DR ASHA PEMBERTON
As an adolescent medicine specialist, I am a paediatrician with specific training in the health, mental wellness and resilience of all children, teenagers and young adults. Through my work, I encounter young people with a range of concerns and also those with opinions and suggestions toward their own future. This past week, I met with a vibrant young woman who reflected passionately on the past year of her life: the challenges, the experiences and next steps. With her full permission, I share her narrative.
"It has been an entire academic year online. My lower-six experience has been completely virtual.
Will it be this way for the rest of my secondary schooling?
We missed the opportunity to feel that we were finally at the top of the school body, now only names or faces on a laptop screen.
At this point, I have taught myself more topics than my teachers have taught me. I can’t blame them though; they are new to this too. Page after page, slide after slide; I am tired.
Sometimes it almost feels as though teachers are more concerned with who has their web camera turned on than whether we have finished the syllabus.
Spending time on such minor issues instead of ensuring we are in the best position going into exams. Aside from the standard school hours as well as our usual study time, several of us have to set aside even more time to solidify the content of the syllabus. Time that would have been spent with friends, with family, with ourselves – just socialising and having fun.
Honestly, I am at the point where social media is not even interesting anymore. All of the screen-time between school, lessons, webinars, and all sorts of things have zapped my energy to even look at another screen.
Friends who I thought would have been there forever have proven that once we are not seeing each other almost daily, we will not speak.
It’s funny huh?
This pandemic has also brought unsuspecting people into my life. Colleagues who I have never spoken to have reached out; school-related or otherwise, but it was nice to have someone new to interact with.
After being locked in for so long, there is so much I would like to do now, right here in the country. Go on hikes, visit down the islands, go to art galleries, go to the cinema with friends, or simply go to the beach and lime – all the activities I took for granted before.
It’s ironic isn’t it? Suddenly everything in the country seems so interesting and appealing when it isn’t as easily available.
Finding ways to manage my own mental health in the online world proved difficult in the early stages. Everything back then was up to chance, changing every week. We were happy to have the time off but after a while it took a toll on us.
Nowadays, everything is a rapid blur. Rushing to finish syllabi, rushing to ensure this, rushing to complete that. It’s too much.
To find that balance between ‘Okay I have done a lot work today, let me take a break’ and ‘No, if you were in physical school you wouldn’t be resting now’ is the key, I believe. Some online platforms such as The Gen Z Journal as well as YETT on Instagram have given us such helpful and insightful advice for how to approach these situations. Said platforms have made this experience that much more bearable.
If this is meant to be the ‘new normal,’ a couple changes will definitely need to be made. I know for a fact that several teens such as myself cannot go on in this way for long periods of time. We miss our friends, the school environment, adequate and proper teaching, and most of all we miss our motivation."
The words of this young person mirror feedback locally, regionally and internationally. The changes that young people have been navigating are tremendous when we consider the upheaval to education, social interaction, motivation and overall mental health. In your homes and communities this weekend take the time to speak to young people and allow them the non-judged space to express their true feelings and concerns. Let us make conscious efforts to get their voices a platform, so that we too are able to appropriately and effective manage their holistic health during these uncertain times.