Newspapers, magazines, tv reports, social alarms, all talk about the increasing psychological malaise of teenagers during the pandemic: insomnia, anxiety, depression, social isolation, self-harm, suicide attempts.
But are we really sure it’s all because of the damn virus?
Of course, being locked in a house in front of a computer is not a good life. Having to give up on those relationships with peers that in adolescence are the salt of life, is not easy. But can this lead to such serious diseases?
I’m not a psychologist, and I can’t answer this question with scientific certainty, and therefore I answer with another question: isn’t it that the pandemic simply brought to light something that was hidden from the eyes of distracted adults? Could it be that the forced isolation was the trigger of an illness that had been brooding for some time behind the closed door of a small room? Perhaps, having their kids under their eyes all day, parents realized something that was less visible in the past because they lived for a good part of the day away from their eyes and, finally, they asked for help.
Then there is another factor to consider. Encountering a student in the halls of the school, to my trivial question “How’s it going?” she said, “Professor, I’m sad!”. I told her we are all sad at this moment, it cannot be otherwise given the situation we are experiencing. The girl in question is very healthy, good at school, she likes to study and is very smart and deep.
From this little exchange I had another question: is the sadness of teenagers an illness? Adults do not know how to respond to those glances a bit off and think of a disorder that should be treated by perhaps using some antidepressants. Why can’t they accept that their kids are sad? Parents built a reality based on satisfaction: they gave their kids the latest smartphone and designer clothes, even making sacrifices, and now they discover that what they lack is human relationships. I almost want to thank the damn virus! Never as in this moment there was so much desire for school!
Actually, the guys that worry me the most are those few that aren’t sad, the ones that say it’s okay to be home alone in front of a screen. I think there is something wrong there because instead of a healthy sadness, they show an alarming coldness.
Teenagers bring their lives to real or virtual school every day. The school, even more than the parents from whom they seek autonomy, should give answers to their questions born out of curiosity for a world that opens up before them, but that sometimes are real requests for help because in front of them, on the contrary, a wall rises. In some cases it is a more or less serious malaise, but there are also the questions of those who are looking for a meaning to what they are experiencing.
Another chapter opens here: teachers training. What should be the preparation of those who must get their hands on such a delicate and sometimes very fragile material? It’s not enough to know in depth their own discipline, so much so that special university courses of Education Sciences have been created. But can titles and specializations, if not accompanied by a real interest in each other, make a good teacher?
The school is not only made of didactic technique, it is made mainly of human relationships and if we do not succeed in having a real and deep involvement with our students our work is meant to fail.
In every classroom there is someone who shows a more or less obvious discomfort, but there are also those who are healthily sad and I think it is essential to make them understand that that sadness is a wealth, that you can, you must suffer for something that oppresses you without feeling sick, that that sadness is the manifestation of a very healthy sensitivity. But it is necessary that someone makes them understand it, so that they don’t get confused.
In the writings of this blog we talked about the listening desk available in many schools that serves the function of “listening”, precisely, to those who ask for help. The function of listening is very important, but in addition to listening, it is necessary to know how to answer. And answering is not easy because there is not always clarity about what the right answers are. Then it happens that those who would need more help have trouble asking for it and maybe the ones who go to the desk are the ones who are only sad and do not know why, mistaking their sadness for illness.
It is not in my ability to provide answers, a task that I leave to the specialists in order for me to deal with what a teacher can do. Some colleagues, more or less unhappy, would say that we need to carry on with the program, there is no time to deal with all the problems of teenagers! It is true, there is no time, it has been taken away from us in years and years of cuts in time as well as in resources. But waiting for politics to realize their mistakes, we could respond to the logic of the cuts by cutting a part of the program and reinventing a time to spend in the relationship with students. Because it is not the quantity of learning that is important, but its quality.
Someone in this pandemic period wrote on a wall “We won’t return to normality, because normality was the problem”. As Sara Lazzaro rightly states in the interview published on this blog, it is necessary to “change paradigm”. The school cannot, must not return to normal, for this reason it is necessary to join forces to create a “new” that responds to the needs of teenagers, that makes them discover these needs, because some of them do not even know they have them. A new that could also erase the tiredness of teachers crushed by a bureaucratic logic made of a thousand useless paperwork and that obscures their fundamental role as trainers. It might reveal that teaching is a beautiful profession.
Thanks to Chiara Fanasca for the translation of this article