now, spontaneous interactions on campus with peers and teachers
  • Getting better at reaching out to friends in creative ways

What have you learned about yourself and what is important to you during the last year?

  • I can be alone without being lonely
  • I can get through disappointment
  • I am more patient than I thought
  • I don’t give up or quit when things are hard
  • I realize other people care when they reach out
  • I have learned to take better care of myself – and I am worth it!
  • I have learned how to ask for help with anxiety/sadness about COVID and I feel less alone
  • I have a better sense of WHO I AM and I have a deeper understanding of myself
  • Going forward, I want to say “YES” to opportunities and not take for granted that they will always be available

I encourage you to explore these questions with the teens in your life, getting curious about their experiences is one of the best ways to show them that you care and that their perspective matters. As teachers, coaches, parents, and adults who love and mentor teens, we do have our own lived experience of adolescence, but we do not have the lived experience of going through this time of huge developmental change during a pandemic. Let’s not miss out on this opportunity to learn from them!

Described in this New York Times article ‘Right Now Feels So Long and Without Any End in Sight