As we all watch the unfolding COVID-19 situation, I am struck by the fact that it will undoubtedly be a significant period effect, especially for Generation Z (b. 1996-2012). Period effects are events or circumstances that significantly influence aging cohorts at a point in time. I have been considering how we, as leaders, mentors, teachers, and parents can seize some of the opportunities that it presents for equipping and encouraging the young people in our lives to thrive even amid difficulty.
While there are very real threats and cause for concern with this global pandemic, I am convinced that there are also opportunities that come with adversity and uncertainty. As we consider what they might look like for those of us who engage Gen Z students and young adults, I think there are several important skills that we can focus on modeling and instilling in the young people around us in the days ahead:
Coping with stress, fear, and anxiety
Often we do not fully experience the stress our kids feel, for example, with cyberbullying or the pressure to score well on tests. The COVID-19 situation, however, is one that we are all facing together. It provides a unique opportunity for us to walk alongside the young people in our lives through an uncertain time and model healthy coping strategies and behaviors. Here are a few ways we can do that:
o Talk about what we are feeling and do some fact-based research together to understand what is happening. Discuss how our faith and values help us navigate situations like these.
o Identify productive projects we can focus on if we have unexpected downtime, for example, learning a new skill (ie. playing an instrument, sewing, drawing, cooking), completing an unfinished project, cleaning, organizing, painting, or writing!
o Find ways to enjoy nature and get exercise. This might be discovering a new workout routine, going on a nature walk, riding a bike, or visiting a state park.
o Invest in important relationships and meaningful interactions. Call grandma, video chat with a sibling, or chat with your neighbor.
Guarding what we listen to, watch, and read
There is increasing research that correlates depression and mental distress with social media use. That was before the world found itself battling a pandemic. Scrolling social media and news feeds right now does provide some helpful information and connection, but it can also contribute to anxiety, fear, and frustration. This does not help our emotional and mental health during a crisis. As a result, it can be helpful to set healthy limits. For example, I am limiting my own checking of social media and news to once or twice a day right now. This allows me to catch up on important updates and messages from friends. I am prioritizing other things to read and listen to...my kids, podcasts, and books that have been on my list for a while. These give me valuable information and are feeding my heart and mind with creative ideas and hope. By modeling this, I can also help my kids create healthy guidelines for what to read, watch, and listen to in their extra downtime.
Caring for others
It is easy amid a crisis to get consumed with our own well-being. I don’t know what my children may face in their lifetime, but I want them to be thoughtful, compassionate, and generous regardless of the circumstances. The COVID-19 situation provides many opportunities for us to model and teach these characteristics through our own responses and behaviors.
With the young people in our lives, we can find ways to consider what others need in this difficult time. For example, making cards and gifts for friends in a senior care facility, doing yard work for neighbor, or taking a meal to a shut in. There are many people working hard right now to serve their communities. Find ways to express appreciation; maybe that is simply smiling at the store associate who is working on their day off to stock shelves.
Amid difficult circumstances, it is usually normal people doing selfless and generous acts that helps everyone navigate the adversity. May we equip the young people around us to make that kind of contribution!
Dr. Jolene Erlacher is a wife, mommy, author, speaker, college instructor and coffee drinker who is passionate about empowering the next generation of leaders for effective service!