The kids are OK. The teenagers, not so much.

The COVID-19 virus and orders to stay at home have affected every arena of our society. We’ll see what the future normal ends up looking like, but the new normal right now for children is all online. OK, that’s not true – many children are getting outdoors in ways we haven’t seen for a couple of decades. But school and church and play groups and recreation and clubs are all online.

All of our Cooperative Extension and 4-H programming was moved to a virtual format in March. I was concerned about how the youth would react but I must say, we’ve hardly missed a beat with the younger children. My observation (with an admittedly small sample group) is that the children ages 7-11 love meeting online by Zoom. They have fun sharing their pets, demonstrating what they’ve made or collected for the club, and are generally interacting normally. I’m guessing their school teachers are not finding the same to be true as it’s hard for these younger aged children to sit still. Most of our 4-H clubs and activities are shorter now.

The shift to everything being online seems to have been harder for the teens. I know this may seem weird since we think teenagers are hooked to technology all the time, but research is showing that focusing in this online format for long periods of time in a day is quite draining. The teenagers (especially those who are seniors) are missing their milestone events and they are generally missing interactions with their friends.

Self-motivation is hard at any age (trust me, I had big plans for working out every day) but I think it’s especially hard for the 13-18-year-olds. They are trying to find reliable internet access, complete difficult school work, get some space from their parents and siblings, and mourn the loss of normal.

One girl I know commented that she’s eating much healthier being stuck at home and she’s craving some junk food.

Another 4-H youth, who is a very good student, commented how difficult it is to get motivated to study. “I know I should, but I just don’t feel like it.”

In my opinion the blahs of teenage life coupled with the anxiety and stress of the current health situation are taking a bigger toll on this age group. One can only handle just so much Netflix, Youtube, Amazon Prime, and TikTok. Really.

We have been asked to continue all 4-H programming in a virtual format through the end of the summer. So, unfortunately there won’t be any hiking excursions, or trips to Raleigh for 4-H Congress, or Step Back in Time Camp or visits to the Oconaluftee Visitors Center.

But, we have lots of great things for youth to be involved with that can be done through an online format. Check out the N.C. 4-H Summer Camp Out – a virtual summer camp that includes flag raising, short activities and a campfire and camp out at your own home – June 22-26. Find information at Eventbrite, nc-4-h-summer-camp-out-2020.

Youth can participate in the N.C. 4-H Daily Spark on Facebook at North Carolina 4H. This includes workshops on topics such as cooking, livestock, making Play-Doh, gardening, college interview techniques and sewing.

Also, be sure to “like” the Jackson County N.C. 4-H Facebook page for the latest offerings locally. Join me every Tuesday at 11 a.m. to discuss The 4-H HEART: Kindness 101 with Steve Hartman, and watch for Civic Education, Gardening, and 40 Old Fashioned Skills that Every Kid Should Know coming up this summer.

Reach out if you have ideas for 4-H Activities, would like to volunteer or would like information about how to get your child or grandchild involved. Email is the best way to reach me right now, but you can also leave a voicemail at the office and I can retrieve it from my office at home: heather_gordon@ncsu.edu or 586-4009. Everyone be well and be kind.

Heather Gordon is Jackson County extension agent, 4-H Youth Development.