On Monday children and young people across England will physically go back to school for the first time since December. Parents will rejoice, teachers will breath a sigh of relief that they no longer have to teach via video-link, and most of the children will be happy to get out of the house and see their friends again. But many, probably more than you’d care to imagine, are anxious. Young people are expected to have 3 lateral flow COVID tests in the first two weeks of return – if you’ve had a test yourself you’ll know how unpleasant it is – imagine taking that test in a school hall in front of hundreds of other kids.
One young person said to me “The thing is about COVID, if I’ve got it, I probably haven’t got any symptoms. If my friends have it, they won’t either. What if I catch it, and then take it home and infect my family? Will it be my fault?”
She knows that young people are the least affected part of society, and yet for nearly a year they have been asked to restrict their movements, their education and their social interactions to keep other people alive. What does this say about the value that society puts on our young people? Is the message they hear “You have to stop living in order that older people can continue living!” What a sacrifice!
Some of them are dealing with death head on – losing family members, friends and neighbours to a virus which they know they could be carrying symptom free. Having to grieve without the normal constructs of visits to the sick, funerals and memorial services. They can’t even gather together as friends to hold candle-lit vigils.
We’ve heard much about “catching up on education this summer” but what young people need is the space and permission to grapple with these issues, and to talk about death openly and honestly. They also need a summer to socialise, have fun, and be kids without a care in the world.
As a Christian it can be tempting to jump in with eager evangelism that can be interpreted as opportunistic or trite. This is a new pathway for most young people, and we need to walk it with care, grace and kindness – seeking to help them find the language to express their emotions, and the rituals to help them cope.