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  • Writer's pictureLiz Gardner

Making the FlipSwitch During this Time of Crisis and Uncertainty

These are tough, frightening times.

Anxiety levels are running at such a high level, and understandably so. It’s hard to know what will happen. It’s critical, then, that we all do what we can to stay grounded, fully present, and in our center — especially as we isolate ourselves more and more and try to wrap our heads around this escalating crisis. This is an inevitable game-changer on many levels; on a massive scale, we are having to refashion our daily rhythms, around learning, working, playing, staying connected, and simply being — and recalibrate our next steps again and again at a dizzying pace. The earth, too, is shifting, undergoing a re-wilding in certain areas where the slow down has enabled the much-addled air and water systems to regain health, for wildlife to return. There will be other silver linings as well. On a global and regional scale, we are seeing just how vividly this pandemic is illuminating cracks in our shared systems — especially in the way we take care of each other. Perhaps this will all result in a re-wilding of us, too, as we discover new ways of staying connected and cultivating community, for getting back to what really matters and reconnecting with each other, ourselves, the natural world — and the present moment. For now, though, it's important for all of us to be able to reach out for help and support — while building a strong tool kit of self-sufficiency and resiliency at the same time. Once things settle, it'll all feel much better — but for now, the transitioning into some semblance of a new normal can feel like an endless traverse across a harrowing, bleak terrain, with danger lurking at every turn. It can be nerve-wracking, stressful, and exhausting.

Never before in any of our lifetimes have we witnessed such a seismic, collective shift in the way we must think about and navigate our daily rhythms, from what we do to how we are in the world.

If you are like most people, you are taking social distancing to the next level, following the protocols laid out by the CDC, staying at home within your family unit, and shrinking your world, your map. If we can all do it at once, at the same time, if we can commit to truly going full tilt with this plan, it will make a huge difference in containing the threat of the coronavirus, or Covid-19. For young people, this is a tall order, but they just may hold the power in being able to truly stem the spread of this virus. The adolescent brain, caterwauling through the rich, dynamic throes of development until about the age of 25, excels in experimentation and creativity, among other things, but suffers, too, from a combination of diminished executive function and an enlarged pleasure center. Until that prefrontal cortex fully develops around the age of 25, young people are risk-taking novelty-seekers, more likely to seek out immediate gratification over the often bigger rewards of waiting for something better — and more apt to dismiss the seriousness of the situation, as their brains typically frame negative experiences as less so than adults (Maturation of the Adolescent Brain, Arain, Haque, Johal et al). I remember well that feeling of invincibility, that sense of freedom from opting out of the collective blight of the usual adult-world worries and concerns.

There's a certain kind of irony in that the younger generation have been screaming at the Boomers to listen and respond urgently (as if the house-is-on-fire) to their concerns about the climate crisis just when we need them to listen and respond to our requests for urgency with Covid-19. This feels in some ways an opportunity for us to hand things over to them — we need them, after all, to do the right thing, for the common good, for their own future. In many ways, this should be their time; they are natural leaders in the social justice world, more capable than we are of capable of seeing all the possibilities and new ways of doing things. Our younger generation should be considered our most important resource — for ideas, creative solutions, for empowering others, organizing, and leading. And anything we can do to redirect them towards a new purpose and put those stress hormones into constructive action, whether helping with neighborhood deliveries, or raising money and resources to help those less empowered to get through this, could soften the brunt of the situation for them, too.

Most especially for our children, students, and young people, this is an incredibly confusing, often terrifying, and disturbingly uncertain time. They need our support and understanding more than ever.

Let us not forget, too, that young people are deep in their own processes of individuating, separating themselves from the family unit with intention and purpose, and stepping more fully into spaces and lives of their own creation, brimming with agency and independence. It is their job, after all, to distance themselves from us, while they imagine and set about building a vibrant, rich world of their own, one largely based on peer-interaction and socialization — and one that engenders their essential transformation on the road into adulthood. Being able to grow into this space relies very much on their ability to start making their own decisions about what they do and where they go, and yet — this is not a time when we can give them this kind of leeway. This is a really difficult tension for parents and young people to hold right now. Just at a time in their lives when they're supposed to be out exploring their worlds and expanding their maps, they are being forced back into the home nest, to negotiate the ever-tricky re-entry on a grand scale amidst their own devastation and fear. Of course it sucks for them. And where they are in brain development makes it even harder. Their vulnerabilities may very well make it difficult for them to follow such strict orders to stay corralled and not seek out their usual cavalcade of social gatherings. If we are going to slow this virus down, however, young people between the ages of 17 and 25 must be convinced to stay put, opt out, and revamp their usual social mixing with creative social distancing. They might just be the most important factor in how well we can slow the spread of this virus and be able to take better care of everyone. But they’ll need support and encouragement to do so, including parents being willing to show up and set boundaries around what’s expected, as well as offer them loving support and guidance to help them process what for most is an ongoing, overwhelming emotional upheaval — so that they can begin to see the opportunities in this. Tough stuff — this, I know.

This situation, after all, is requiring all of us to make a seemingly unrelenting series of adjustments, re-calibrations, and shifts and pivots — a major Flip Switch if there ever was one. And we truly need each other, more than ever, to get through this.

For students, the disruption just keeps coming, with updates each and every day that offer disappointment and heartbreak. Colleges and universities have shut down for the year, requiring students to leave campus, return home, and shift to an often unfamiliar on-line learning model. For those studying overseas, many have had to abandon opportunities and dreams they’ve worked so hard to create for themselves, leave programs that may have just begun, and return home. It’s bone-crushing. Many international students are scrambling to find a safe, welcoming place where they can go to weather this storm. Public schools are shutting down for the time being, leaving many parents in a lurch at having to figure out child care, how to work from home, if at all possible, and how to keep their kids on a slow and steady, calm and centered track.

A good friend, whose son is a freshman at UPenn, told it this way: "Kid is rather crushed that his heady entry into college and the exhilaration of that freedom abruptly somehow dropped him into the basement of our house with an xbox and homework. A sort of perverse reverse reverting time travel. A clipping of wings." Indeed.

Private schools, too, have mostly shut down, extending the current March break into April and going to an online format to start the spring term. For boarding schools, the challenge has been to weigh the risk of having so many students return from all corners of the world while keeping everyone safe. It may be that students do not return for the year, but continue in an online format until the coast is truly clear. The extended spring break provides schools with a little time, in any case, to see how everything unfolds, and to make sound decisions based on information as it becomes available. (as an update, many are starting to announce that they will not re-open for the spring term, leaving students heartbroken and scrambling to make sense of it all. For seniors, this is particularly agonizing.)

The college process, too, has been upended. For seniors starting to make their college decisions, they are having to forgo the usual college revisits for now, and instead, make do with other resources. For juniors trying to move their college journey along, they are facing canceled ACT and SAT test dates, scrapped college tours, and a gulf of uncertainty. For everyone, even summer plans are in the lurch — internships, summer jobs, summer academic & arts programs, travel. We simply don't know what's going to happen.

Everyone, everywhere, it seems, is having to reconfigure their next steps.

I can help.

My Flip Switch work has always centered around helping students find their next, right steps, navigate life’s ever-changing currents, and discover a greater sense of self, confidence, and resiliency, whatever happens. This has never been more relevant than now. I am currently tapping into my 40-years of experience as a Curriculum Designer and Program Coordinator, Homeschool Mom, Teacher, Tutor, Learning Specialist, Educational Counselor and Consultant, Distance Learning and Student-Directed Educational Specialist, and Thrive Coach to provide students, families, teachers, and organizations with the support to refashion how they learn, how they teach, and how they work through this crisis.

How can I help you?

It will be important to provide students with reassurance and support in the form of continuity, guided support, a bit of distraction, and encouragement and opportunities to cultivate their growth-mindsets, resilience, and grit as they make ongoing adjustments and re-calibrations in the face of so much uncertainty.

With disruption, after all, comes opportunity — if we can hold space for possibility, and allow for incubation, integration, patience, and discovery to take root, good things will come out of this.

For students, opportunities can include the chance to think about things in a new way. To take care of themselves really well. To slow things down and figure out what really matters to them. To understand themselves better. To learn new ways of learning and being. To lean into their strengths, discover new purpose and direction, and re-calibrate their next steps. To better understand the collective, deeper work ahead — and how they might see themselves and start to reposition themselves there. And then — when ready, to create new rhythms and systems around a new plan, and to create, for some, an entirely new road map for themselves.

For most of us, and especially for our children, to be able to make the flip switch, build resilience and grit, strength and confidence — and move through this often harrowing landscape with greater ease — may be the biggest triumph of all.

I’ll be sharing ideas and resources for staying grounded in my next blog post and on my FlipSwitch Coaching Facebook page, but for now, please know that I am available to continue to provide personalized, compassionate, dynamic support to current clients, students, and their families remotely, using FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, shared Google docs, texting and other online tools. I have been using these tools for years to stay connected to students, particularly during summer time and breaks, and it works exceptionally well.

I will also be taking on new students and clients, so if you know of anyone who might benefit from my support, please send them my way. Thank you.

((This is but a slice of what I offer; please visit my website for a more comprehensive list of offerings & services, details about my approach & background, and more blog posts)

For parents, I can help answer your questions, reconsider the possibilities, and find reassurance in a new game plan.

For all students, I can help provide you with the tools, instruction, & support to —

  • Successfully transition to whatever new online learning model your school adopts.

  • Create new systems and rhythms.

  • Texturize online learning with hands-on, interactive, creative, experiential learning activities and explorations at home, outside resources, and companion materials.

  • Build strong time management and organizational patterns of possibility.

  • Deepen and strengthen your writing and editing skills.

  • Sharpen your college readiness tool kit.

  • Stay grounded and centered throughout this crisis.

For juniors, I can help you move forward with your college journey —

  • Get organized with time-management and project-based tips for staying on top of your college work at a time of heightened anxiety and uncertainty.

  • Reconfigure the college “map” and game plan with a growth mindset.

  • Better understand what you can do now for test prep—I can provide customized coaching & support to help you prepare for the next round of tests later this spring/summer within the context of your evolving college list and the changing realities around us.

  • Use alternative resources to fine tune and sharpen your college list.

  • Use guided exercises to help you start doing the deeper work to pave the way for stronger college essays and supplements and a smoother application experience.

For seniors, I can help you with your college decisions —

  • Use alternative resources to learn more about which school might be the best fit.

  • Stay grounded in a place of gratitude as you move through your final weeks of school.

  • Send follow up communications, register for classes, and re-imagine summer plans.

For teachers, let me know if I can help you re-frame your lessons around the online model. I can help you customize, deepen, and enrich your lessons and curriculum to make it feel more relevant for your students, creating a more ultimately fulfilling and authentically engaging experience for everyone.

For families with pre- and school-age children, I can offer up daily activities and creative, DIY projects, resources to enrich both online learning and your time together, and tips on establishing new rhythms around a healthy balance of contraction and expansion.

For organizations, I offer writing and editing support, as well as specialized consulting & coaching services designed to help small businesses reassess, reconfigure, and realign their work through transitions into greater growth and authenticity.

We will know a lot more in five or ten days. Let’s hope that together, we can flatten the curve, and ensure more viable treatment and resources for a sustainable amount of time. This virus is not going anywhere. With more test kits on the way, and a vaccine in the works, we can hope that we can at the very least start to get a good handle on things in the coming weeks and months, assimilate this new threat into our current medical and daily life protocols, and emerge stronger, wiser, and better equipped to handle such crises in the future.

In the meantime, take care of yourselves, of each other, and stay well. And — let me know how I can help.

Maturation of the Adolescent Brain; Mariam Arain, Maliha Haque, Lina Johal, Puja Mathur, Wynand Nel, Afsha Rais, Ranbir Sandhu, Sushil Sharma; Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2013; 9: 449–461. Published online 2013 Apr 3. doi: 10.2147/NDT.S39776; PMCID: PMC3621648

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