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RevolTeens: The Long Dark Winter of the Soul, by Christine Lively

This is my new column up at the Teen Librarian Toolbox blog of the School Library Journal. I would love to hear your feedback about how you're preparing or how you're preparing the teens in your life for the oncoming winter.

RevolTeens have been busy throughout this pandemic and the quarantine of 2020. They have made their way out to the community to lend a helping hand to their neighbors. They have taken to the streets to demand justice and to ensure that Black Lives Matter. They’ve spoken up for themselves and those who have no voice. They have been busy shaking up the world and making their voices heard.

Of course then school started. Our school is completely online, but students have been stopping by school to pick up their school materials, food for themselves and family members, and to check out library books from our outdoor “pop up” library. It’s been a joy to see even just a handful of our students on these days and to hear how they’re doing. All of the casual conversations that kept me going through days in the school library are now gone and are replaced with hours of staring at cold little blank squares on Microsoft Teams and hope that I might be reaching at least one student with my lesson. Teens similarly are feeling isolated and powerless in our strange new reality.

Now, as Halloween approaches, the world seems to be slowing down. People are spending less time outside and everyone is thinking about the next big wave of COVID-19 and the accompanying quarantine that will likely follow. I have spent a lot of time worrying about teens in general, and the students at Wakefield High School where I work in particular. Times have been tough, but at least we’ve all been able to get outside to enjoy ourselves and to say hello to neighbors or other people we encounter when we’re out and about.

But winter is coming and teens will be faced with cold weather, winter blues, and mental health challenges that they’ll need to revolt against.

Dreading a Dark Winter Lockdown? Think Like a Norwegian offers some great advice and research for getting through the winter months that I want to share. In Norway, the sun barely rises above the horizon for three months. Researchers there have found that despite this, Norwegians are not less happy in those dark cold months. Their mindset makes the difference. They see the winter as an opportunity to slow down and enjoy different experiences than in the warmer months. Preparing for the winter and not dreading it keeps them from despair.

How does this translate to a winter of COVID 19 for teens? As the researchers explain, “the aim is not to sugar-coat the situation or to deny the difficulties that we will face; we can’t hide from the shadow cast by the pandemic, any more than the citizens of Tromsø (Norway) can pretend that the sun is still rising. By recognising our own capacity to control our responses to the lockdown and the changing seasons, however, we may all find some hidden reserves of strength and resilience to see us through the days ahead.”

Thinking of all the teens getting ready to face a long dark winter of cold temperatures and looming danger of the coronavirus, I’ve begun to brainstorm how to help them revolt against that dread and instead think of this as an opportunity.

First of all, let’s talk to them about it. In my young adult life coaching, I speak to a lot of clients about what they can do to change their lives. Maybe they can’t control their surroundings and situations like adults can, but we can talk to them about what they can do so that they’re prepared. Asking them think, “What makes you feel safe, secure, and comforted?” It’s not going to be the same for everyone, which is why we may need to help them think it through. If they need social engagement, they can make sure to schedule time online with friends via video call, playing video months. If they like novelty and new experiences to feel fulfilled, this may be a time they could try something that they have never had time to do. Without the hustle and bustle of bus rides, and other outside of school activities, maybe they could give NaNoWriMo a try this year. Attempting to draft a novel in the month of November is definitely in the plans at my house. Or, maybe learn a new instrument, language, or other new skill? There are a lot of possibilities still open to them.

We can help RevolTeens get ready for the winter. Maybe they haven’t really thought through the next few months and how it may get harder. Maybe they have and they’re paralyzed about what to do about it. Gathering ideas, and thinking of the possibilities together can make this winter something to embrace. Having a trusted adult to talk with may just make all the difference.

This is an opportunity for RevolTeens to gather their resources, make some plans, and thrive through this winter. Once we emerge from the cold weather, they will emerge too ready to take on the world outside and once again, make it more just, inclusive, and beautiful for the rest of us.

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