Starting last fall, as editor for the magazine, I followed a group of TBEN students in Columbia, Missouri as they ran the distance learning trials. One of the pleasures of my job is the frequency with which it exposes me to new environments or subjects, some of which are totally foreign to my own experience. Reporting on these young people may have been the first time I felt my own life looked, over and over again, like what I was covering.
As I got to know the kids I focused on in Missouri, I watched my own sons, high school freshmen in a New York suburb, adjust to – or struggle with – the quirks, but also disappointments, frustrations. , cruelties, boredom and months of loneliness that involved many hours of distance learning and some time in quarantine.
The inner life of adolescents is always terra incognita, especially at this unique moment. When I started reporting I just wanted to follow the emotional dramas that were unfolding as students and teachers deal with the pain and fear introduced by Covid. It was only over time that I began to understand that emotional angst was the mark of the year for so many young people, a year in which the isolation of distance learning left them. deprived of the very things they are developmentally programmed to do and find especially rewarding for – novelty, independence, bonding with friends.
I also knew that some of the young people I interviewed had difficulty telling their parents how much pain they were suffering. It was embarrassing, one of them told me – awkward. Young people know that their parents want them to be happy, to thrive; disappointing their parents was another source of pain they weren’t sure they could endure.
I spoke to these students 1,000 miles away, almost always by phone; a lot of them probably don’t even know what I look like. And yet, I sometimes felt that I had a better understanding of their inner life than that of my own teenagers. As the children of a deeply curious – let’s say caring – journalist, my boys have become adept at offering the teenage version of ‘no comment’, answering almost any question about their life, no matter how elaborate. them, in one word: “Fine.”