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Listening to Youth During COVID-19

Listening to Youth During COVID-19

PEAK continues our series in response to COVID-19 and its impact on education. The pandemic has and will continue to have a remarkable effect on youth and adolescents.  For today’s blog, we touch on the work of Sherrell Bethel. Sherrell joined the PEAK team in 2019 as the Assistant Director of the RSA Shift Transition project and as a Youth Trainer and Mentor. She is passionate about giving all people an opportunity to be the best version of themselves and ensuring that every member of her community is treated with dignity and respect. Sherrell’s work on the PTI Youth Team is designed to advocate for and communicate with youth with disabilities. 

In Sherrell’s virtual work with youth during the pandemic, she notes that youth, especially youth with disabilities, feel the impacts of seclusion from social distancing more deeply. Some youth may have siblings or friends who are able to interact with others or go out more often, but they themselves are often limited because of medical or other concerns that make them more at risk to COVID-19. In some cases, youth with disabilities struggled with social life and friendships before quarantines and shutdowns. Now, these impacts are being felt even more. Compounding this is youth blaming themselves or their disabilities and what may have already been a negative self-perception; being different doesn’t lend itself to fitting in, which is often the goal in adolescence. Another common theme Sherrell is observing is heightened anxiety over what the coming school year will bring. 

In the spirit of nothing about us without us, we’ve collected responses from youth to showcase their unique voices in this unprecedented experience. We asked youth to respond to the following questions. Their responses are highlighted below.

What is the biggest barrier or problem the COVID-19 pandemic has created in your life?

The Coronavirus outbreak is creating new norms, and youth who responded to our survey noted some common themes. They consistently stated that COVID-19 has led them to feel anxious. Another commonality among responses was the lack of ability to socialize or have a social life. Youth reported feeling upset about not being able to see family members and were also upset about people who refuse to wear masks in public spaces. One individual, on the other hand, commented that they’ve actually enjoyed spending time at home because they feel less guilt about choosing to not socialize. 

What is one thing that will make the school year easier for you in the fall?

Answers varied for this question. Some youth commented that there would be less homework because there might be less time spent in school. Others thought remote learning would make school easier. One child responded that current events would allow for interesting discussions about ways to create positive change in school. Another offered that going through a “regular” school day would make things easier.

What is your biggest worry or fear surrounding the pandemic?

Youth respondents generally noted that they were scared of getting infected themselves, and infecting others, especially loved ones with COVID-19. They expressed fear of loved ones dying from coronavirus. They also commonly mentioned their concern that people don’t wear masks when they leave their homes. 

What are some of the ways you calm your anxiety or stress when you start feeling overwhelmed?

Playing video games and listening to music calms down most of the youth who responded to this survey. Movies and playing with stress toys, fidgets, chewelry, or spinning marbles create feelings of relaxation among youth as well.

What can adults such as parents and teachers do to help you?

Youth generally noted that they want the adults in their lives to just be there to listen and answer questions. They want their teachers to make sure they understand their work, especially if schooling is entirely remote. Some youth even mentioned that they hope their families continue to spend time together, even after quarantine measures are eased. 

No matter how youth are coping with such drastic changes, our youth team is here to engage.

Over the last several months, Sherrell has been leading PEAK’s Ability-N-Power Teen Virtual Parties and Teen Conversations That Matter. These are safe spaces where youth can socialize, or simply share feelings and concerns. The summer’s last Youth Virtual Party will happen on August 5 and Teen Conversations That Matter will be held on August 26. The topic will be “Discover Your Voice.” You can also look forward to the Youth Leadership Summit segment of the Annual PEAK Parent Center Conference on Inclusive Education

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