Spare a thought for teenagers this lockdown; here’s why – Jayne Dowle

IT comes to something when a quick trip to the supermarket is the highlight of a teenager’s life.

“Please take me out, anywhere,” begged my daughter the other day. She calculated that apart from walking the dog on the field opposite our house, she hadn’t actually left the house for a week.

Her close friends are all the same, following the rules and seeing no-one except immediate family members. It must be so hard for them to accept that they won’t meet again until after February half-term at the earliest. What’s a parent to do, except to try and turn unprecedented adversity into opportunity?

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At 15, as Lizzie points out, she can’t even get a job like her older brother, who works part-time in a supermarket, or volunteer alone to help those who need food and medicines delivering.

School pupils are having to adapt to home learning at a time when they'd be preparing for exams.

Instead, she comes food shopping with me. Apart from her regular dance classes on Zoom, it’s the highlight of her week. She’s become a dab hand at organising her own trolley and packing the bags. I’ve told her that it’s all about learning valuable life skills.

I feel so sorry for her, and for the millions of other teenagers marooned on the sofa, or if they’re lucky, in their own room. Lizzie is definitely one of the lucky ones. She has a warm bedroom, decent wi-fi, Netflix, a phone and a laptop of her own.

And a supportive family; when she managed to lose her laptop charger over Christmas, I spent half a day tracking down a replacement to be delivered in time for online lessons to start. However, when the wi-fi crashes, she can now fix it herself. When she fancies a hot chocolate or yet another bowl of cereal, she makes her own.

We’re certainly not rich in material terms, but she understands and appreciates her privilege. Her school has a large number of ‘vulnerable’ children allowed to attend lessons in the building during the current lockdown. When the school closed due to snow recently, she was perturbed because everyone was sent home, including those deemed at-risk.

Are teenagers getting sufficient support during the lockdown?

She reaches out naturally, and I try to facilitate this. We’ve several bags of outgrown clothes to take to The Clothing Bank charity and last week, at her behest, we took two spare quilts to our local homeless shelter.

It’s lovely to hear her laughing and singing on group chats with her friends, but both of us can’t help and think of the isolated people who lack support. I encourage her to share her worries and concerns, and to reach out to those who might be feeling sad or lonely, or are bereaved.

A worrying number of Lizzie’s friends and acquaintances have lost grandparents in the last 12 months; she’s become quite adept at composing a suitable text or message of condolence.

I’ve heard many people say that teenagers should think themselves lucky, and in some ways they should. Unless they suffer from an underlying health condition, they are at less risk of suffering serious symptoms from coronavirus than older people.

Does Boris Johnson sufficiently appreciate the physical and mental toll of Covid on people of all ages? Jayne Dowle questions this.

However, we should not fall into the trap of assuming that coronavirus is the only threat to health that this age group faces.

The Government has been tracking UK studies into the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people in relation to the pandemic. Its most recent bulletin covers March to July last year and notes “increased anxiety and depression”.

It’s true, of course, that many other people are also feeling lonely. However, we should remember that younger people have not yet developed the tools of resilience we might be familiar with, they do not yet have life experiences to reflect upon and bring context to their current situation.

As her physical horizons narrow, I’ve encouraged Lizzie to keep a diary of this time. I’m trying to find ways to help her look outwards instead of in; she’s studying photography GCSE and has started taking pictures out of her bedroom window, documenting the subtle changes of the seasons.

She’ll tell her grandchildren that she survived this and grew, I say. And she smiles, wistfully. We’re asking young people to do things which even a year ago we would have found impossible to imagine.

And we need them to do these things willingly and without complaint. We expect them to put their lives on hold and can give them no promises or assurances about what lies ahead.

When all this ends, as surely it must, can I make a plea? That adults – including Ministers – commit to giving our teenagers the respect they have earned and the opportunities they deserve?

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