We’ve been crowdsourcing evidence and it suggests that age is important when we’re thinking about the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. While children and young people are at lower risk of suffering serious symptoms from acute Covid-19 disease, their wellbeing has been affected in other important ways and can have longer term impacts.
We don’t yet have comprehensive wellbeing data collected regularly in schools, so we’ve done our best to round up the impact on children and young people from age 0-24. There are a lot of different experiences across these age groups and adults can sometimes see things differently to young people themselves, so do add more information to the crowdsourcing if you can.
Nearly three-quarters of young people (72%) identify loneliness as a reason for the drop in their mental health.
Higher than usual levels of stress, anxiety, depressive symptoms and fear have also been found in younger children, partly explained by the lack of outdoor activities. Other studies report increased emotional, behavioural and attentional difficulties among primary school-aged children during lockdown.
Activities and opportunities
Children and young people reported their levels of physical activity dropped during lockdown. In 2018/19 Sport England reported the proportion of children doing less than 30 min of physical activity per day was approximately 29%. During the pandemic this percentage oscillated between 40 and 50%, with 10% of children doing no physical activity at all. Studies from overseas suggest that reduced physical activity among children and teenagers during the lockdown was accompanied by reduced time outdoors and increased screen-time.
Young people in low income areas of England and Wales reported missing taking part in team sports and the social benefits of exercising with friends. Many also highlighted a lack of access to space as reasons why their levels of physical activity dropped.
The experience of younger children during lockdown may have been different. According to a survey by EduKit of pupils in England, younger children were doing more daily exercise and eating more healthily than older pupils. Positively, children in deprived areas of Wales were reported to be eating more fruit and less takeaways.
Lack of motivation, lack of guidance and support, and lack of access to internet or electronic devices for learning in the case of low income areas, were some of the most common reasons adults with dependent children gave as to why their children struggled with education and homeschooling.
A longitudinal study of pupil learning and wellbeing during Covid-19 found half of pupils felt they had a routine for home working that enabled them to learn effectively.
Fewer than 60% reported that they could receive support from their families if they had trouble with their work or got stuck with learning; and about 30% reported not having a quiet place to work.
Lockdown was particularly damaging for children and young people’s social lives. Over three quarters said their inability to socialise with friends and family was their biggest concern at the time. In May, nearly half of the youngest children (aged two to four) were reported to be spending no time playing with other children in their household.
Kooth, a digital support service for young people, saw a 30% increase from last year in the proportion of children and young people expressing concerns about strains in family relationships.
Younger people are less likely to have experienced social cohesion and support among their neighbours and local communities in lockdown, compared to those aged 65 or over.
From a more positive perspective, more than a quarter of parents - especially mothers - reported that their relationship with their children has improved since the lockdown, while less than 5% reported it had become worse. Improvements in parent-child relationships are partly explained by the greater time invested in caring and home schooling (up to 30 hours a week).
Household incomes have fallen, particularly among young and low-earning workers. Indeed, 16% of 18 to 24 year olds have been unable to isolate as much as they would like because of financial concerns (compared with 11% of 55 to 64 year olds). Young people may have also found it difficult to cut back on spending because they have usually spent a lower proportion of their budget on goods and services that are not essential.
Why this matters for wellbeing and wellbeing inequalities
All the negative impacts noted above can be linked to each other:
According to the Good Childhood Report, children’s sense of purpose, particularly in relation to school and academic achievement, has been declining over the last decade. These trends are at risk of being exacerbated by the pandemic and the subsequent widening of wellbeing inequalities between age groups.
There are other demographic, social, and economic factors that can also put specific groups of children and young people at higher risk of poor wellbeing than others.
Being part of minority ethnic groups, lower income households and/or being separated from parents and carers make young people more likely to experience mental health difficulties during these times.
Overcrowded homes, lack of green spaces and poor quality environments can negatively impact the physical health of young people in isolation and these conditions are more common among people from low-income urban households and from Black and minority ethnicity groups.
“Children’s lives have been turned upside down by the coronavirus.
They have been left unable to attend school or see friends and relatives, while at the same time being trapped at home with parents and siblings who may have their own worries and anxieties about the situation.
Even before the pandemic, children’s happiness with life was at its lowest since 2009, and we know there is a link between low wellbeing and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
Urgent action is needed now to reset how we support children’s wellbeing and prevent this crisis harming a whole generation of young people.
That must mean introducing measurement of children’s wellbeing, support throughout the new school year, a properly funded early intervention strategy and better financial support for low-income families.”
We know relatively little about what activities help reduce loneliness in children and young people – partly because the research has focused on older groups, but also because children may interpret loneliness slightly differently from adults. Our Centre Brief Guide to Measuring Loneliness has recommended measures for children & young people on pg 12.
Children's mental wellbeing and ill-health: not two sides of the same coin (blog and infographic)