I believe in the power of writing our own story, of being the narrator of our own life. That personal narrative can be deeply depressing, wildly optimistic or anywhere in between.
It’s taken years (even decades) to realize my own power as the narrator of my life. And then came 2020. COVID-19 shattered the story I scripted about who I am as an educator, as a fun and patient parent, and as an engaged citizen. Now, I found myself shut out of classrooms, guiding an energetic little boy through virtual learning and struggling through the isolation of quarantine.
That narrative I constructed about myself has been shattered. Who am I right now? And what has happened to my carefully crafted life?
One thing I know for sure: Our youth are struggling with these same issues, and they need our help to make meaning out of the current chaos, even if they don’t realize it yet.
The first step for adults is to simply listen to what our young people are saying. I remember the feeling of being their age and wondering if anyone could hear me. It felt like adults looked right past me when it came to the important stuff.
Teens want to be heard. Teens need to be heard. And, with the challenges of COVID-19 and social distancing, the places teens usually find adults to facilitate conversations — schools, athletic teams, after-school programs — have shifted into new methods of delivery that might hinder the natural flow of conversations.
Then, we need to hush. They don’t expect us to solve all their problems; sometimes they just want to talk and know they are being heard. Really heard.
Our young people are currently writing the personal narrative of their lives through this historic year, trying to process the racial injustices and violence they see 24/7 on social media. After we hush and really listen, we can help them take the seemingly incomprehensible pieces of their life and quilt them together into a pattern that makes meaning out of the chaos of life today.
This takes authenticity on our part, being honest about our own struggles with the uncertainty of work and school, fears about health, and questions about the future of our country. If we can model for them how we are authoring our path through the chaos, violence and fear of 2020 into a story of resilience, self-awareness and positive change, perhaps they can work toward doing the same.
We can model how to view this as an opportunity to evaluate what is truly important to us and the value of human connection. We can model how to use our voices to stand up against injustice, and that using heartbreak and anger to fuel change can be a powerful weapon. We can model that each and every one of us has the ability (and responsibility) to demand justice for everyone. For Every. Single. Person.
We won’t always get it right. But we can’t let the fear of messing up keep us from trying. Our young people are always watching, and they are taking the lead from us on how they will tell the story of their 2020.
Our kids are paying attention. So let’s listen, and then let’s get to work.
By Carrie Silver, Ph.D., director, Bridges to a Brighter Future, Furman University