By Terry Whitfield, Program Officer, The Skillman Foundation
Saying that 2020 has been a tough year is an understatement. COVID-19 has turned our world upside down in ways that will reverberate throughout history, changing how we interact with each other for the foreseeable future. To maintain health and safety, we have isolated ourselves in ways counter to our culture of connection. This physical disconnection negatively impacts the development of our children and youth exponentially.
Dr. Pamela Cantor of Turnaround for Children has labeled this challenge as the “COVID Paradox.” In short, the COVID Paradox states that, to maintain physical safety, we have sacrificed emotional safety—namely, human connection needed to maintain socioemotional health. Young people are separated from teachers and peers during a critical phase in their emotional development. Additionally, school closures leave many youth without access to food, health care, and trusted, caring adults.
How can we protect the emotional health of children and youth during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Turnaround for Children lists three ways that adults and youth-serving systems can mitigate some of the trauma and stress young people face, maximizing their emotional well-being during this time: relationships, routine, and resilience. Relationships help develop self-esteem, confidence, and a sense of security. Routines increase feelings of emotional safety. Resilience allows one to move forward in the face of fallbacks and adversity.
Adults play an important role in supporting the three “Rs.” In terms of relationship, adults can serve as mentors, role models, and connectors. Whether its volunteering with mentorship organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters or the Scouts, lending your time to a youth sports or arts organizations, or simply developing a rapport with a young person on your block, every adult can be an ally and guide to youth.
Adults can help provide thoughtful structure to young people’s day to keep them moving and motivated. After-school and summer programs are a tremendous resource for this. Even amid social distance safety precautions, organizations are providing engaging online meetups and preparing to serve youth this summer. Two examples are the Boys and Girls Club and Developing KIDS, which rapidly converted their youth programming to engaging online videos and meet-ups that youth can access from a phone or computer.
All of the above help cultivate a young person’s resilience. Adults can also do so by encouraging mindfulness and reflection through written, verbal, or artistic means.
There are many ways adults can show up in the lives of children. If you are still unsure of where to start, consider supporting a youth-serving organization. This could be an after-school program, school, early childhood center, or basic needs organization.
To all of the stand-up adults that support our kids—whether it’s your profession or simply your passion—thank you. Your legacy is our young people. And what a promising legacy it is.