When you’re a kid everything in life seems so much bigger.
They don’t grasp yet how incredibly small everything is yet. They don’t get how small they are in the big world; they don’t get how small life’s moments are in the span of a lifetime.
As a teacher of adolescents, I taught Romeo and Juliet for years. As adults who’ve life experienced love and heartbreak, we might roll our eyes at the drama of Romeo and Juliet’s love, but I always used this story to remind my students I understood that, for them, first love would feel so much bigger than it actually was, and unfortunately I knew of too many young people who’d killed themselves over lost love.
So when COVID struck, I found myself frustrated at other people’s casual dismissal of kids’ big feelings about all they were losing.
We took away normal school, forgetting that at their age, school is often an escape. For some kids, it’s an escape from a toxic or abusive situation at home, but even those kids coming from good homes use school to test their independence from parents and explore their first relationships outside of family.
We took away sports and activities, where they often first discover their passions and grit and sense of who they are. We confined them to the things we lectured them their whole short lives to get away from: screens.
With no school and no activities, some kids became isolated and lonely, losing sight of who they were. Just like for Romeo and Juliet, this all seems so big. It’s going to feel so much bigger and consuming for them than adults who have more life under their belts, and who understand a little better that a year in the grand scheme of a lifetime is really just a blip in time.
Growing up, I remember being told these were the best years of my life and to enjoy them and live it up. In a way, our kids have been asked to quit living, to quietly sit in existence. As adults debate whether to send them to school or keep them at home; to let them play their beloved games or stay confined; to let them see their friends in person or through screens—we should all remember that we’ve been asking a lot of them.
And it can all feel like such a big loss to a kid.
Just like the demise of Romeo and Juliet felt like a devastating loss because they were young and experiencing first love, for many kids, this is a big first test of the hardships of life.
If adults callously dismiss their frustration or their heartache over everything they’ve lost in 2020, they are creating a larger hole of despair for kids to lose themselves in. It doesn’t matter if generations before them went to war or faced other struggles they consider bigger or harder; we should never undermine another’s heartache because we perceive its cause to be worse or easier than our own.
As adults in 2020, with an internet full of differing opinions, some of us are doing just that—dismissing what kids have lost and telling them their struggles don’t matter as much or are irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
But remember, when you’re a kid, all of this feels so big—and we have asked so much of them this year. Whether they have struggled with the challenge or risen to the occasion, they deserve our recognition and gratitude for what we’ve asked of them throughout this year.