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Friendship and formation in Covid times

There is much concern about virtual schooling, and whether and how our younger children are learning effectively through it. But many children are entering Forms One and Two in secondary schools without having met in-person and interacted with their new classmates.

The lack of in-person interaction may be of greater concern than virtual instruction.  It is in the early years of secondary school that some of our most enduring friendships and memories are formed. Those friendships often last a lifetime, transcending eventual separation for work or university, and geographical distance.

It is easy to understand why these friendships are formed and become firm. Those years are when young people are most impressionable, more ‘plastic’, and yet find it easier to create and retain memories of lived experiences.

As they move into adolescence and young adulthood and become increasingly independent of their parents, they gravitate toward their peers and can engage with their teachers and other adults in more mature ways.

Their minds and hearts unfold like beautiful flowers receptive to the world and sharing with the world. It is usually the time when their unique talents, in sport, dance, music, writing, speaking, creating, and so on, begin to flourish and demand expression and support.

It is also the time when hormonal changes alter physical appearance, voices, even attitudes, and stimulate sexual attraction.

Choirs, scouts and girl guides, clubs and other extra-curricular activities help form character while teaching useful life skills. Intra-mural and inter-collegiate competition engender notions of service and loyalty to the team, to something larger than themselves.

They learn to win and to lose. They learn aggression, tempered with compassion.  They learn to harness and manage their emotions. They begin to discern differences and learn to appreciate diversity.


Real friendships


Within this turbulent cauldron of emotion and knowledge and understanding, friendships coalesce. These friendships are authentic. Our parents taught us the importance of ‘keeping good company’.

They would warn us that: “Some people carry you, but they don’t bring you back”.  Those are not real friends. Real friends are not the ersatz ‘friends’ of Facebook, or ‘followers’ on Instagram who may number in the hundreds or thousands.

Real friends, authentic friends, are those who will tell you plainly and directly when you are going astray, whose counsel you can seek out for life-altering decisions, and who will support you in making the right decision.

We don’t yet know what the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic will be on the academic performance of our teenagers over the long run. We might be able to make up for lost school days by extended hours or by shorter vacations over the next few years so they can catch up.

Of equal or greater concern are the opportunities lost for forming real friendships, building character, and imparting the right values at the most critical stage in the lives of teens and young adults. Those hours and days lost cannot be recovered. Those invaluable experiences cannot easily be re-created.

Parents of our teenagers and young adults have even more burdensome responsibilities during and following the pandemic. They must be extremely vigilant about what their youngsters are consuming online and on social media. Together with other parents, they have to create ‘bubbles’ within which the young people can engage in in-person interaction, in play, and in competitive sports within whatever restrictions are allowed by public health guidelines.

And they must find creative ways of prompting and instilling the right values.  They have to do this mindful of the fact that it is precisely during these sensitive years that teenagers and young adults are more inclined to withdraw from parental orbits and seek engagement with their peers.

Covid-19 has presented societies, communities, and families with many unique situations. The proper formation of young adults may be one of the most challenging.

Photo by Dollar Gill on Unsplash