What the Corona Adolescents Need to Know: 3 Decades, 3 Tragedies 
| Himanshi Tripathi, Student, Writer, Social Activist, Chandigarh - 21 Aug 2020


  • Remembering the forgotten influenza pandemic and its repercussions on youth, medical discoveries
  • Analysing the economic and social impacts of The Great Depression on teenagers’ mental health
  • The establishment of Hitler’s autocracy targeted teenagers’ psyche
  • Highlighting the extraordinary spirit of an ordinary girl amidst WW-II

Through these accounts of tragedies in human history and their analysis, we can conclude that- gratitude is an element of the human mind which has the potential to end all human miseries. 

By Himanshi Tripathi

Chandigarh, August 22, 2020: Our streets are lonely, our favourite eateries are shut and so are our schools, our friends are indoors and dates on hold. Moreover, our hobbies too are on hold. We are disoriented and jobless. But there’s one activity the entire world is engaged in- fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. At least the present generation of adolescents hasn’t lived through such a global health emergency. 

But it is worth pondering upon - If such emergencies have ever hit the world before? If yes, then what was their magnitude? What and how were the coping-mechanisms like, in an age of no internet? 

The answer to all our queries lies in the past. Thus,discussing disasters of all natures- medical pandemics, economic and political disasters and wars would be the best insight given to adolescents in analysing the working of the world.

  1. Remembering the “Spanish lady”- 

While dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, the world has overlooked the deadliest influenza pandemic (1918-20) in human history which began during World War I. 

The intensive and speedy flu had engulfed about one-third of the earth’s population (ranging from 21- 100 million). As a matter of fact, the pandemic had claimed the lives of American troops more than the first World War did. The major deaths occurred during a sixteen-week period (September 1918-July,1919), being unusually deadly for young adults.

Nevertheless, as tragedies bring with themselves blessings in disguise, in 1918, Oswald Avery and team of the Rockefeller Institute had produced a vaccine for pneumonias Further, Avery dedicated his career to the study of pneumonias and his consistent work led to a foundational discovery in biology, the “transforming principle”- the DNA carries the genetic code. 

Who knows Covid-19 pandemic related researches may bring up revolutionary discoveries. 

As the world holds little memory of the misery, historians have labelled it as the “forgotten flu”. The broadest reason for the flu’s relatively low popularity is that the pandemic had coincided with the first world war. Thus, war-related deaths may have overshadowed the influenza related deaths. Psychologically too, it must have been an extension of war tragedies. 

As a natural consequence of an epidemic, entertainment and service industries suffered heavy losses while the revenues of healthcare industries shot up. 

Historian Nancy Bristow expressed that the pandemic which instigated the admission of women in colleges, contributed to the success of women in the field of nursing. The empowerment of women in nursing is a social milestone achieved by medical science in Europe and America. Possibly covid-19 could uplift a portion of the suppressed. We can wait to see it.

The takeaway from the pandemic for adolescents is that: as emerging citizens of the globe, they should begin to look beyond the barriers of thinking for self and assume,view and interpret the world’s future.

Hence let us not, even for a moment think about the effects of the pandemic on us. They really are nil. Let’s just compare the current scenario with what it was like a century ago and get inspired to grow in adversity- for the betterment of the world.

Today with better technology, advanced medical sciences and laboratories, online mediums of communication, education and essential services at our doorsteps, it takes nothing other than basic precautions and positivity to fight the pandemic.

Having discussed a medical emergency, it should be noted that there are other forms of tragedies as well. Therefore, the next one is an economic emergency.

An economic emergency is not a mere reduction in Gross Domestic Product or national income. It is a much wider phenomenon. Potentially one which can damage self-esteem, social life, create insecurity,doubt and relentless hopelessness. It merely doesn’t affect the bread earner, rather each person associated with him/her. Let us picture the economic disturbances’ effects on the depressed adolescents. 

2) Struggles of “The Great Depression”- 

No country and no generation are unacquainted with the economic disaster of the 1930s, “The Great Depression”, which began with the stock market crash of 29th October 1930. 

Though it occurred throughout the world, it would be more relevant to discuss its marks on the country that was worst affected by it- the US. 

In the initial phase of Depression, the adult males were mostly either unemployed or were forced to join low-paying jobs. Women had easy employment opportunities as social services were on the cards for them. Moreover, it was understood that women were ideal to impose low wages upon. 

Consequently, economic conditions of individual households declined. This distress compelled the decline of social life as affordability was hardly sufficient to even make ends meet.

As each teen student was a victim of crisis at home, the school environment too became demoralizing, unsocial, unsympathetic, cold and unsupportive. Consequently, interest in education declined due to emotional and economic challenges.

We either go through trauma at school or at home. When stress sets in one of these places, the other acts as a coping mechanism. 

But what if none of these were present in our support? It would have been something against human nature (no socialization).

The analysis of school life and family life of teenagers during this period would help us to decide our position as victims. 

As we are not in touch with school buddies, the pandemic has also furnished us with opportunities to spend quality time with our families, develop better understanding, stronger bonds and a more open, informal culture. We can get back to work more energized and elated.

Moreover, let us just thank the work from home culture. It is creating no impact on the family economy as employment remains unaffected and thus, we enjoy financial stability. There are no accounts of exploitation with low wages (except for the workers in the informal sector). 

Also, the internet has not allowed the pandemic to hamper our education at all. We can devotedly learn as much as we want to, and from all the desired sources. 

We continue to live a luxurious life. Thanks to the developed century. 

Now as the background has already been sketched, we know that the economic disaster and its implications were faced by teens of almost every nationality and did the Germans adolescents.

This was an ideal opportunity for the German leader, Adolf Hitler to exploit. Hitler’s telescopic focus shifted to strengthening the “Hitler Youth (founded in 1922)” and its female equivalent “League of German girls (1930)” though he had already frozen a compactly spaced organization with over million members aged fourteen to eighteen well before he acquired political power. 

The strategically formed Youth organizations were subsets of Nazi Party to preach and instil Nazi ideology in the countrymen. The initial years continued to be smooth until Hitler rose to the pinnacle of power and marked the reign of his autocracy. 

In 1933, Hitler as the Chancellor of Germany declared all other youth organizations illegal. Their members were forcibly incorporated into the Hitler Youth. This also resulted in a dramatic rise in the membership count. 

Gradually pressure to organize German youth into Hitler Youth was applied making membership for Aryans compulsory.

Boycott and monopoly of the members over the non-members was established. Ill- treatment, refusal to award diplomas (which ended one’s eligibility to join universities), no apprenticeships and sports opportunities and troubling unwilling parents by investigating them were some of the methods to compel teens to join the Hitler Youth. 

Within educational institutions activities were designed to reshape the psyche of the teens based on gender. Boys were trained to be masculine, competitive (through engagement in rigorous sports, army drills) whereas girls were taught to be ideal wives and mothers (by inculcating the values of collective work, compassion and helpfulness). School textbooks were edited and sung of Hitler’s glory to establish his ideals. 

By 1939 it had become compulsory to join Hitler Youth. 

Analysing these impositions and enforcements, we observe that young minds were allowed no horizons to broaden. They were being nurtured into confined thinkers. Their psyche was programmed, wisdom was led into darkness, vision was led in blindness and grew up in hell. 

But we are not vulnerable to be misled by any political force. We have access to History. We have access to the mistakes committed in the past. We have access to alertness. We can read, discuss and share our views endlessly online. Our thoughts can be influenced only by rationale and emotional blackmailing cannot dictate our actions.

We are the most fortunate generation.

After almost a decade of economic and political disturbances came the most disturbing form of tragedy series, one that claimed several innocent human lives- war.

3) Second World War (1939-1945):

A tragedy that is man-made embodies the potential to set human wisdom shame faced, war being the most infamous one. As we talk about wars (typically recent), we naturally recount the most outrageous one -World War II. 

War roots out human sentiments with the slightest blow. It affects the entire population despite how diverse its constituents may be but the intensity with which it hits each category depends upon its vulnerability.

Emotionally, the most vulnerable category is that of adolescents. 

A peep into the diary of the Jewish teenager Anne Frank is a proof of the extraordinary spirit of an ordinary girl which is not an instinct, rather a virtue she develops during the four years she spends in the secret annexe. 

Anne was given her “Kitty” (diary) on her 13th birthday (1942). The diary initially introduces the life of an emerging teenager living in confinement (due to restrictions imposed on Jews).

Anne’s concerns were no different from the ones any teen has today. Be it the boyfriends and infatuations, her differences with mother Edith Frank, her inclination towards dad Otto Frank and how the constant comparison with her older sister Margot Frank (an ideal child) overshadowed Anne’s virtues. 

She is the ordinary Anne we come across in the initial phase of the diary. Moody, bittersweet, troubled by friends, annoyed by teachers, the writer of essays like ‘Chatterbox’, ‘Quack! Quack! Quack!’ (as a part 

of punishment for excessive chatting), bogged down by Algebra, nervous for resultsand rebellious, she is no special and is the prototype of a teenager. 

As the conditions for Jewish toughened, Franks moved into the Secret Annex (in 1942, Amsterdam).

Anne could do no more than complaining (exactly as we do) about depleting food quality, lack of fresh air, no spaces for freedom, the lonely, dull and idle life until the Van Daans joined in and she had to be a more accommodative version of herself sharing even the little stuff she had. 

Anne’s diary flowed with accounts of incidents where she seemed disappointed with the life she was leading.This continued until Anne came to terms with the fact that she was still luckier to have a home to spend nights under blankets, in attempts to avoid the thundering sound of air raids, than those who were exposed to it. 

She realized how petty the issues that disturbed her previously were. 

She dreamt about Lies (a Jew friend she had been on bad terms with) suffering and empathized with her, thought of how she was luckier than the pregnant women, children, men who were led to death marches, killed in gas chambers or starved to death.

Anne writings swayed from the subject of self to that of humanity, garnished with relentless faith, hopes as she writes: 

And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquillity will return once more. - July 15, 1944 

The Franks were betrayed by a colleague of Mr. Frank, reported to the Nazis, arrested, and deported to Concentration Camps. Anne’s mother and sister had died before she did, but she did assume that they were alive. This was a reason that kept her breaths going for seven long months. Next, she died from Typhus, a month short of her 16th birthday. The Frank family was survived by Otto Frank.

Anne had handed her diary to Miep Gies, one of the family’s supporters.She had given the unread diary to Mr. Frank when the war got over. 

This is the most inspirational account of hope- The Diary Of A Young Girl. And thus, Anne is counted as one of the strongest women in history. 

She was not fearless; she too had her fears. But she conquered them.

We are indoors but not living the pain of spending years in hiding. We are surrounded by lonely streets, but not engulfed in air raids. We know we are under protection. Maybe we can’t visit the best of restaurants, but we can cook delicacies. We are not dealing with insufficient, rotten potatoes. We are locked in our homes, but we are not accommodating people. We have our share of family privacy. We are not nagged by the fear of death.  

Through these accounts of tragedies in human history and their analysis, we can conclude that- gratitude is an element of the human mind which has the potential to end all human miseries. 

And to inculcate gratitude, one needs rationale which arises from knowledge. 

Image Caption: 

1) This picture depicts millennials attending classes amidst Corona. Pic courtesy: www.agefotostock.com

2) This picture depicts the plight of families during the Great Depression. Pic courtesy: Reddit 

3) This is a picture of a group of teenagers during WW-II. 


Himanshi Tripathi is a school student who has assumed her duties as teenagers’ mental health activist, driven by her personal battle with depression and by the fact that it prevails amongst her peers too, worldwide. In order to honour her obligations, she has committed herself to intensive research and writings. She aims at edifying teenagers about mental health disorders and destigmatizing these, alongside presenting accounts of the evolution of teen hood throughout the century amidst global transformation of social, economic, cultural and political environment, through her upcoming book.Additionally, she is a passionate learner who pursues diverse interests- many of which have won her laurels as a debater, poetess, public speaker, sportsperson and painter and enjoys the reputation of a prominent therapist amongst her bosoms.

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