Over this past abnormal year shaped by the Covid pandemic, those at all stages of the life cycle have felt the impact of the changes that brought loss in many forms. Necessary safety restrictions have kept children out of school, parents out of work, and an end to usual socialization and recreational activities.
There has been much discussion about the effect this has had, and is having on various segments of the population. Much has already been written about mothers carrying the brunt of life changes in the Covid era, forced out of work due to child-care responsibilities or attempting to work remotely while supervising children’s remote education in addition to all other household responsibilities.
Less has been said about adolescents and young adults, except in connection to college applications and the infection spread on college campuses. Yet adolescence and adolescents have at times played a major role in effecting cultural change in society.
Erik Erikson, the renowned developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst described adolescence as the fifth psychosocial stage of development, playing an essential role in developing a sense of self and personal identity which continues to influence behavior and development for the rest of a person’s life. He wrote that in adolescence all continuities relied on earlier are questioned again because of a rapidity of body growth and the new addition of genital maturity. Faced with this physiological revolution within them, “young people are now primarily concerned with attempts at consolidating their social roles.”
Erikson also pointed out that the long childhood of our species, exposes adults to the temptation of thoughtlessly exploiting the child’s dependence. “.. we make them the victims of tensions which we will not, or dare not, correct in ourselves or our surroundings.” Adolescence has been known as a time of rebellion and protest and it is in the attempt to correct their perceptions of adult failings that some are making their mark.
In recent years note has been taken of several young people such as David Hogg, the then high school senior caught in the Parkland, Florida school shooting who was saved by hiding in a closet. Using his cell phone to record the scene, he interviewed the other students hiding in the closet to leave a record in the event that they did not survive the shooting. Hogg emerged as a leader in gun violence protests, talked to the media to voice his opinion on gun control and called on elected officials to pass gun control measures.
Another example is Greta Thumberg, a sixteen-year- old from Stockholm, Sweden nominated for a Nobel prize after inspiring an international movement to fight climate change. Her voice is heard regularly in protests and ongoing public attention being paid to this issue.
It is also interesting to note the attention now in the culture at large to former protest movements and rebellions. Figuring in the recent Golden Globes award and promoted for an Oscar is the current film, “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” the seven defendants who were accused of conspiring to incite a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. All were protesting against the country’s participation in the Vietnam War.
From a developmental point of view, identity refers to all of the beliefs, ideals and values that help shape and guide a person’s behavior. Despite the pressures of the pandemic, many young people are finding their identity in protests and movements that may seem to adults like rebellion.
Hopefully, in establishing their own identity they will ultimately both live by society’s standards and expectations, and perhaps change them for the better.