Updated: Oct 21, 2020
Coronavirus seemingly came out of nowhere. Although surely we have all pondered about a global outbreak, it probably never translated over into our minds as a reality. It would have been hard to imagine the lasting havoc it would wreak into every facet of our lives. Who knew the most underrated emotion to come out of this would be boredom? Naturally, fear and anxiety were to be expected in copious amounts. In fact, how we imagined it probably aligned a lot more with action-packed zombie apocalypse movies, which have no shortage of terror. New questions from the government and CDC pop up every day as we move deeper into this new reality, each one posing obvious safety risks on the surface, and moral debates underneath.
“Should the kids go back to school?” Is arguably one of the most controversial.
Regardless of where you stand politically, the anxiety millions of kids are feeling is undeniable. The recurring themes in the general media are relentless and social media only amplifies these.
I am a well-adapted adult with a neuropsychology degree and even I had an extremely hard time first navigating the barrage of information social media was spitting out. Needless to say, I cannot imagine how a child feels at this time.
Social media is where a lot of us live nowadays. It has been a liferaft during this time and no one can escape its content. We know kids are seeing it, but are we talking to them? Are we asking them, without judgment, how they honestly, openly feel about going back to school?
We absolutely cannot and should not, shield them from pertinent information regarding the virus. There is absolutely not enough credit given to young folx for how observant and aware they are. Throw away the idea that they are oblivious to what is going on. If we do not sit down and unpack these feelings together, they will sit and simmer. They will simmer until they boil and inevitably boil over. One of the scariest parts about being a kid is when you hear something and you kind of know it, but you do not quite understand it. The thing about anxiety is that it tends to fill gaps. When kids hear things but do not process or understand them, their minds will overcompensate and fill those gaps with fear/misinformation.
I was a kid who grew up with a lot of anxiety tacked onto various mental illnesses. This is not particularly uncommon, and I would venture to say that even kids without these additional issues are suffering. If I force myself back into my younger self’s mindset, I would imagine I would feel what I described in the first paragraph: “zombie apocalypse.” I would probably feel afraid to express this, as this would obviously be my anxiety filling a gap-- a feeling not rooted in rationality-- but a valid feeling nonetheless.
There are a lot of feelings to unpack here. Kids are going to have a full spectrum of feelings from loneliness/isolation, anxiety, depression, confusion, boredom, and so on.
So, what can we do?
Open your heart and mind: Let the kids in your life talk candidly about their feelings. Listen to each one and acknowledge them as valid. They need to be able to talk through the good, bad, and boring-- all of it. Welcome this wide range of feelings. We can imagine all we want but at the end of the day, we cannot fully empathize with their feelings of returning to school. Allow this space.
De-escalate: Be. Patient. Young kids struggle with separating reality from fantasy (zombies, remember?). They need guidance on distinguishing these fears. Do not deny the reality and magnitude of the virus. Rather, provide them with accurate and appropriate information to digest. Remember that no one has ever been through anything like this before. Truth be told, none of us know what to say right now. Providing false comfort/information is not helpful, especially when they see conflicting media information. What you can provide as someone in their life, however, is your commitment to their well-being. We can assure our attention, heart, and mind. Example: “We are not sure what is going to happen, but we will get through this as a family,” “We are here to listen and validate you,” “Even though there is a lot of uncertainty, I will do my very best to ensure your comfort and safety.”
Outsource: If you feel overwhelmed there is no shame in reaching out to qualified individuals, such as licensed therapists, social workers, life coaches, or community programs/nonprofits, like Entertainment for Change. Now that the world is making a virtual shift, there are quite a lot of options available. We just launched our Impact Artist Hubs. This is a safe space and opportunity for kids/teens to make friends with like-minded individuals, share art in safe spaces as a healthy form of creative self-expression, and discuss topics that are relevant in today's world.
Encourage self-expression: Arts education is one of the first things to go when budget cuts become a necessity. Schools receive funding in a number of different ways. This depends on the state and type of school in question. As we enter the wild unknown of school during a pandemic, those budget cuts will only increase. It is estimated that it will cost a whopping $116.5 billion to reopen our schools under new safety precautions. It is safe to say that arts education will not be a concern this fall. Isolation will be a factor, whether families decide upon homeschooling or returning to institutions. Kids will undoubtedly require outlets to express themselves. An increase of life indoors and families at home allows more space for art to grow. If there was ever a time to encourage music, painting, dancing, photography, theater, and so on… it is now. It remains imperative that we encourage a flow of creativity and self-expression. Not all young folx feel comfortable sharing through words, and this must be recognized. Just because they are not expressing something does not mean they are not feeling it. They just might not have access to the correct outlet.
The world is a tumultuous place right now. In this time of uncertainty, we must lean on tangible ways to contribute to those who need us. Youth are often disregarded in conversations that directly affect them-- they are simply left without a voice. As parents, family members, friends, educators, healthcare professionals, and impact artists, we should be using our resources and voices of authority to empower the youth to use theirs. Without our assistance and encouragement, they will continue to face the consequences of our new reality. This is a prime opportunity to teach children how to use their inner voice in a meaningful and impactful way that should not be missed.