Broader effects of Covid-19

Over the last two years most of us have had to deal with working from home in some way, shape or form, and for those who are parents, added difficulties arose with trying to entertain and educate children whilst also fulfilling employment duties.

Employers have helped employees as much as possible, in some cases providing specific time to deal with home pressures with no impact on the employee’s income. But after initially focussing on continuing to work and operate during lockdowns, emphasis has increasingly started to shift to how Covid-19 has impacted children and the broader family unit.

Globally, children have had to live through an average of six months of required and recommended nationwide lockdowns since early 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic began. Venezuelan children have had to endure one of the longest periods, with intermittent lockdowns preventing children from attending school for up to 16 months. Although New Zealand schools were not closed for this length of time, it would be naïve to think that the months spent at home away from friends and routine during our level 3 and 4 lockdowns have not had an impact.

A survey was undertaken in May 2020 involving nearly 2,500 10 and 11-year-old New Zealand children. On a positive note, eight in ten children reported very good to excellent health. Nearly 80% reported having a good time with their family in lockdown. Children living in a larger bubble (six or more people) during Alert Level 4 were more likely to experience better health and wellbeing.

However, mental health was impacted with around 40% of children showing symptoms of depression and anxiety, due to reasons such as concern about their family’s financial situation. Māori and Pacific children recorded lower depression and anxiety, which was attributed to a greater family connection.

An Argentinian study undertaken in mid-2020 found that 62% of the participants showed sleep disorders,

girls more than boys, with the percentage increasing with age. The majority of the children (62.4%) spent less than 30 minutes a day reading, and 36.2% spent less than 30 minutes a day undertaking physical activity.

Most of the children communicated with their friends/family outside of the household at least once a day via WhatsApp (65.5%), social media (32.2%), or online gaming (38.1%), and this percentage increased with age. Social media was used by 14.1% of the children and 19.5% played online games constantly or on and off throughout the day, especially boys.

Almost half (47.1%) of the parents were worried about getting/transmitting Covid-19 and 27.9% were afraid to leave the house for essential activities such as work or essential shopping. Besides, 59.1% reported being worried about their children’s screen time, and 68.4% found it stressful to keep children entertained during the lockdown. Also, 16.6% of the parents felt lonely, 18.8% did not feel capable to help their child with school homework and 45.1% did not have time to play with their children.

A significant amount of research has been undertaken that generally suggests there has been a negative impact on children’s mental health. More research is needed to understand the long-term effects of the lockdowns, not just on mental health, but also on development, learning, academic, and eventually on future workplace behaviours. Perhaps today’s children will become known as Generation C.