While nobody has escaped the impact of the pandemic, we think it’s possible that older teens, as a group, have suffered the most. It’s a crucial time, when they start to become independent and self-sufficient. Although physically they were likely to avoid serious illness, the pandemic and its impact on older teens has been SO hard.
Both Chris and Jack started sixth form in September 2019, so we’ve witnessed this first hand. Although from our point of view we’ve absolutely loved having them at home so much, we can’t help but have a bit of a rant based on our experiences of the effect it’s had on them, their friends and their peer groups.
As well as missing out on many rites of passage – proms, school trips, sports tours, school leavers’ events – the impact on the everyday for this age group has been huge.
Older teens usually have a better time of it socially. It’s when they (hopefully!) start to become a little less painfully self-conscious and a bit less concerned about peer pressure. They find their own tribe, develop a real sense of self and experiment with what they like to do socially.
Lockdown and remote learning prevented that for so many. And although they could all connect online – thank goodness! – it just wasn’t the same. It impacted hugely on their confidence and their anxieties about facing the next stage of life. Although plenty of teens found being at home less stressful, studies have shown that reported loneliness was far higher amongst teens and young adults than among older adults. Such a massive shame to have spend these formative, milestone years stuck at home so much…
Also, it’s normally the time when they learn to party! Coping with alcohol is all about knowing your limits. Being able to experiment in the safety of a local environment, with your best mates with you and your parents nearby, is key. When it goes a bit wrong (and it will!), there’s usually no more harm done than a few embarrassing memories, a serious hangover and the knowledge that unlimited vodka is never the recipe for a top night out. This generation of older teens missed out on that and, combined with the desperation to party hard after being at home for so long, has meant that they’ve found it more difficult to judge their tolerance for alcohol. Of course, most of them are sensible and have coped okay, but it’s been just another example of how they’ve had to learn quickly and harshly.
Learning to ‘adult’ is a gradual process, and one that usually really kicks in from the ages of 16 to 18. Without even noticing it, older teens become pretty much self-sufficient. But getting to grips with managing your money, booking tickets, and general life admin is hard when you’re spending the days at home, going nowhere and spending nothing… It’s so much more stressful when you then have to cope with a steep learning curve and conquer this all at once when leaving home, going to uni or starting work.
Part time jobs were impossible for a lot of the time too, meaning that the chance to save up for independent holidays, clothes and other nice-to-haves went out the window. As well as having something to add to CVs, and learning about what you like and don’t like in a work environment.
Everyone knows what a nightmare the pandemic was for older teens in academic terms. The constant uncertainty about exams, the disasters with grades, no work experience, the extra competition for university places due to the disruptions. It’s definitely a couple of years we wouldn’t want to go through again!
But it doesn’t stop there. We’re both lucky in that our boys enjoyed their A level subjects. They’d have done well under normal circumstances – their pre-pandemic predicted grades are evidence of that. And they both did great. But that’s been diminished by ‘grade inflation’ and they’re never going to be able to feel quite as proud as they should. First world problems, we know, but very important to our boys nonetheless. We don’t know anyone who looks back on taking exams over the last two years with any degree of satisfaction…
Making sure your teens feel heard
Looking back through our blog over the last two years of the pandemic is interesting. A lot of teens wrote for us in the first half of 2020, when the pandemic first hit, about how it felt to be without their friends, how they were coping with the impact on their mental health and how it felt to have their lives turned upside down.
But who’d have thought we’d be here now, two years later, with pretty much all of sixth form affected and so much lost for ever? It’s not like us to moan but we feel it’s important to think about and come to terms with the pandemic and its impact on older teens. The worst thing we can do is to brush it away and say ‘it could have been worse’. Instead, we need to discuss it and – it sounds like overkill, but it isn’t – grieve with them. This page from Mind has some really useful advice. Some of it isn’t relevant now that restrictions have lifted, but the section on supporting teens’ wellbeing under these circumstances is still very useful.
We just can’t leave you on a negative note, though. This is Equipp after all! So we’ll end with a link to the post we wrote about this time last year, looking at ways in which our teens have become better people through experiencing the Covid pandemic. As rubbish as it’s been, today’s teens have found a way to rise to the challenge.
As always, we’d love to hear what you think on the subject – please do leave us a comment.
Louise & Anna x