My youngest is 16. She did her GCSEs and had her prom a year ago, and is coping well with A-level study at home. She has a large bedroom to herself, great wifi, plenty of gadgets, is well-supported by a lovely school with online learning and zoom chats, a nice garden and a supportive family. She engages with her friends on all their various social media until late into the night and we hear the laughter coming from her room, she studies for about 5 or 6 hours a day, bike rides with us, enjoys a lot of banter around the dinner table with her older siblings, and plays with the cats in the garden. Until this week she hadn’t moaned about lockdown. She is one of the lucky ones and she knows it.
But I can’t help comparing her life now with what it was and how it still should be: ‘hanging out’ before school, going for ‘cookie dough’ and coffee with friends after school, lying on the grass on the Knavesmire and Museum Gardens whiling away long summer evenings, part-time working in a pub kitchen, visiting the library to study and looking forward to her 17th summer of friendship, fun and laughter.
At the beginning of lockdown she said to me “Mum, do you think my generation will be known as the ‘Quaranteens’?” Yesterday she said to me “I’m going out for a bike ride with two people at the weekend: I know it is two people, not one, but I couldn’t choose, and we promise not to hug and we promise to stay 2m apart.” I had nothing I could say. My sister tells me she had almost the identical statement from her Year 11 son the same day.
My eldest was due to start her graduate training scheme in 4 weeks; the start is now postponed ‘indefinitely’; currently furloughed from her current job she is volunteering and has no idea about her future. She feels lucky because, through her volunteering work, she sees families who have had literally no money coming in for 8 weeks and who are hungry. And I suppose she is very lucky. Relatively. At her age I was finishing my PGCE and looking forward to my first teaching post.
My son is recovering from Covid19 and doing second year university exams online. He left Newcastle days before lockdown without emptying the student house and he has no idea whether his third year will be all online or not; he doesn’t know if he’ll see his university friends again; he is committed to paying rent in Newcastle for accommodation that may not be needed. He is also lucky – lucky to have survived the virus, and to be safely home with his family and able to complete his second year work online. He does ‘virtual pub nights’ with mates and is cheerful. At his age I was enjoying a free university education with a full maintenance grant and spent a glorious summer travelling with friends.
My ‘foster-daughter’ also considers herself one of the lucky ones as she is continuing with her masters course and is furloughed from her part-time job. However, her research will be affected; her fieldwork cannot happen; she is having to ‘shield’ as a diabetic, and worst of all she hasn’t been able to see us in person since February. How many young people on the brink of adult life and needing a sense of ‘roots’ to anchor them are alone?
I know my kids are the lucky ones and so are their cousins. But between them these are only a few things they have had taken from them:
- a proper end to 3 years of university life, saying goodbye to friends and Grad Ball
- a proper end to 11 years of school, saying goodbye to friends and Prom
- being able to complete exams they have studied for
- knowing if are going to be able to return to university in the autumn
- jobs they have worked hard to obtain for the summer
- jobs they have worked hard to obtain as graduate trainees
- holiday plans
- being with friends, parties and the freedom that being young without responsibility gives
And let me set a context on this: this generation is already experiencing a mental health crisis with very high levels of anxiety; they are saddled with massive debt from university fees; they face the enormous challenges of dealing climate change, and now the economy has been totally destroyed too. I want to sit and weep for all they will not have that we had.
I do a lot of voluntary work with the elderly and of course we need to protect them; but the generation who have been most robbed in all this and the ones we need to focus on are our young people. They have massive debt, both personally and as a nation; huge insecurity about their futures and the future of the planet; they are unselfishly accepting this lockdown to their freedoms in order to protect the vulnerable, and many are giving their time volunteering to help others. It is time our media trained their lens onto our ‘Quaranteens’.