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The resilience of our youth

COURTESY TEIAWENNISERATE TOMLINSON

On a typical day in Kanehsata’kehró:non Teiawenniserate Tomlinson’s house, you will find a five-year-old boy and a sevenyear-old girl, fidgety and energetic, trying their very best to glue their bums to their seats, as they listen to their teacher on-screen.

“My daughter is very, very active. Like me, she has a bit of attention deficit disorder,” said the father of two, adding that his oldest, Teiako’takerá:ton, is struggling with online classes. Tomlinson is also worried about his son, Raronhienhá:wi, whose social development has been greatly limited due to his lack of in-person interaction.

The pandemic has affected all youth, from missing nursery rhymes and story time, to school dances and prom, it cannot be denied that some of those most impacted from this global health crisis are our young people.

Megan Kanerahtenháwi Whyte, an art therapist working with youth in Kahnawake, said that peer socialization is crucial in overall emotional development. “What I’ve noticed is that there is a lot of disconnection,” she said. “I think it’s important to foster reconnection, not just with their peers, but with themselves.”

For Tomlinson, having his kids at home for most of their learning experience has been a huge learning curve.

“It has taken a lot of self-reflection for me personally to challenge the construct of modern living,” said the father.

He has considered and evaluated what is most important within the school system, and has tried to prioritize his approach in accordance. Tomlinson has both his children working in the garden, going on medicine walks, helping with carpentry projects and playing in their home gym. It’s about teaching his children to experience the world around them, while demonstrating the behaviour that he believes they should be emulating.

“It has brought me to be more patient and understanding of my kids,” he said.

Tomlinson’s little ones have shown great resilience throughout this time. “Kids are such adaptive creatures. I think they probably adapt better than we do,” he said. “Maybe the anxieties that they feel are brought on by our own anxieties.”

Tomlinson believes that his children do understand what is going on, in their own way, and that it is important to remain open and honest with them. “In the grand scheme of things, they have adjusted quite well,” he said.

Much like Tomlinson, Kahnawa’kehró:non Roxanne Deer has been juggling all of her kids’ schedules at once, trying not to disrupt any of their learning or development, while also working full-time. “It has been a roller coaster. With so many different schedules that are constantly changing, it’s hard to maintain any kind of stability,” said the mother of four.

Deer would have never anticipated having all her kids home at once. Fostering an environment conducive for learning has been a constant battle. “It was hard for them to focus online, there were too many distractions at home,” she said. “My husband and I both work, so we couldn’t be there to keep them on track all the time.”

The busy mother said that considering the difficult circumstances, everyone in her household is adjusting as well as they can.

Merrick Diabo, a social counselor at Kahnawake Survival School (KSS), understands that right now, academia may not feel like the utmost priority.

“We know that family and mental health is the most important,” explained the counselor. “It’s really about trying to balance what is necessary these days.”

This being said, Diabo recognized that KSS is an academic institution that must push kids to succeed in academia, while creating a space where students can build confidence.

Diabo reiterates this by explaining that it is more important now than ever to touch base with your children, no matter their age.

“You want to approach it little-by-little,” said the KSS employee, explaining that when it comes to teenagers, this type of dialogue becomes even more difficult. “We know from experience as adults, that we really didn’t want to talk to our parents as adolescents.”

In addition, Whyte emphasizes that this is the time to reach out to our youth. “Even if you feel like they may have a teenage reaction, check in with them and normalize what they are going through,” she said.

Whyte explained that adolescence is a time of individuation, and it’s normal for teenagers to want to explore who they are as people, while requesting distance from their parents.

For 16-year-old Adrianna Jones, her final year of high school has been a lot different than she could have ever imagined. Learning half online, half offline at St. George’s School of Montreal, Jones has had to adapt to different learning formats.

Although she is missing many school trips, and graduation, the teenager’s gratitude for the present moment has been a guiding light throughout this time.

“It may suck to not see the people you want to see, and to have less freedom, but you should still appreciate what’s happening right now,” said the emerging adult. “We don’t know when this is going to be over, so you might as well accept what’s happening.”

In fact, Whyte explained that focusing on simple pleasures can go a long way. “For young people who are struggling with isolation, it’s easy to focus on the negative,” she said, emphasizing that it’s the little moments of delight that will get us through this. “Maybe it’s a really beautiful sunset or even just a funny meme.”

Jones has also used this time to really pause and reflect on her next steps. “The CEGEP programs I applied to are because of the reflection I’ve done with the time I’ve had to myself,” explained the eleventh grader.

As all educators scramble to help students make the most out of their bizarre year, it doesn’t go unnoticed.

“Teachers make us feel supported,” she said. “They let us know that they are there for us, because they are going through it too.”

As someone with experience working with youth, Diabo explains that along with the support that the teachers have provided students, they have also shown great innovation.

“The things they pull out of mid air,” said Diabo. He explains that teachers will go to great lengths to help struggling students. “Some of these teachers will even go to their houses to talk to them and try to help.”

Local youth continue to show their strength, with the support of the community close behind them.

Diabo’s number one piece of advice: “Do not live in your head. Say what’s on your mind and get it out.”

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