Anyone familiar with the Dr Doolittle story is likely to remember the pushmi-pullyu, an imaginary creature that looks like a llama with a head at each end of its body. Following the invention of the pushmi-pullyu, this creature has become synonymous with conflict or ambivalence – rather like the concept referred to as a 'blessing and a curse'. The societal restrictions brought about by the current coronavirus health crisis resemble the pushmi-pullyu; there are both positives and negatives associated with the current changes that have been imposed upon everyone.
Many have been relishing the absence of travel time; the lack of formality and the reduced time restrictions and increased flexibility associated with the opportunity to learn at home. At the same time, the restricted freedom of movement, the inability to have contact with others outside the home and the increased exposure to family members may seem particularly difficult for some, especially adolescents. The primary goals of adolescence are: to form a secure and positive identity; to achieve independence from parents; to establish love objects outside the family; to find a place in the world through career direction and economic independence. The pushmi-pullyu effect of the current restrictions mean that it is particularly difficult for adolescents to focus upon and achieve these goals under the current circumstances.
Despite the lifting of travel requirements and reduced time constraints for those who are home-schooled, the lack of structure and regular, incidental access to other students can be very difficult for adolescents who are in the midst of the natural process of distancing themselves from parents and shifting their attention, time and focus towards adolescent peers; realigning themselves from parental to peer influences.
It is important for students to find ways to recalibrate the pushmi-pullyu effects, in order to maximise the benefits and offset the deficits associated with the current restrictions. A notice recently received from a community health service referred to a preference for physical distancing and social connection – a delightful play on the call from governments for 'social distancing'. This could also be a valid approach for adolescents: significantly limiting physical contact with others while maintaining social connection. The use of technology to stay in contact with other students and friends is particularly important at this time, when daily physical contact is denied.
With the cancellation of many events and uncertainty about the future: how societal restrictions may impact upon academic assessments and plans for the future, it is critical that students focus upon what can be controlled. Utilising time in isolation to complete tasks that have previously been put aside; to improve one's sleep, nutrition and exercise patterns; to take advantage of more flexible time and to find creative ways to connect socially while maintaining physical distance is very important.
© Michele Juratowitch