When I was in high school I craved freedom and time with my friends. Freedom looked like sitting around just talking about nothing and everything, staying up past bedtime, riding my bike to the store, being dropped off at the movies, cruising around with the top down blasting Salt-n-Pepa’s “Shoop” and singing every word, house parties with very little adult supervision, taking silly pictures, and piling everyone in the car to hit-up the Taco Bell drive thru.
I was in high school over 20 years ago, but replace Salt n’ Pepa with Drake, and plug in “netflix and chill” and this could read more like a present day description of what teens want to be doing.
How do I know?
Well, I spend my days working with teenagers all around the world. The organization I run (WIT) helps teens and tweens become entrepreneurs. It’s great and inspiring work, and like many organizations, this last month it hasn’t really been “business as usual”. As an organization, we are finding ourselves offering a different kind of support to all our teens. The type of support that is given when someone you care about experiences loss and grief.
I watch the news and walk around my neighborhood. I see the shuttered storefronts and hear the stats. It’s awful and it’s tragic. Yet, in the midst of the tragedies impacting adults, our young people are also experiencing their own tragedy.
Now, let’s be clear. I’m fully aware that millions of people won’t consider what the teens are going through as a tragedy. But, do you remember being a teen? I certainly do. There were many “tragic” things that happened, or at least my heart felt like they were tragic. That’s how things can feel when you are a teenager. Intense. Tragic. Major. I also remember moments when I felt like adults just didn’t get it or thought I should just “get over it”. (insert eye roll)
So when it came time to write this article, I decided to reach out to teens so they could have the freedom to share what they are feeling and what they wish adults knew. I started by reaching out to two teen entrepreneurs, Rosie Alchalel, founder of Good Hair Day, and Lily Smith, author.
Rosie started by sharing that, “this time brings a cloud of anxiety and worry that hovers over my head, so I’m finding different ways to be there for myself, my peers, friends, and family.” She went on to talk about the impact this has had on her business, “my organization aims to give free haircuts to the less fortunate, and of course, after COVID-19 hit, I couldn't do that. So, I have pivoted my enterprise to instead focus on making masks. I make around 60 masks to donate to the shelters I have worked with in the past. Although I’m providing a totally different service, it feels really good to be able to support the population I’ve been working with.” When I asked her what she wished adults knew she responded, “I wish adults understood how hard it is to focus on school right now. It is a very big transition to go from learning in a classroom to learning from our homes. I also wish they knew that I’d rather focus on making a positive impact on my community.”
“I have lots of time,” Lily Smith shared with me. “Time to reflect on family, on friends, on relationships, and the future. Sometimes that’s good because the time provides a chance for me to work on my novel, magazine articles, and my media presence. I’m
writing every day.” But sometimes all that time is hard, “...this experience has been challenging for me emotionally as I feel the weight of the current situation in my heart. I try to focus on the positive like being able to connect with other teens and teen authors through virtual meetings that never would’ve taken place otherwise.” Lily wrapped by sharing that the whole thing feels, ”bittersweet”.
I also posted on my instagram story asking for any teens to share their thoughts about what’s going on. One girl responded, “I wish adults would not talk about coronavirus all the time.” Another teen chimed in, “I wish teachers could understand that I had my routine in place before and that it is hard to adjust.” Words like “anxious”, “scared”, “frustrated” were used, and of course countless, “miss not being able to see my friends”.
I know many of you reading this won’t be surprised by these responses and reactions, but you might find this surprising. Many teens have not been asked by an adult how they are feeling or what it’s been like for them. So, while we (adults) can’t make graduations, spring performances, sports games, or proms happen for them. We can make the time to sit with the young people in our life and ask the simple question, “How are you doing with all this?” And if they don’t answer right away, maybe just lean in and say, “I don’t know about you, but I really miss my friends and my freedom.”