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RevolTeens: Forget Learning Loss, Teens Need Joy Recovery

This tweet captures exactly what I have been thinking about this month:

The past year has been a pressure cooker of survival strategies, finding a reason to get up in the morning, doing whatever we can to survive, and overwhelming loneliness. The high school students at my school are a testament to that every day. Those who are able to return to school in person two days per week work to stifle their joy and energy when they see their friends and teachers. The instinct to celebrate, shout, and enjoy being in the company of others. Groups of teens are not designed to stand three or six feet apart. They’re not designed to sit quietly at a desk staring at a screen for 90 minute blocks. As I watch them in the building, it’s clear that they need every ounce of their self control to keep from running screaming down the hallways to release the tension, fear, and anxiety that has been built up in them for the past 14 months.

Summer break is coming, and it’s a great opportunity for us to help teens find joy again and recover the joy they’ve lost in the past fourteen months. Let’s not miss this opportunity.

Sure, school libraries and public libraries will have reading incentives and contests. They may be distance programs as COVID restrictions are phased out. I hope that all of us in libraries and school programs this summer will let go of the idea that there must be an academic benefit to summer programs and instead focus on play and joy.

I am always surprised by how much high school students love to revisit the joyful and no pressure activities of their Elementary school days. In our library, coloring, legos, and word find games are extremely popular. Tuning into color, building something just for the fun of it with no end goal, and finding words in an easy puzzle changel a teen who is usually huddled over a computer filled with anxiety and dread over completing an assignment. Instead of a serious, worried, and concerned young adult with the weight of the world on their shoulders, they become kids again. Their facial expressions, posture, and brains change. Their hearts open and joy fills them – even if just for a few moments. Our programming and our approach with teens can help them remember what it’s like to have fun and help them recover from a year with little joy or fun.

I had the pleasure of working with some incredible teens this school year in our high school’s musical production. Last year, the production of “9 to 5” was canceled along with everything else in the spring. This year, our theater director decided to put together a spring musical and invited students and staff to audition. The show was High School Musical, a movie musical I watched with my own kids roughly three billion times when it was released by Disney in 2006. I got to play Coach Bolton in my first ever theater experience. It was so much fun. Working with the students and watching them choreograph, record singing, act, and enjoy themselves during the production and recording was great. The best part of it was the after show Zoom gatherings where we all talked about how much fun watching the show was. Theater actors never get to see the productions that they are acting in, but we got to this year because the show was recorded. The students and adults who were part of the production were beaming with joy. A few of the students set up a backyard projection screen on their fence to watch the show together. There were no questions about grades or credit – just fun. It was a respite from everything going on in the world and a leap into doing a thing just to have a good time and make something together.

Contact Christine at to find out how coaching can help you or your teen/young adult recapture joy after thus year of struggle and survival.

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