Starting last fall, as a staff member for the magazine, I followed a group of AP students in Columbia, Missouri, as they led distance learning attempts. One of the joys of my job is how often it exposes me to new environments or topics, some of which are completely alien to my own experience. The coverage of these young people was probably the first time I felt that my own life consistently corresponded to what I treated.
As I met the young people I was focusing on in Missouri, I watched my own sons, high school freshmen in suburban New York City, who got used to or struggled with the quirks as well as the disappointments and frustrations , Cruelty, boredom and loneliness from months that included hours of distance learning and some time in quarantine.
The inner life of young people is always terra incognita, especially at this unique moment. When I started my reporting, I just wanted to keep track of the emotional dramas that unfolded as students and teachers dealt with the pain and fear that Covid introduced. It was only over time that I began to understand that for so many young people, emotional anxiety was the hallmark of the year, a year when the isolation of distance learning robbed them of the very things that they evolved to crave and special Finding worthwhile novelties, independence, bonding with friends.
May 15, 2021, 4:09 p.m. ET
I also knew that some of the young people I interviewed found it difficult to tell their parents how much they suffered. It was embarrassing, one of them told me – embarrassing. Young people know that their parents want them to be happy and prosperous. Failing their parents was another source of pain that they weren’t sure they could endure.
I have almost always spoken to these students by phone from 1,000 miles away. Many of them probably don’t even know what I look like. Yet sometimes I felt that I understood their inner workings better than those of my own teenagers. As the children of a deeply curious – let’s say caring – reporter, my boys have become experts when it comes to offering the youthful version of “no comment,” answering almost every detailed question about their life with exactly one word: ” Fine.”