Processing the Pandemic
How Trusted Adults Can Show Up & Show Care
Next week, Springtide is releasing The New Normal: 8 Ways to Care for Gen Z in a Post-Pandemic World. I’ve had a chance to help write the guide and sift through the 2,500 survey responses we received from 13-25-year-olds, asking about their experiences during the pandemic and the expectations and needs for life after lockdown. In light of this report, marking the one-year anniversary of the first lockdown, I’ve been spending time reflecting on what new perspective the last year has offered me on the meaning of adult presences in my life.
With each new day, I seem to pass through moments of clarity and understanding about my current state just as often as I pass through moments of confusion and uncertainty. Speaking with peers about states of clarity and confusion is helpful: I am reminded that others have similar hopes and dreams, similar fears and disappointments—and it reminds me I’m not alone.
But sometimes I don’t just want relatability. I want guidance. I want permission to simply be a young person, processing the changes and challenges imposed by the past year. With friends going through similar things, I sometimes feel a subconscious responsibility to make room for their feelings, to give advice, or come up with answers to our shared concerns. But I don’t have any.
This is where the presence of trusted adults has made all the difference in my life. If it weren’t for the adults in my life who have provided spaces for open reflection, I would never have found the language to begin honestly thinking through and naming the experiences of the year. Adults all over the country, all over the world, are going to play a critical role in how my peers and I process and move forward in life after the pandemic. So I not only want to affirm that, but offer my thoughts on their role.
If a trusted adult in my life asked me the question, “what do you need from me?”, the first thing I consider is what adults think they need to give me. After a year of admitting the hardships of being young and losing the experiences that constitute such formative years of my life, I am frankly exhausted by the notion of simply talking about what happened. I know what has occurred in this last year, and I am so fortunate to have received validation for my experience. All that to say, I’m ready to start making sense of the way in which this last year has altered my formation as I move on and enter another year of my young life. I don’t need to talk about what happened; I need to think about what to do about what happened. Other peers of mine may not have had the chance to process and express in safe ways as much as I have—so it’s not a bad starting place. But rehashing the hardships might not be what everyone needs or wants.
Which is why the thing I need from trusted adults is a space in which to process. Just like any major life-altering event, time is one of the most effective remedies to understand the growth and change that has occurred, in me and in the world around me, but that doesn’t let adults off the hook to just “check back in with me” every few months. Rather, I’d love for the adults in my life to meet me where I’m at: working through the 21st year of my life, thinking about life after college, my first career, and more. I don’t need to talk about what happened, but I still need guidance figuring out how to take steps forward—in school, in my relationships, in my work—in light of past year. Asking concrete questions, bouncing ideas around about plans or opportunities: this is what I know I’ll need from mentors in my life because as an external processor, being able to talk through even the most practical things out loud is integral for me to arrive at a place of understanding.
For my friends who are internal processors (people who process information by thinking-it-through rather than talking-it-out), there’s still a crucial role for adults to play. I am always seeking to learn from my peers who process things differently than I do, and what I gather from them is a need for reflection space. This could take many shapes when lived, but this might look like providing young people a new method or mode of reflection. For example, a mentor might borrow a method from a different spirituality than their own, or might plan a group hike where there’s no pressure to talk about deep things. These kinds of activities create space for centering and meeting deep-seated thoughts and emotions.
However the young people in your life process information, and whatever they need—practical plan-making or space for reflection—the most important thing is that you show up and show care.