Introduction from Cassie Moore
My world changed, as did yours, when COVID swept into our lives this spring.
As everything upended, I found myself getting texts from hurting and confused students—some I didn’t even know. My high schoolers started sharing my phone number with their friends, and I’d receive random messages that started with words like, “Hey Cassie, you don’t know me, but I need someone to talk to…”
That’s precisely how I first met Ariana.
Girls from my youth group gave her my phone number, and we started texting. Ari joined our online small group, then signed up to go on a mission trip with us in the summer.
In the next few months, our mission trip was cancelled and I took a call to a new job across the country. But Ariana and I continued to text daily. We became a source of encouragement for each other, exchanging prayers as we both walked through some challenging situations in different places.
Ariana is starting her senior year in high school this fall. She’s smart, insightful, and focused squarely on Jesus. In fact, she’s praying about her interest in going into youth ministry herself someday.
Our conversations about how the world has changed for teenagers have given me a lot to consider. If you deal with young people in any capacity, whether it’s as a youth leader, educator, or coach, or even a parent or grandparent, I encourage you to absorb her words and apply them to your life.
Ariana tells us just how desperately teens need adults in their lives right now.
Here, Ariana shares her perspective on life as a teenager, dealing with the realities of a global pandemic:
Navigating the Uncertain
COVID-19. I’ve heard this one word endlessly the past five months, yet for me there are multiple words that are attached to it: Change. Loss. Adaptation. The list goes on and on. So many of our everyday tasks are changing and we, the teen population as a whole, are told to “just adapt,” as if all of the changes that are happening aren’t difficult for us, too.
Over the last five months, I have felt more emotions than I ever have before. My immediate reaction, and probably every teens’ first thought, was, “Yay, we get an extended spring break!” As the days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, though, the excitement began to drift away and the feeling of uncertainty settled in.
This being my summer before senior year, not knowing what my future held was absolutely heart-wrenching. All I could think was, “I want a normal senior year.” In the beginning, I tried to keep a positive outlook on this whole situation, but as the days carried on, it came to be exhausting. Getting up every morning and not having a set routine was one of the most strenuous tasks throughout quarantine. As a person who needs a set routine to function, I struggled with finding beneficial activities to fill the void that COVID-19 created within my life.
Finding activities that were worth my time and benefit me was challenging, but it drove me to change my outlook on life. Many people fear change, but I try to fully embrace it. Throughout this pandemic I cycled through feeling excitement, anxiety, ambiguity, doubtfulness, clarity, and composure. There have been so many moments of chaos throughout this crisis and finding moments of stillness in every waking second was crucial.
Besides handling the challenging emotions of this pandemic, I’ve found that one of the hardest things to deal with has been the adults in my life. Many adults fail to acknowledge that we, most teenagers, are educating ourselves on the pandemic. I desperately wish adults would understand that most teens are taking precautionary measures. We understand that wearing a mask, a simple task, will result in an extremely low number of cases. This isn’t to say that all adults are ignoring precautionary measures, or all youth are taking precautionary measures. In my personal experience, I feel as if more adults should be wearing a mask and some just refuse to cooperate.
We are adapting and it’s hard, but we are doing it the best we can. I believe we, as teenagers, have handled this occurring event with compassion in our hearts and that is something that the adults around me lack. I see some adults complaining about having to wear a mask, yet my three-year-old sister wears her mask without one complaint. I just want ADULTS to understand that the simple things will take us far–during and after this pandemic.
The adults’ perspective varies on my environment, but most adults can’t comprehend that teens are grieving because of how much we have all lost and how much we will continue to lose as long as this virus is around. Not only have my emotions and the adults in my life been hard to handle, but I’ve also found myself mourning the loss of the routine I didn’t even know I loved. From not being able to work and financially support myself, to enjoying quality time with my inner circle of friends, I have lost so much because of this virus. Yes, some may say that is selfish and that I need to think about all of the deaths that have occurred; however, every individual has been affected in various ways and is learning how to cope with their emotions during this difficult time.
Losing Our Outlets
For me, losing time with my cross-country teammates is one of the hardest things I am mourning. Most teens have a major outlet that gets them through the rough days. Mine just so happens to be running and doing it with my team and coach. Losing our outlets as teens makes a lot of things spike: anxiety, depression, a sense of belonging, and doubtful thoughts.
Most teens don’t consciously realize how much they need and love their set routines. We live everyday not realizing how much these routines help us to stay positive and productive. I wake every morning and do my daily devotion. When quarantine first began, I told myself, “You don’t need to do it, push it off.” I began to realize that I was disconnecting with God and my faith practices. As the days went on, I started seeing the same bible verse everywhere. “Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you” (Psalm 9:10). I immediately thought, “This is the Holy Spirit guiding me back and telling me to devote the time to God.”
While I was able to pull myself with the help of the Holy Spirit, not all teens can realize the descending spiral they begin to enter and pull themselves back. When teens start to go into this descending spiral, adults could step in and offer virtual check ins and a listening ear. Sometimes that is all it takes with teens. We just need someone to listen.
This pandemic takes away mine and every teens’ outlets which then leads to more anxiety throughout the days. Speaking from experience, this pandemic has made my anxiety rise beyond measure. Every day during quarantine I struggled through little tasks because of anxiety. I found myself not being able to focus and my daily tasks remained incomplete. I want the adults around me to understand how us teens are MENTALLY impacted by this pandemic.
Another thing I am mourning is my time spent with my youth group. That is a place of safety and security for me. Feeling as if I don’t have a safe place to express my troubles and give them to God is challenging. Attending youth group every week kept me very devoted to scripture. Reading and understanding scripture is much more difficult and complicated. Prayer is a little easier to continue on my own, but there is still such a disconnection from not having youth group. Without an activity that puts my mind at ease, I start to overthink too much and put an immense amount of pressure on ourselves–which later leads to a downward, negative spiral.
Teens Need Supportive Adults
Realizing that this is the “new normal” has been a painful adjustment. Just thinking about all of the events that won’t be able to happen for my senior year made me simultaneously irritated and discouraged. It felt like all my hard work over the past twelve school years didn’t matter at all anymore. All the adventure that senior year is supposed to hold is just gone–or at least that’s what it feels like for every rising senior. Coming to terms with the fact that simple things such as going to school and hanging out, or hugging friends and carpooling to parties possibly won’t be what we consider normal for a long time is challenging for Generation Z. It feels like most adults don’t understand this at all.
The thing that leaves me most in awe during this pandemic is the lack of outreach from the adults. I really want this to be acknowledged and changed. Youth leaders, educators, even parents could have done so much more to make sure that teens had all the help they could possibly get during this time of loss and change. The thought of a trusted adult taking time out of their day to check up on me made me feel safe.
Many of the adults surrounding me in my everyday life don’t know this, but they could help me in so many ways. Many teens are feeling lost right now and every teen needs a trusted adult who makes them feel slightly less lost in this world of chaos. Throughout the pandemic I have been fortunate enough to have an amazing mentor; someone that I can talk to about how I am feeling during this time of craziness. Whether it was virtually or in person (six feet apart, of course), being able to check in with the previously mentioned mentor has helped me so much. Being able to just vent about how this virus makes me feel is so comforting. Just having someone who listens with an open mind and heart puts me at ease. A lot of teens need this type of comfort and support right now. A check in phone call from that one trusted adult could change a teens’ whole day.
If I could give one piece of advice to adults out there reading this, please understand how desperately teens like me need to hear that we aren’t alone. Reassuring us teens and letting us know that we aren’t alone in all of this is crucial, especially for teens, myself included, who struggle with anxiety. Another thing to take into consideration is not all of us teens are fully educated on the pandemic. While we have all the resources to learn about it, we tend to ignore the facts and statistics and rely on our own minds and the things it can create. During this time, all of us teens tend to spiral and think way too far into the future. Having a level-headed, down to earth adult to talk to gives me a sense of unmatched relief.
Deep, deep down inside of me, I believe that adults could change teens’ perspective on this virus completely. By reminding us teens that we will come out of this pandemic stronger than we were before, adults are giving us a sense of hope for the future. To add to this, adults being there for us teens gives us a way to cope through this pandemic. During this time of uncertainty adults, youth leaders specifically, could help youth get back to focusing on Jesus. They could do this by holding Zoom video calls for youth regularly and being able to openly discuss our worries and doubts without being judged gives a sense of relief. In addition to this, being able to connect with and talk to people about our struggles is so beneficial. Also, hearing how God can help us through this time of uncertainty from a youth leader can and will change our outlook on our problems.
God is in Control
All in all, this pandemic has created such an emotional roller coaster for teens, including me. So many challenges we have had to, and will continue, to conquer. I have conquered these challenges by putting my faith in God and letting Him guide me through both the chaos and the calmness of life. No matter what, I have hope for the future and I believe that I always will.
Although COVID-19 has presented many obstacles and roadblocks in my own path and those of others, I know that God is in control and that puts me at ease. As Romans 8:18 reminds me in those moments where I’m struggling most, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
Closing Thoughts from Cassie
I encourage you to digest Ariana’s insight with an open mind, and continue praying for our youngest generation as they face this new version of the world with creativity and courage.
Ari’s words about what adults can do for teenagers hit me hard. As she shared, “If I could give one piece of advice to adults out there reading this, please understand how desperately teens like me need to hear that we aren’t alone. Reassuring us teens and letting us know that we aren’t alone in all of this is crucial, especially for teens, myself included, who struggle with anxiety.”
We must continually share the truth that Jesus is always with us. As He reminds us in Matthew 28:20, “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The same Savior who died on the cross to save us from our sins remains by our side, no matter whether we face pandemics or poverty, stress or sorrow, blessings or brokenness.
In obedience to the example Jesus sets for us, we can make an effort to show up in the lives of our young people and demonstrate to them with our listening ears, open hearts, and compassionate attitudes that they are not alone.
“By reminding us teens that we will come out of this pandemic stronger than we were before, adults are giving us a sense of hope for the future,” Ari shared in this article. Hope will be a central refrain for all of us, as we look forward and anticipate a brighter future than our current reality.
As Christians, we know the source of true hope: the knowledge that we are loved, redeemed, and destined for eternal life with Jesus. Even in the midst of challenges, we can let the joy of this hope bubble out of us and into the lives of those we encounter.
We have an opportunity like never before to share the hope of Christ with young people who are reeling with loss and confusion, and begging for our presence in their lives. Let’s get to work, my friends.