Growing up in lockdown
In the Irish Examiner Growing Up in Lockdown survey, we asked children and young people to tell us what life has been like for them during the Covid 19 pandemic. Their answers give us a glimpse into how they navigated a strange and difficult year and what they think the future holds.
Cover illustration: Jane Madden, 14, Gaelcholáiste Luimnigh
ooking at the Covid-19 pandemic through the eyes of a child can be a baffling and frightening experience but one that brings unexpected perks such as deeper connections with family or the chance to spend more time doing the things they love.
In the Irish Examiner’s Growing Up in Lockdown survey, we asked children and young people from five to 18 years old to tell us what they liked and disliked about the pandemic.
A number of common themes sprung up throughout the survey - Family, Appreciation, Anxiety & Loss, Creativity, Remote Learning and Friendship. As we sifted through their responses, we were so impressed and moved by how our young people are navigating this strangest year, and we are honoured to publish their honest insights. We hope you too enjoy this snapshot of what it's been like to grow up in lockdown.
With special thanks to all the students who took part in the Growing Up in Lockdown survey and in particular the teachers and students of Gaelcholáiste Luimnigh and Midleton Educate Together Primary School.
any of the young people who took part in the Irish Examiner’s Growing Up In Lockdown survey felt they had forged more meaningful relationships with their family over the past year, and saw this as a silver lining of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Thirteen year old Emma is spending lots of time with her sister Aoife.
“We do lots of fun things together and we are always laughing,” she told us.
One striking aspect of the survey was the fact that so many respondents were concerned about their parents’ catching Covid-19 while working outside of the home.
“My Dad works in retail so he has to travel to plenty of shops all over the country. I get worried about him because he is constantly in shops and busy areas,” said Anna, 17.
Brian Gleeson 13 from Tipperary with his family.
“I feel lonely for my grandparents in particular as I cannot meet them as much and we are really afraid for their health,” explained Jennifer,13.
Despite her sadness, she was optimistic about seeing her grandparents in the near future.
“They should be getting their vaccines soon and I am really looking forward to meeting them more in the months ahead.”
t was so interesting - and very touching at times - to hear how our respondents navigated lockdown with their friends. Travel limits and school closures dramatically reduced the time spent in close friends’ company, and that contact was keenly missed. However, technology also stepped up, and helped many respondents maintain contact and a sense of fun with their friends.
The enforced separation also led some to focus on how much their friendships mean to them, and how deeply they appreciate their friends. Mary, 16, remarked: “I am grateful for my friends having gotten me through this lockdown.”
Saoirse Birreck 17 from Limerick. School - Gaelcholáiste Luimnigh talking to her friends via Zoom
A strong theme, especially among older kids, is that tech helped them keep their friendships going. We heard about virtual chats over Zoom and Facetime, and group online-gaming using Roblox and Discord.
Some friends combined a number of tools, for example watching YouTube over Zoom together.
There were comments too that some kids were playing a lot more with other children living on their road, since lockdown kept everyone more local and neighbours began to form ‘bubbles’.
striking element to come through in the Growing Up In Ireland survey was a heightened appreciation for family, friends and “the little things”. We were struck too by some comments that told us kids were liking the slower pace of life, and a calmer schedule of activities.
And of course, lockdown also allowed a benefit first thing every day - sleep-ins.
One of our youngest respondents, 10-year-old Kaya, put it succinctly when asked what she liked most about lockdown: "Spending time with family, no early starts."
Pat Fitzpatrick with his daughter Freda and son Joe at their home in Turners Cross, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
ndoubtedly one of the biggest changes to children’s lives in the pandemic has been the shift to online learning. This has proved to be a significant challenge and has left many students feeling anxious about their progress.
However, lockdown was a relief for some students, including one 16-year-old who said: “School was getting a bit stressful because we were doing the mock exams for the junior cert. I was getting headaches and stress pains almost every day with the amount of homework I was getting and worrying about the amount of things I still had to learn. Lockdown put a stop to that.”
Daniel Plaice 13 from Cork. School - Gaelcholáiste Choilm
A large cohort of respondents felt that they are falling behind in their studies and this led to some anxiety about how they would adjust to life back in the classroom. But for others, going back to school will make it much easier to concentrate throughout the day.
“Online learning has made it more difficult because it's harder to focus,” said 14-year-old Sarah.
e were really impressed by the creativity shown in responses to our Growing Up In Ireland survey. Many of our respondents have been writing, reading, baking, exercising, filming and playing music to fill the time at home. Some have reconnected with old hobbies, and others are having fun with new ones.
Some of those who took part are doing more exercise in lockdown, and some less. Sofia, 11 “usually goes to tae kwon do three times a week and walks the dog every day, but now I only walk". Brian, 13 is doing “way more” exercise however - he’s running every day and doing some weights too.
Katie Dwane 11 from Cork. School - Scoil Mhuire Junior School Cork
Saoirse, 12, is doing more exercise in lockdown - three runs a week and lots more exercises “as my camogie club and county development squad have given us an exercise plan to follow”.
Áine, 17, tells us she has started “home-based workouts” during lockdown and added: “I enjoy going on walks a lot more now.”
ANXIETY AND LOSS
he death of family members, concern about the welfare of loved ones, anxiety over what a post-pandemic world will look like and sadness about loss of contact with friends and extended family are just some of the issues young people are dealing with due to Covid-19.
A number of respondents to our survey spoke of their sorrow at the death of a grandparent during the year.
“I was absolutely devastated when I heard that my Grandad had passed away due to Covid-19. I had only seen him a few times through a window as the nursing home he lived in was in a very strict lockdown since March 2020,” stated 12 year old Cassie.
Being separated from friends is a source of anxiety and while a lot of young people are in contact with friends online, there is a consensus that it’s just not the same.
“I desperately miss the social aspect of life due to lockdown. Not being able to go out with my friends is awful. I hate it,” explained Chole, 17.
Many children said that their sleep patterns had changed since the beginning of the pandemic.
On a positive note, there is clearly an increased awareness about mental health issues among respondents and many have actively put coping mechanisms in place to deal with anxiety.
“My favourite thing to do when I’m anxious is to play the piano because it requires all of my concentration and calms me down,” Lucy, 17, said.
The last word goes to eight-year Kate who, when asked how she deals with anxiety, replied: “I go to my room and talk to my pink bunny about it.”
Learning things about myself that I never knew
Dear Past Self,
There are many things I wish you knew. It’s funny to think that only a year ago I was in your position; I barely knew what a pandemic was, Corona was just a brand of mexican beer to me, and self-isolation was something that I thought only astronauts did. But then things changed. I want you to be ready and therefore I have decided to write you this letter to better prepare you for what’s about to happen.
The good and bad
My life during lockdown was both good and bad.
The good thing about being in lockdown was that I could spend quality time with my family every day. We could go on walks and we could play games like football, Gaelic and basketball.
Another good thing about lockdown is that I can wear my own comfy warm clothes instead of wearing the dreaded school uniforms.
Optimism has given way to despair
If you asked me, in December 2019, to guess what would happen over the next year, I can guarantee you I would not have gotten a single thing right. I was due to take the Junior Cert exams in June, go on holiday abroad in August, and overall enjoy another very average year.
As we all know, a certain little thing intervened and none of those happened. Schools closed down and lockdown began in March, lasting well through the rest of the school year.
Ways to look at life
Covid-19, by its very nature, is a disruptive force. It demands revelations on both a personal and societal level. While growing up under lockdown, this has had a profound effect on my developing identity.
I chose three keywords to characterise the lockdown. These being uncertainty, reflection, and empathy. According to research conducted by University College London, uncertainty can cause more stress than inevitable pain. Covid-19 is a perfect exemplar of this. As the days blend into one another, a festering doubt lingers with me. I am stricken with an invisible adversary whose onslaught bears no deadline. The lack of control over my life is unsettling.
I remember the first lockdown was only going to be ‘a two-week break’ which we all know ended up being several months.
At first I thought it was a blessing getting off school but I soon realised that listening to teachers talk at you through a screen just isn’t the same as being in school, in a classroom interacting with your friends.
From March to May last year is only a blur in my memory, I would wake up every day and sit at my desk attending classes and doing assignments, get something to eat, go outside for a bit and go back to sleep. This was the lockdown formula.
I guess that lockdown hasnʼt really been that bad. Apart from being stuck inside and not being able to see my friends, it hasnʼt been too awful. Iʼve been able to spend more time at home with my family and Iʼve had more time to spend doing the things that I love. Iʼve been able to cook new recipes and read more books. For me, lockdown hasnʼt been a complete disaster.
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