Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 6–8 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Children and young people are wise. They watch adults, they listen, they absorb adult emotions and become worried about adult concerns.

I wrote “Nonnie Talks about Relationships” this fall. For each of the books in my Nonnie Series, I host three focus groups on the topic. I meet with third- and fourth-graders, fifth- and sixth-graders and seventh- and eighth-graders. Each group is developmentally unique. Their reactions to tough topics like disability, death, trauma, race and consent guide my final edits.

My focus groups for “Nonnie Talks about Relationships” were conducted virtually during the pandemic. It is now Christmas Eve. When we finish discussing the book I’m writing, I give the children time to talk about anything they want. The words of these fine young people are my holiday gift to you.

9-year-old: I have a relationship, but I don’t think I’m in love. If I was, I’d share my stuff with him, and I don’t. When you’re in love, I think you share.

10-year-old: I love the holidays. Soon it will be Thanksgiving and then Hanukkah and Christmas. My mom is Jewish, and my dad is Christian, so I really luck out. I get all kinds of presents! It will be weird this year. I’ve decided I’m going to pretend to be real happy. I want my parents and grandparents to be happy. I’m a good actor. I will do my best to make them happy no matter how weird the holidays are this year.

11-year-old: It’s hard to have a relationship right now because of COVID. If I had a superpower, I would make the virus go away. I worry so much about my mee maw and pap.

12-year-old: All I want for Christmas is two things – I want people to stop hating each other about the election. I’m sick of adults hating. And I want the pandemic to end. I miss school. I miss my friends. I miss my mom smiling.

13-year-old: I know this will be a Christmas without many presents. My mom was laid off and money is very tight. When she asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I told her two inexpensive things. She has enough to worry about without buying me stuff.

9-year-old: I like baking cookies with my family. That’s the best part of Christmas to me. Sure, I like toys. The best part of the holiday is the cookie baking, though.

10-year-old: My grandpap says we won’t be able to go to church this Christmas. Our pastor does this really cool YouTube thing and we all watch it together. I like it. It’s not the video I like so much, it’s us all sitting around together.

11-year-old: I miss hugging my gaga so much. She gives the best hugs. It feels like forever since I got to hug her. My mom says to be patient. Every night I pray for scientists to finish a vaccine so my gaga can get it and I can hug her without worrying I might make her sick. C’mon, scientists!

12-year-old: The hardest part of this pandemic for me has been my friendships. When we were talking about relationships for your book, I loved the part about fake friends. My friends are fake. When we’re not in school, they don’t even connect with me. I need to start texting them first, and some don’t even text me back. My dad says that’s normal at my age. Maybe. I blame the pandemic. I think I could have kept my friends if we were still able to be together.

13-year-old: I would like a good relationship. Most of my friends are constantly fussing about who they like and who likes them. I’m like Tamika in your book. I want to wait for a good person. Sometimes I’m lonely though. I talk with my gramma over Zoom or FaceTime. People are always hanging around me and listening, so it’s hard to talk about what I want without my brother overhearing. Last week, though, he was in his room doing schoolwork and I FaceTimed with my gramma. I told her sometimes I feel lonely because I don’t have someone. My gramma is a great listener. She told me I’m great and someday I will have a great relationship. Then, I got to be in your focus group. You sound just like my gramma (no offense). This is why I want COVID to go away. My gramma is my best person. I get scared that she might get sick. Anyway, thanks for asking me to talk about your book. It was a lot of fun.

I wish you joy during this unusual holiday season. May you be well.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email

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