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Understanding the Lingering Pandemic Experience of Youth Through Embracing Dialectics as a Strategy

- By Dr. Carmen Lalonde

The Global Covid-19 Pandemic created uncertainty, profound challenges, and loss for the world. Preliminary and emerging research on youth mental health indicates potential long-term impacts, showing increased levels of depression and anxiety, post-traumatic stress symptoms, pandemic fatigue, and increased loneliness and hopelessness. Preventative Health safety measures such as lockdowns, masking, and social distancing, while necessary to prevent the spread of Covid, led to increased mental health challenges such as isolation, loneliness, inactivity, and lack of engagement in mastery building and a significant reduction in engagement in extracurricular activities. While increased social media use among youth was a way for youth to connect and, in many ways, helped youth remain connected to their peers, it also increased symptoms of depression.

Teens worldwide had to adapt to daily dramatic and uncertain changes while in isolation from their peers while also attempting to develop and grow during a period in their life when engaging with others is vital. Youth were forced to embrace change at unprecedented levels, often outside of their developmental capacities, having to radically accept school closures and the loss of developmental milestones (i.e., graduation, University, Internships). They were confronted by family financial insecurity, job losses, and increased family conflict, all at a pace beyond their developmental capacities.

There is no doubt that the Global Covid-19 Pandemic impacted youth everywhere as well as their families, and there is no doubt that the dynamic nature of the Pandemic continually challenges all of us to embrace change in ways we could not have imagined. Parents and teens alike have had to adjust by letting go of dreams, traditional pathways, and outcomes. The world's rules changed the day the Pandemic began, and as each day passes, the uncertainty remains, and adhering to traditional rules or pathways is not adequate anymore.

When we look at the impact of the Pandemic from the lens of loss, we can see the profound short-term and long-term effects with stark clarity; however, with profound changes and loss also comes acceptance and incredible growth opportunities. If we only look at the negatives of the Pandemic, it is an incomplete picture and will leave us in a polarized and I will contend paralyzed state. Looking for the silver lining is essential and, as we all emerge from social isolation, not only in creating resilience but also in creating a healing pathway forward.

How can we not only validate the pain and suffering of the Pandemic while also embracing the potential for change and growth? How can we recognize and attend to the mental health needs of our youth while also facilitating opportunities for growth, creativity, and change? How can we support the mental health needs of our youth coming out of the Pandemic without getting stuck in the continued uncertainty of the future?

Dialectics, in the simplest terms, means recognizing and accepting that two very differing views, ideas, and beliefs can exist simultaneously. Adopting a dialectical stance forces us to become unstuck, step away from polarizing views, embrace change, and difference, to ask questions such as "what is being left out" and "what is the kernel of truth in the view so very different from my own?" Embracing dialectics encourages us to recognize how change is the only constant and how our interactions with ourselves and the environment are transactional, thus facilitating change. Dialectics also teaches us to recognize how we are all connected, thus further challenging us to see how our engagement with others and ourselves creates lasting cascading change. Embracing dialectics also helps us become unstuck and let go of being "right” and allows us to see the path forward that may have been hidden from us until we ask, "what am I missing?"

Our teens have been faced with unquestionable uncertainty and are looking to us to guide the way. The Pandemic has challenged us to let go of the "musts" and the "shoulds" and has forcibly asked us to see new and creative ways of being and doing. For example, work and school were traditionally viewed as only occurring in person; now, we have hybrids between work and school. Youth were expected to complete school within specific timelines and with certain pathways and are now showing us that there are both many and creative ways to proceed toward advanced school and careers.

The Pandemic disrupted the developmental pathways of youth. By allowing dialectics to guide us, we will be able to meet the needs of our youth without rigid adherence to tradition while also meeting their genuine needs for security and safety.

What can this look like?

  1. As a parent, practice letting go of outcomes and expectations of what children "should" be doing and challenge yourself to see your teen for where they are currently functioning. If they need more time to figure out their schooling goals, allow them this time. If they are uncertain of their ability to function at university, allow them the time and security to figure this out. Allow yourself to let go of "outcomes" of what "should" be happening and "embrace" what is happening.

  2. As your youth engages with others and the world once again, validate their fears and support their engagement goals with their peers. Balance the expectations of safety with connection and allow your teen to proceed at a pace that feels both safe and exciting.

  3. Support diversity of opinion and changes in your teen's goals and future endeavours, who they were before the Pandemic is not who they are now. Your teen may still be figuring things out. Due to slowed developmental milestones during the Pandemic and exposure to events and experiences beyond their developmental capacities, their ability to make sense of the world and themselves will be different. Through validation, acceptance, and curiosity, communicating to them will convey that the process is okay and supported.

  4. Embrace dialectics with your thinking and behaviour. Live through your actions, your own curiosity and willingness to explore different topics and goals with your teens, even if it is outside of your comfort zone.

  5. Explore with your teen the creativity that may have been sparked during the Pandemic. Be open to unique ways of achieving goals and exploring life and allow your teen to embrace their individual and group needs through ways of connection that may be new and unknown to you.

The Pandemic created a world where we must embrace constant change and be open to non-traditional ways of living life. The way we used to do things, plan our lives, and raise our children is completely changed, and our youth are looking inwards and outwards for the pathway forward, and they are looking to us to let them know it is okay to walk a path with others or to create a new path for themselves that is different or unknown. Our teens are emerging from unbelievable uncertainty and are looking to us to say, "uncertainty is okay, and I am here to help you tolerate it, grow in it and embrace it."


Cost, K. T., Crosbie, J., Anagnostou, E., Birken, C. S., Charach, A., Monga, S., & Korczak, D.J. (2021). Mostly worse, occasionally better: impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of Canadian children and adolescents. European child & adolescent psychiatry, 1-14.

Craig, S. G., Ames, M. E., Bondi, B. C., & Pepler, D. J. (2022). Canadian adolescents’ mental health and substance use during the COVID-19 pandemic: associations with COVID-19 stressors. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science/Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement.

Ellis, W. E., Dumas, T. M., & Forbes, L. M. (2020). Physically isolated but socially connected: Psychological adjustment and stress among adolescents during the initial COVID-19 crisis. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science/Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, 52(3), 177.

Raymond, C., Provencher, J., Bilodeau-Houle, A., Leclerc, J., & Marin, M. F. (2022). A longitudinal investigation of psychological distress in children during COVID-19: the role of socio-emotional vulnerability. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 13(1), 2021048.

Shevlin, M., Butter, S., McBride, O., Murphy, J., Gibson-Miller, J., Hartman, T., Bentall, R. (2021). Refuting the myth of a ‘tsunami’ of mental ill-health in populations affected by COVID-19: Evidence that response to the pandemic is heterogeneous, not homogeneous. Psychological Medicine, 1-9. doi:10.1017/S0033291721001665

Retrieved May 1, 2022, SickKids releases new research on how COVID-19 pandemic has impacted child and youth mental, physical health. SickKids. from child-youth-mental-physical-health/

Taylor, S. (2021). The psychology of pandemics: lessons learned for the future. Can. Psychol.

Thakur, A. (2020). Mental health in high school students at the time of COVID-19: A student’s perspective. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 59(12), 1309.


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