Why we can’t forget young people in our response to Covid-19

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Katherine Mathieson, CEO of the British Science association, shares some interesting new data on young people’s response to COVID-19.

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced us all to change our daily routines. Families are having to do their best to provide their children with an engaging and educational experience at home. It’s no surprise that over 60% of UK adults have said they feel anxious or worried about the pandemic, and for families with children who need extra support, the last few months have been especially challenging.

Yet not all groups of our society are being given the opportunity to access and understand this information. New research conducted by the British Science Association found that almost 9 in 10 young people (aged 14-18) feel scientists and politicians are leaving them out of the Covid-19 conversation. Instead, young people are turning to their close family to accurately explain the news and discuss the current situation. According to the data, young people trust their family (56^%) more than they do scientists (41%) to tell the truth about coronavirus.

Communication and home education

Accurate and reliable science communication during this time has never been so essential. If young people continue to feel left out or frustrated by the Government’s failure to engage them in its guidance, this could have serious ramifications.  By leaving young people out of the conversation, the Government has failed to address the way young people have been, and will be, impacted by the pandemic.

Families are finding it difficult to home educate, especially those with fewer resources.  About a quarter (23%) of 14-18 year olds say they are spending hardly any time or no time at all studying, raising concerns about a potentially widening achievement gap.  For parents who have children with special education needs, the prospect of home schooling is even more of a challenge. Children who are used to receiving interaction or support from other adults outside the family, or those who need a strong structure, an environment with limited distractions or multi-sensory learning experience will find these new circumstances very difficult to cope with.

Positive effects

Interestingly, the research revealed one clear positive from the current pandemic, a marked uplift in young people who would now consider working in a scientific field as a result of Covid-19. Now, 37% of young people say they are more likely to consider a scientific career. This is a positive shift which needs to be harnessed, and we can’t risk losing a generation of budding scientists pursuing STEM careers because we didn’t include them in one of the most important conversations on public health in a century. Young people are hungry for more information about what’s going on; almost two fifths (38%) of 14-to-18-year-olds are seeking out expert advice about the virus and its impact.

Other countries’ senior politicians have ensured young people are directly engaged so they can understand the pandemic. For instance, Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg and New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have both held press conferences especially for children. Young people have great ideas and new ways of problem solving. We do both them and wider society a disservice by not addressing their worries or including them in the conversations that could lead to a better society in the future.

For these reasons, we need the UK Government and commentators to ensure young people are not missed out of the Covid-19 conversation and that their voices and concerns are heard and addressed. Young people have many of the same pandemic-induced concerns that adults do, their lives and futures are hugely affected by the lockdown restrictions. By addressing groups in ways they can connect with, we can create a two-way conversation around Covid-19 and make young people feel included in the ‘national effort’. Now is the time to get this right.

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