How To Help Your Adolescent Think About The Last Year
Hint: It’s not a “lost year.” Also, the screen time with friends? It’s good for their mental health.
By Judith Warner for NJ Association of School Psychologists
They’re calling it a “lost year.”
On and offline, parents are trading stories — poignant and painful — about all of the ways that they fear their middle schoolers are losing ground.
“It’s really hard to put my finger on what happened exactly,” said Jorge Gallegos, whose son, Eyan, is in the seventh grade in Washington, D.C.
When Eyan was in fifth grade, he had a lot of friends, Mr. Gallegos said. He was home schooled for sixth grade, and he seemed to thrive.
But spending this year at home because of the pandemic has just been too much.
Eyan transferred to a new middle school for seventh grade, where nearly all of the other students had started in the sixth grade, prepandemic. He hasn’t met any of his classmates in person, and he hasn’t made a single friend.
Eyan has told his parents that he’s lonely. So lonely, in fact, that he has started posting on Discord and Reddit. Sometimes, when he’s bored, he even starts chatting with those strangers during class time.
His dad is sympathetic. “He wants to talk to people, and he doesn’t have anybody,” Mr. Gallegos said in a recent phone interview. But he’s also worried.
As a teenager, Mr. Gallegos went off the rails for a time. He was kicked out of high school, withdrew from community college twice and spent years fighting his way back, ultimately graduating from college and building a successful career with the federal government. There’s no way he’ll let the pandemic similarly spin his son’s life out of control.
“I’m going to make sure that we’re on top of this stuff,” he said. “I think as a parent, I have to do more.”
Virtually everyone has waded through hardships this past year — job losses, relationship struggles, chronic stress and, in the worst of all cases, the loss of loved ones to Covid-19. And parents with school-age children have battled the demands of combining their usual work and family responsibilities with at least some degree of home-schooling.
But mothers and fathers of middle schoolers — the parenting cohort long known to researchers as the most angst-ridden and unhappy — are connecting now in a specific sort of common misery: the pressing fear that their children, at a vital inflection point in their academic and social lives, have tripped over some key developmental milestones and may never quite find their footing again.