Scrolling through Instagram yesterday while nursing my three-month-old baby, I came across a post from a family friend. He was celebrating his 22nd birthday. Just as I was about to type the obligatory "HBD," something in his video caught my eye.
People. Lots of people.
I swiped past the video of him spraying his friends with champagne on the beach only to find several birthday pics of him plus at least six others who are not in his immediate family, all in close proximity.
I waited for the rage to come over me, but it didn't come. Instead, I was flooded with a feeling of hopelessness. It's the same way I felt a few days ago, when pictures of Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park revealed 10,000 twenty-somethings gathered closely for a crowded park party in the middle of a global pandemic.
I know I'm generalizing, but from what I'm seeing in the news media and on social media, most families with young children appear to be doing all they can to follow the physical distancing measures at the guidance of medical professionals and government officials. Meanwhile, there seem to be big groups of people who aren't trying to follow the rules at all—and frankly, they're ruining it for the rest of us.
The ability to physically distance is a privilege and sadly, some people lack the resources to follow the protocols. Those of course aren't the people I'm calling out. But too many young adults, for example, seem to be explicitly and shamelessly defying the rules. They're too old to be parented, yet too young to have shaken their adolescent illusions of invincibility. I am at a complete loss as to how our society, our government, our appeals, will ever reach them.
This laissez-faire outlook, the sheepish, smiling expression of a young man interviewed on the news about his lack of distancing could, at its worst, have grave consequences, and to the lesser extreme, just ruin it for the rest of us, the rule followers.
Families with small children have made so many sacrifices during this pandemic, all in the name of personal and collective safety. Parents are on duty 24/7, they are teachers, they are playmates, they are personal assistants to their children’s virtual home-school schedules. Many are all this while also attempting to work from home full time. Grandparents aren't allowed over, daycares and playgrounds remain closed. We are all growing weary of front porch visits, of Zoom calls. We want so badly to allow our children playdates and to hug their grandparents, but we don’t. Instead, we wash our hands, go for walks, wash our hands, make egg-carton caterpillars, and wash our hands again.
Families are exhausted, yet we continue to trudge forward through the seemingly never-ending Groundhog’s Day that has become our new normal because it is the safest, most responsible thing to do. I'm sure there's some secret rule-breaking going on that parents aren't sharing on social media, but for the most part, we follow the rules to keep our children safe, to protect our most vulnerable populations, and to try to get back to some semblance of normal as quickly as possible.
Why do some people think that the rules don’t apply to them? Is it impulsivity, a youthful lack of self control? Lack of understanding? Rebellion?
Is it that the messaging from our governments and health officials has not successfully targeted young adults? Why are so few people seeing the seriousness of their actions? Where are their parents? Where is their social conscience?
Like the kid who defies her parents and goes to that party or stays out past curfew, young adults are acting out against rules that are not truly enforceable. Sure, many locales are handing out tickets and educating physical distancing offenders, but these efforts are, at best, inconsistent and do not serve to deter the rule-breakers. Young people are flouting authority because they can, and because breaking the rules and getting away with it feels satisfying. Part of the problem, though, is that our politicians remain hopelessly disconnected from their youthful constituents. They have failed to connect, and instead, our government has become the parent to rebel against.
What's the solution? At the very least, I think it's time governments realize that, just like in sex-ed, advocating abstinence as the only solution isn't likely to work, and in fact appears to have the opposite effect. The rules as they've been created aren't being followed by everyone. I think we need new rules.