What will today’s teens remember ten or twenty years from now when they think back on their childhood, and specifically the year that was 2020?
I have three kids between the ages of 12 and 15 so this question has been on my mind this week. Each day brings another flood of misery in the news, dire warnings on social media, and a stricter set of restrictions on their movements and interactions here at home (we moved on quickly from “simple” social distancing and are essentially in lockdown mode now). One day they were immersed in their daily routine of school, sports practices & tournaments, hanging out with friends and eagerly anticipating spring break. Now the sports are gone, friends are off-limits and they don’t know if they are going back to school this year. This is going to be an event they remember. While reports that the virus is typically mild in young people provide some comfort and help keep panic at bay, kids fundamentally understand that things are not normal right now.
Older kids in grade 12 are having their graduations yanked from under them and plans for their future thrown in turmoil. Older teens in first year university or first jobs are facing the unknown amidst unbelievable disruption. We all are of course, and against the backdrop of impending mass deaths a foregone grad ceremony seems of little importance, but it is useful for we adults to remember that these are central events in young peoples’ lives and at 13 or 15 or even 19 these kids don’t yet have the full sense of perspective that (hopefully) comes with age. They’ve also been conditioned their whole lives to understand that things like high school grad or the first year of college or first job are major life milestones. Who are we to then begrudge them for grieving when these long-anticipated events that we ourselves cherished at that stage of life are suddenly snatched from them?
I’m about to turn 53. I have a list of world events etched in my brain from my own life, a personal memory-reel filled with moments where it felt like the universe had suddenly shifted in some fundamental manner. It goes something like this:
Big Events in History — A Personal List
- Evel Knievel crashing while attempting to jump the Snake River Canyon (I know - a very weird place to start, right? But that is where my memories begin.)
- The Cold War
- Canada’s National Energy Program¹
- John Lennon dying
- The AIDS crisis
- Ronald Reagan getting shot
- The Challenger space shuttle blowing up
- The Berlin Wall coming down
- The Ethiopian Famine (& Live Aid)
- The Gulf Wars
- The Columbine High School shooting
- The Indian Ocean Tsunami
- The Pope dying (John-Paul II)
- Osama Bin Laden killed
- West Coast Wildfires
These events are not of equal importance, because that’s not how our minds work, but they have each seared something indelible in my mind.
I imagine we all carry a list of this sort somewhere in the back of our brains. What gets added to a list like this no doubt differs hugely for each of us depending on our age, geography and individual experiences (see my Evel Knievel and National Energy Program bullets for proof of that). Reviewing my own list, I’m also struck by the fact that it’s almost all bad news, one more reason this pandemic will loom large in young people’s psyches in the future.
I don’t have a good sense of what else will be on my own kids’ lists when they are adults, but I know COVID-19 will. As the crisis unfolds here in North America my wife and I will be doing everything we can to keep our kids safe, busy and happy and to help them understand and adapt to whatever circumstances may arise. But I can’t help but think that for them, the world is now going to feel like it’s on a different, less secure footing than it was before. Perhaps that’s true for all of us.
 (I grew up in an Alberta oil industry family and this policy — launched by current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s father Pierre Trudeau when I was thirteen— was despised with a passion bordering on religious fervour by every adult I knew).