Without a doubt, this has been a difficult year for everyone across the world. Now as things begin to look up and more and more people get their vaccines it feels like a time of relief for many. While we welcome these feelings of hope for what is to come we must pause and take inventory of how we, and our children, have been impacted by this last year. That is why we wanted to reach out to the youth and young adults of Pennsylvania and learn how this year has been for them. Not just a quick "How are you doing?" but real and honest conversations about how distance learning has been, how their mental health is, whether or not they feel comfortable sharing their feelings with the adults and friends in their lives, and how they feel about everything opening up again in the future.
What started out as an email between Parent Alliance staff members about wishing we actually knew how kids were doing right now turned into a full-blown and months-long project deemed the What Our Kids Want Us to Know Project. We began reaching out and talking to students, and when possible teachers, from every corner of the state. It was important to us to try and get the pulse of how kids of all ages, races, sexual orientations, gender identities, and socioeconomic levels are doing right now in order to more accurately paint the picture of what being a student during the pandemic has been like.
To be honest, these conversations have broken our hearts, inspired us, moved us, and made us reflect on how we are doing ourselves after this year. We ensured all of our participants that no defining features about them would be published in order for them to feel like they could truly open up. When we first began this project we were not sure if we would use their quotes for a tip sheet or a blog. Now, after talking to these incredible students it has become apparent that the insight they shared with us could not fit into just one blog or one tip sheet, but also must be shared with our readers.
After some brainstorming, we have decided to turn the project into a series that will be featured once or twice a month on our blog from this month until the start of the next school year in order to continue to let parents know how other kids that are the same age as their own children have been feeling and what they have been stressed out about. As a parent, no matter how much you wish it wasn't the case, you know your child(ren) does not tell you everything that is going on with them. Hopefully, through the words of some of their peers from across Pennsylvania, you might see some thoughts or topics that you may want to bring up to your child.
As the person who has spearheaded this project I have pieces of paper with every single line on them highlighted strewn across my desk. Needless to say, it has been hard to select specific quotes from my discussions with these kids because I found each of their statements more powerful and eye-opening than the next. But, as the first introduction of this project to our audience, I thought I would share just a couple of them in order for our readers to begin to understand how these kids are doing after this very long year.
When we think of the mental health of youth and young adults often times we picture children a little bit older than preschoolers. We don't always realize how much very young children can absorb the things around them and be impacted. That is why we reached out to a preschool teacher in Pittsburgh and asked her to bring up the topic of the pandemic and how her students are feeling right now. Like every other age group, we talked to we will do an entire blog of its own to discuss how this pandemic has impacted children under 5 but some of the main topics that arose the most for this age group for us were being tired of masks and being asked to put their masks over their noses, not being able to be close to their friends and classmates, and how much more they liked being in person for school rather than virtual.
One quote that broke up the seriousness of the others was the response of a preK student to the question, "How do you feel about COVID?" they responded, "I love it...haha just kidding." This not only made us laugh but reminded us of the resilience of our children, even the youngest. While a lot of students are really struggling right now it gave us hope to see some of the students able to make light of the bad situation.
Middle school is a time that a lot of children feel awkward about making friends, interacting with their teachers and peers, and trying to "fit in." Distance learning is not only difficult for children to learn and understand but it has been hard for them to connect with the friends they do have, and even harder for them to make more. The children we heard from in the middle school age group were really struggling this past year with friendship and feeling connected to their classmates.
One 7th grade student shared with us; “My friends aren’t really texting me anymore. I’m a lot sadder. But I try not to think about it. School takes me away from that, sort of. My teachers support me a lot which helps too. I haven’t done anything really productive this whole quarantine which is kind of funny actually. I hope to just, be better in general by the end of the year.”
While it is hard to read about how this student has been having such a tough time, it is important to recognize and address these struggles. Later this month we are talking to a teacher of that student to see how she has been adapting her teaching style to help her students through this difficult year.
You know that even when your child surpasses 18, goes to college, or moves out of your house they are still very much your child. Our oldest group of participants was college-aged students; all with completely different experiences. From ivy league schools to huge state schools, to small schools, to community colleges, commuting, living on campus, and students working their way through school; we heard from them all. We will be featuring an entire blog from the quotes of these college-aged students and talking to some of their parents about their experiences but wanted to share some that really stuck out to us.
When we asked a 19-year-old, male, college student at a large state school what he wishes parents understood about being a student right now he took a long pause to think. Then he went on to say; "I wish they knew the extent to which we are not experiencing what they did. They may think “okay he’s just sitting in his room all day,” but it’s so much more than that. I can’t meet people to the extent that they did at this point in their lives, it’s a really hard time to be in your late teens or early 20’s.” This young man explained to us that when he was in high school he always expected to have the same college experience as his older siblings. He saw them join clubs, greek life, sports teams, and make a lot of friends and now he feels like he isn't even getting close to what they did and it has been really difficult. "I feel bad even feeling bad about something as simple as being about to make friends at school. I know that people have lost jobs, or loved ones this year so I have a lot of guilt that I am so upset by how my year has been impacted."
This is just the surface of the insight we gained from launching this project. Check back in with us from now until the end of the summer to continue to hear and learn from students across the state. Want the blogs delivered to your inbox every Friday morning? Become a FREE member here.