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'It’s important to keep a positive outlook': Coquitlam teens on the COVID-19 pandemic

Coquitlam city council takes time to address mental health of teens during the pandemic.

It’s not easy being a teenager today.

With physical distancing restrictions in place since March 2020 — when the COVID-19 pandemic took full effect — teens have limited their social times and spend more hours in front of a screen; many of them learning how to cope with being alone in a strange, new world.

“It’s definitely been a novel experience,” said Amolika Mankidy. The 17-year-old graduates from Terry Fox Secondary in Port Coquitlam in June. 

“At first, it was very intimidating because everything stopped. Now, everyone’s is just used to it.”

Mankidy hears the woes from teens at school and through the Coquitlam Youth Council (CYC), a city-run organization that she joined two years ago.

That group — represented by Mankidy and 17-year-old Brandon Keenan, a Grade 12 student at Centennial Secondary — stood before Coquitlam city council last week to talk about their activities and experiences over the past year.

And mental health was a big topic.

Councillors asked how they were faring with the full-time mask wearing at school, the technology changes and other restrictions for socializing.

They also asked how the youth council, specifically, was helping other teens who are struggling mentally with the adjustments.

“Being a teenager has aways been a struggle,” Keenan told the Tri-City News.

“It’s a period of change where you find out what you like to do. But, with COVID, there’s just been more stuff to process so we’re relying on each other more and finding out what communities to belong to, whether it be a study group or youth council.”

Established in 1998, the CYC is currently made up of 16 high school students from Terry Fox, Centennial, Port Moody, Dr. Charles Best and Pinetree secondaries, as well as Meadowridge School in Maple Ridge; their aim is to lead and raise awareness about activities for youth in Coquitlam.

Its 2020-21 year included pivoting to Zoom meetings to continue its outreach and to focus on the city’s youth strategy goals: 

  • enhanced volunteer, leadership and decision-making opportunities
  • healthy life balance supported by wellness activities and spaces
  • supportive adults and friends in inclusive environments
  • easy, accessible and affordable programs and services

CYC members did this last year by packing more than 1,000 bags for the Backpack Buddies program over two days at the Pinetree Community Centre, as well as helping city staff with Halloween walk-through and Youth Week events. 

Members also took part in youth-led training sessions and, recently, co-hosted a virtual meeting on plans for the Hazel-Coy neighbourhood on Burke Mountain.

“Thanks to the commitment and drive of its members, the CYC continues to thrive during COVID,” wrote Lanny Englund, Coquitlam’s general manager of parks, recreation, culture and facilities, in his report for the Nov. 15 meeting.

Mankidy and Keenan said they enjoyed giving council an update on their past CYC projects and they appreciated concerns about their welfare.

“I thought it was a really cool experience,” Mankidy told the Tri-City News. “I felt it was a good reinforcement of everything we’ve been doing in the community. Their encouragement makes me want to go further by standing up.”

“I liked their questions about mental health,” said Keenan, who plans to go to business school after grad, next September, adding, “You get busy in your life and some things you just can’t put off to the side. The pandemic has made us look at things differently and deal with a lot of things, but we are the most interconnected generation in decades and social media is part of that. It gives us more viewpoints and ways of sharing.”

“It’s important to keep a positive outlook.”