Youth Culture Window

Pandemic: Obstacle or Opportunity?


It Hasn’t Affected All Teens the Same Way
David R Smith

As the Coronavirus pandemic begins to fade – oh, it’s not fading? – we have a better understanding of how it has affected us. There was a lot of speculation at the outset, but now we know the toll this unique era of human history has taken on us.

Let’s just say that the pandemic has impacted young people in wildly different ways.

For example, one of the concerns at the start of the international crisis was a suspected increase in mental health problems due to fear of infection, stress of confinement/isolation, etc. According to several outlets, like Mental Health America (MHA), the grim predictions didn’t miss their mark. MHA’s simple, online exploration of people’s mental well-being found that roughly 88,000 people developed an issue with anxiety and/or depression as a direct result of the virus’ impact on our nation. Even sadder, 21,000 of those who participated in the screening said they “thought about suicide or self-harm on more than half of the days in May.” Those findings might sound bleak, but they’re echoed by other studies from the same timeframe. Unfortunately, young people under the age of 25 were among some of the hardest hit.

That’s certainly troubling, but not necessarily surprising. Also unsurprising is the pandemic’s effect on young people’s physical health. The lockdowns put in place due to the spread of COVID-19 have also taken their toll on exercise, sleep, and diets resulting in weight gain jokingly referred to as the “Quarantine 15.” According to data released from the University of Buffalo, some of those being impacted the most are, once again, young people. Their study focused on European teenagers and found that, compared to 2019, the kids living under the Coronavirus in 2020 “ate an additional meal per day, slept an extra half hour per day, added nearly five hours per day in front of phone, computer and television screens, and dramatically increased their consumption of red meat, sugary drinks and junk foods.”

So, that’s why those jeans feel tight….

We could talk about how this pandemic has disrupted kids’ grades and education. We could also talk about how social distancing has strained young people’s relationships. We could talk about a lot of setbacks COVID-19 has brought into the lives of teenagers, but the reality is, not every kid is suffering right now. In fact, some of them are taking advantage of this crazy season to improve their lives and the lives of those around them.

For instance, the pandemic has ushered in a tremendous opportunity for volunteering…if you do it safely. That WaPo article outlines a few great stories of kids making a difference in their communities during such a difficult time, but it’s not just the DC area. I have been seeing it for weeks in Tampa, as well. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, our church has been volunteering at least three days a week with one of the largest Christian relief agencies in the Bay area. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I see teenagers from all over our city gather at 7:30 a.m., put on gloves and masks, and start distributing food to hundreds of families in the drive-through line at our downtown center. In fact, I met an impressive young man this morning who just moved here from Seattle and wanted to make a difference in the life of his new community. “Robert” chose to turn an obstacle into an opportunity.

Whole families are doing the same. As the shelter-in-place guidelines forced families to spend more time together than they have in a while – maybe everparents have begun resurrecting family traditions that had died off in the past. For example, game nights, movie nights, and Sundae Sundays are making a comeback. (I know this sounds crazy, but when we returned home from volunteering this afternoon, my son and I saw two teenage girls walking down our sidewalk to a friend’s house carrying the board game Sorry.)

So, what’s the difference between the kids who are using the pandemic to thrive…and those who are just trying to survive?

Parents Who Lead the Way
No doubt, there are multiple reasons for the difference between these two groups of kids. However, I’m convinced that the biggest factor separating them is parents who are committed to leading and modeling strong values for their families during difficult times. Look, every kid had school canceled in March. Every kid had to endure social distancing for a period of time. Every kid had their calendars and plans upended. Throughout all of it, some kids caved…and some kids flourished. If you’re looking for ways to help your kids thrive, here are a few big ones:

  1. Help your kids develop some grit. I know that’s old school terminology, but perseverance or tenacity or whatever you want to call it is in short supply right now. Our world is so easily offended, micro-aggressions dominate the news, and many are in constant pursuit of safe space. Sometimes, safe spaces aren’t an option. What then? It won’t hurt our kids to learn how to roll with the punches; in fact, it’ll help them over the long haul! No life is immune from setbacks, knock downs, and failures…so let’s not prop that up as a possibility. Help your kids develop some much-needed resilience.
  1. Teach them to trust in God. I’m writing as a pastor, but this is true regardless of professions: Jesus is our ultimate hope. The single most important function we have as parents is pointing our children to Christ. We can do that in a number of ways – for example, studying the Bible, attending church/youth group, praying, serving, and much, much more – so pick something and get started. Take every opportunity you can to reveal God as the Hero of our stories. They need to know that He can be trusted in all things. That way, when times get tough and circumstances are out of their control, our kids will know that a completely sovereign and loving God directs our lives.
  1. Give them opportunities to live a life of purpose and meaning. One of the best ways to do that is by selflessly serving others. The Bible is filled with commands to love and serve others, but secular culture is even starting to see the tremendous benefits of humbly helping others. Not only will serving others meet a tangible need in the life of someone else, it’ll also provide your teenager with some much-needed perspective. Take advantage of some of the free time we have available to us right now to begin building service as a habit in your kids’ hearts.

Even though the world is facing a difficult situation right now, it doesn’t have to wreck our kids. They can learn how to thrive – even in tough times – if we show them how.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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