Well over a month – nearly two – into the Covid crisis, and it’s now becoming tiresome to muse upon the reality of it, or assess the impact it’s had on our daily lives and the fear it’s injected into the hearts of our communities. It has been ruminated upon at length; to the point of pure saturation; it’s now a case of adapting and turning our faces towards the future as we mourn the loss of loved ones, livelihoods and the sense of invincibility most of us were probably guilty of possessing until early March.
Of course, as with any crisis, new perspectives have been gained, and while it’s perfectly fine and normal to be struggling to accept what is happening, it’s also acceptable to see the positives. I imagine most of us have been able to identify some positives somewhere, but the novelty of being forced to appreciate them is probably starting to wear thin.
While a lot has been said about the impact of the virus on businesses, workers, older people or people , let’s for a moment to acknowledge a group that has had to adapt and sacrifice more than most, with very little appreciation – our children and young people.
What a time to be a child in Ireland! No school for weeks on end, and it’s not even the holidays – that’s surely the stuff of dreams? But not being able to leave your house or see anyone outside your immediate family – well, that might be a bit more nightmarish.
Within the space of a few short weeks, children have had to adapt to not seeing anyone outside their immediate family, having their routines completely disrupted, their education halted. They’ve had to deal with their parents or guardians becoming their formal educators. Leaving Cert students – already going through a challenging period in their lives, have had to deal with confinement to their homes on top of gruelling uncertainty about a significant state exam that may have a bearing on their future career path.
Children are hearing the news too, and are worried about the pandemic, and whether older relatives might get ill or die.
They’ve had to deal in some cases with work encroaching into their personal spaces and taking precedence in their own homes. Or they’re aware that one or both parents have lost their jobs and are absorbing the anxiety that come with that.
They’ve been referred to as “vectors” – little disease-spreaders! – and have been practically demonised in supermarkets, despite quite possibly having no choice but to be there. Groups of teenagers have been criticised for being out and about, with little thought for what some of them might be escaping (I’ve been guilty of that one myself). Others might not be in a space where they can safely go outdoors.
Many young people are caring for an adult within their household. Tensions can be high; perhaps there are more rows. There might even be violence or substance abuse, exacerbated by the heightened state.
Spare a thought too for children of separated parents, who, depending on which house they are living in, may not be able to see their other parent. Or children of healthcare workers, whose parents are isolating in order to protect them.
But regardless of the individual circumstances, it’s fair to say that all young people have been saddled with their share of change in a very short space of time, with few of their regular release valves available. They deserve some credit too, and their contribution to the common good should be loudly acknowledged.
Children are great. They are highly adaptable, resilient, and more than capable of understanding complex situations once they are explained clearly. Communicating honestly and keeping them in the loop throughout can be a better approach than trying to shield them; children of course are highly intuitive. They are also early adapters; the seven-year-olds I know have been using their elbows for coughs and sneezes long before any of us and are meticulous about their hand-washing and social distancing. In fact, quite a few adults I know could follow their lead.
In terms of education, while parents might be stressing about following the curriculum, remember that children are naturally curious; they now have an opportunity to take the lead on their education like never before, and they will likely gravitate towards what interests them the most.
And let’s admit it, children are a great source of entertainment, wisdom and perspective too.
In unprecedented times, the fallout from the pandemic can’t yet be anticipated, but it’s fair to say our children deserve as much support in the aftermath as anyone else. Our new government therefore needs, among other things to prioritise youth mental health services in a way they have failed dismally to do in the past, while remembering that the children, too, did their bit.
So, let’s hear it for the boys and girls. Thank you for playing your part, and here’s to brighter days ahead.
A shorter version of this article appeared in the Mayo News on Tuesday, April 21, 2020.