“Quaranteen.” This is my new word for youth enduring this strange new world we occupy right now. Allow me to unpack its meaning.


Quarantine is defined as an imposed isolation. Teenagers are defined by their very real and very epic personal struggles with identity, discovery, life challenges, pressures, navigating day to day school activities, exploration of community, and “dealing” with family. They are defined most of all, however, by their deep relationships with friends. Teens are external meaning makers. This means they have a kind of collective soul that is shared with the rest of their little tribes—the inner circles of peers. They understand and process the world and their sense of meaning through and within these relationships. This is their developmental actuality. So, you can imagine the realities of being a teen are NOT conducive to a state of isolation!


Now, at a defining moment of life, quaranteenagers are asked to “go it alone”. Yet, this vital social distancing is in fact harder on our youth! As adults we probably cannot even begin to understand the depths of frustration and angst teens are wrestling with right now. Even with the marvels of connection in our digital age, social media is not real human relationship. Civic clubs and churches are learning this firsthand. Video, text, email, and phone are not really real. I see this frustration in my own two teenage boys who are, as they put it, “Sooooooo over this right now!”


Social Distancing and degrees of isolation are saving lives and will likely remain with us for longer than we want. There is nothing we can do to make that just go away. What we can do is remain open and understanding with the teens in our lives. Listen to them. Hear them. Empathize with them. Understand that sentiments such as, “Well this is nothing compared to…,” or “Back then they had it even worse when…” or “We’re all in the same boat here, so just…” probably will be more harmful than helpful.


Suffering is personal. It is individualized. What is hard on me might not be hard on you. Allowing teens the dignity of knowing that their pain is legitimate, and the safety to express how they honestly feel can be the most redemptive thing we do for this generation. For example, many of our civic club partners are writing encouraging letters to our residents simply to let the kids know they sympathize with their situation. Additionally, one club used their hands to make the heart symbol during a Zoom meeting to express their love for all our kids. Thomas Academy teachers are going above and beyond to connect with students and remain engaged not only in their academic struggles, but in personal and healing ways as well. So, whether we are writing them a letter, sending a text or email, or video/phone chatting, each of us can do our part to be that adult who cares. This will prove to be more formative than we could ever imagine.

Dr. Mason Fuller Smith is the Director of Civic Club Relations for Boys and Girls Homes of NC.

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