Four Ways Adults Can Support Young People “Post-Pandemic” in 2023
While the crisis designations have dropped and masks are now tucked away in drawers and cabinets, less tangible residuals of the COVID-19 pandemic may linger with us for a while. The impacts of time lost and experiences missed all while watching the world drastically change can take a mental, emotional and spiritual toll. That’s especially true for young people. For teens and young adults, it’s not uncommon for every year to be different from the one before; but as we noted in The New Normal Updated & Expanded (released in 2022), there’s no “back to normal” to which young people can return. Their lives, just when they might have been starting to find stable ground, took a dramatic and uncertain turn.
This is why, even in 2023, those caring for young people still need to consider and be sensitive to the lingering social, mental and emotional effects of the pandemic. Here’s guidance from the New Normal Expanded that details how adults can continue to care for young people as they make sense of the changed external and internal worlds they inhabit.
Understand where they’re at.
Springtide’s data reveal where young people are at as they process and move through the difficulties and delights of these years in the pandemic. But our data is just a jumping-off point. Young people will be processing difficult things at different paces, which means you also need to tune into the young people in your life in intentional ways. Part of being tuned in is expressing care. Showing care can be as simple as listening, being a consistent presence, or sharing from your own experiences. The most important thing is to communicate care for young people as individuals, not assuming you know where they’re at without asking.
Grieve what’s been lost and celebrate what’s been gained.
Young people need a model for how to hold difficulty and delight together, because life is full of such tensions—and always will be. It’s tempting to claim the time spent in various levels of pandemic-related restrictions as a loss of sorts, but digging deeper to name and claim what has been gained is important work. This doesn’t mean optimism or silver linings; it means concretely describing what has been gained so that the narrative doesn’t stick in your (or anyone’s) head that this time in our lives was a wash. Without sugarcoating the difficulties of the past years, you can model to young people the way life is full of hardships and joys—and how those things live in tension for everyone.
Create real community through gathering.
Gathering matters to young people. But so many aspects of their lives are mediated by screens these days—school, social lives, etc.—that they crave something more from all of the social communities to which they belong. Adults have an opportunity to break through some of the monotony of their online lives by giving them real, vivid experiences. While in-person gatherings are usually favored, virtual gatherings allow for greater access – both remain valid options. Think about the young people you’re wanting to engage and consider what types of gatherings they might enjoy – then work alongside them to co-create gatherings that appeal to all involved.
Empathy is the ability to enter into the experience of another person and adopt a tender sensitivity to their world—feelings, ideas, and values—even if you don’t naturally experience those things in the same ways. Understanding where you’re at in your own mental/emotional/spiritual journeys is an important first step in responding with empathy to the experiences of others. Young people will look to you as a model for how to feel safe, grieve, celebrate, resist comparison, and more. If you’re struggling to do those things yourself, you’ll struggle to extend those things to a young person navigating them for the first time.
For more on how to support young people as we move deeper into post-pandemic life, check out The New Normal Updated and Expanded.