Op-Ed: The Kids are Alright

My Experience so far as a Junior Achievement Intern


“Group of children running toward photographer in school yard of Broadview Public School / Groupe d’enfants accourant vers le photographe dans la cour de récréation de l’école publique Broadview” by BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Today’s kids who attend middle school experience a different reality than the one we grew up in. This dynamic always exists as social climates change as well as school policies regarding classroom environment. Many people look back on middle school and high school after attending and see that the next group experiences a different environment than the one we experienced.

COVID-19 and the societal reactions that followed have made this dynamic even more profound. Adolescents today experience middle school through the lens of regulatory policies such as masks, social distancing and quarantining protocols.

It’s safe to say that this is a far different reality than the one you and I remember from way back when. It’s fair to wonder what kind of effect this may have on today’s developing minds. Navigating a social and learning environment with limited access to facial expressions and higher levels of scrutiny regarding social time must have profound negative effects, right?

That’s what I thought about a month ago before my internship with Junior Achievement began in earnest.

Dulany Waters Junior Achievement is a program designed to teach financial literacy to students before they enter high school. Currently, the program located in the old Armstrong Recreational Center brings in seventh graders from all over Chatham County. It introduces them to career opportunities, budgeting principles and other aspects of adulthood that should serve to benefit them in the future.

Before we began seeing the students, I had assumed that today’s children would be less social, more anxious and all-around underdeveloped, considering the restrictions that they have experienced since the lockdown of 2020.

I thought this internship would give me a close look at the true casualties of COVID: The young, developing minds that novel social behaviors certainly sabotaged.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to be wrong.

In my experience so far, the kids have been awesome. They’re exactly what you want them to be. They’re social, energetic, hilarious and smart. They don’t let things like masks and quarantines get to them. I never hear them talk about COVID. I hear them talk about things that I remember talking about when I was that age.

I try to treat the kids as much like adults as possible. I level with them, I share personal stories and I want to figure them out as individuals. I see such profound intelligence in their eyes, such excitement to learn.

Sometimes when they’re learning about paying bills, something clicks in their heads. They may realize why their parents struggle sometimes. They learn why they don’t always get everything that they want. They understand how things can be connected.

These children from all walks of life have so much capacity for empathy, kindness, and support of each other. It’s a miracle, and you have to see it to believe it.

Sure, they’re rowdy. Sometimes, they get ahead of themselves, and you need to reign them in. But that’s what makes children so great. They rush ahead while the grown-ups stand there looking concerned. They venture into the unknown, and they don’t care if they scrape a knee on the way.

I thought that this era of safety and security would have diminished that. It didn’t. The kids today are brave. They’re ready to go.

And once society takes the weights off and gives them the true freedom that children need to have, these kids are going to take over the world.

Trust me. The kids are alright. And so are we.