The hidden– and not so hidden– wounds of this generation.
Like many parents, my husband and I have been trying to make the best of all the extra family time due to COVID-19. So we thought it might be fun to introduce our teenagers to some of our favorite apocalypse and disaster movies from our teenage years, flicks like “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Deep Impact,” “Dante’s Peak,” and “2012.”
We put on the first movie– “2012”– and enjoyed hearing all the gasps and “Oh no…no-no-no-no-NO!” from our teens.
But we didn’t expect the aftermath.
“That was…interesting,” my teenage daughter concluded as the credits rolled, her eyes wide.
“It does put things into perspective,” my son said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well,” he said, “It shows that things could be worse.”
“Yeah…I’m going to bed,” my daughter said. “If I can sleep.”
They left the room and my husband and I looked at each other. “What was that?” he asked me.
“I don’t know. I loved these kinds of movies when I was their age,” I said. “But…I guess things are different now.”
The next morning my daughter confessed she’d had trouble sleeping. She said she knew we liked those kinds of movies, but would it be okay if she skipped the apocalypse movie nights?
“Do they really scare you that much?” I asked.
“Yeah. With everything happening this year, it seems like those things could really happen. I mean, I never thought something like coronavirus could happen, or the riots, and they did. I just don’t like those movies, okay?”
“Okay,” I said. And I felt horrible. How could I not see what 2020 was doing to my kids?
My daughter had left middle school one day completely expecting to return the next, and instead she didn’t return until months later to collect her things from her locker. She’s been stuck at home ever since; she never got to say goodbye to her friends.
When riots broke out less than 20 minutes from our house, she saw images on the news of police officers lined up in riot gear outside her uncle’s office building downtown– the same place we went to watch the Christmas parade every year.
She saw the statues she ran past every year in the big annual race with her 10k team covered in spray painted curse words, people screaming to tear them down, lines of police officers facing lines of angry protesters. The restaurants and stores we’d been to boarded up, covered in graffiti.
I see these riots as important markers of cultural change, and the coronavirus as a temporary setback. But to my daughter’s young mind– despite my efforts to explain everything in context– they are scary and unnerving, flipping everything she knows on its head.
They are a significant portion of her young life, and leaving significant scars.
My son, on the other hand, is a little bit older and more reliant on logic than his sister. He’s in a specialty program for engineering (his sister is in one for the arts) and sees everything on a scale, so he has eagerly enjoyed watching more apocalypse movies.
But while my husband and I enjoy these movies because we see them as exciting, crazy things that could probably never really happen, my son enjoys them because they provide perspective to our current situation. As he said that first night, and has repeated while credits rolled on other disaster movies, “It could be worse!” They make him feel better about the bad.
As it turns out, my kids aren’t the only ones experiencing life this way.
Recently I’ve seen posts on parenting Facebook groups saying things like, “Looking for good book recommendations for my 8-year-old. Lately she doesn’t like anything where kids are put in dangerous situations,” and “My son has started to have trouble sleeping and want me to stay with him in his room. Any tips?”
Sheltering my kids from all the bad is doing them a disservice, but I’m also not a mental health professional. I’m constantly walking a fine line between teaching them about the world and recognizing their emotional limits.
As a parent, it’s one of the most challenging things I’ve ever had to do, but recognizing that this generation is different– that they need our guidance more than ever– is half the battle.
Still, it’s a battle I never thought I’d have to fight.
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