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30th Jan 2021

Children have “borne the brunt” of Covid pandemic, new research has found

Trine Jensen-Burke

Kept away from friends, school, grandparents, playgrounds – this has been an unprecedented 11 months for everyone – but especially so to our children.

According to a new report, children in Ireland have “borne the brunt” of the pandemic so far, as families came under strain because of homeschooling and social isolation.

The study, A Qualitative Study of Child and Adolescent Mental Health during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Ireland, is published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health and involved input from 48 families from across Ireland, in which children ranged in age from four to 18.

According to the Irish Examiner, a total of 94 people were interviewed for the study, with 45 of these being children. The research was regarding the first lockdown, and a follow-up study on lockdowns two and three is currently underway.

The study found more than half those interviewed believed children had borne the brunt of Covid-19 and 80 percent said social isolation was a major factor, while 69 percent admitted stress over home-schooling.

“Children were socially withdrawn and socially isolated – and parents said that children felt it much more than adults due to their lack of fluidity with digital means of communication,” the study said.

“The key findings suggest that public health restrictions had adverse implications on children and adolescents’ mental health. Parents and caregivers reported higher levels of stress, depression, and anxiety among their dependents resulting from social isolation. These conditions were exacerbated in children and adolescents with developmental disorders.”

Many of the parents interviewed told the researchers that the lockdown had lead to negative behavioural changes, and depression and/or anxiety among children and young people in their household.

“My conclusion is that children have borne the brunt of this,” one parent told the researchers.

Another parent said:

“It was really sad, like they were really upset because they lost out on all the typical rites of passage that they were looking forward to, like the graduation, their end of year ceremony.”

Homeschooling took its toll on children across the nation – as well as their parents.

“There were so many projects, nearly there was one project every week and then there was like every single subject on the thing and like she’s getting us to do like so much,” one 11-year-old told the researchers.

Dr Katriona O’Sullivan, a psychology lecturer at Maynooth University and lead author of the research, said it was clear from conducting the interviews that many families were under pressure. She said it was surprising how open many of the younger people were about how they were feeling.

“All of the parents were stressed over home-schooling,” she said, adding it was worth questioning whether it was actually practical for parents to both work from home and home-school.

As for children, O’Sullivan said: “The interaction with schools [this time] is better but psychologically it is worse now.”

The psychologist said she believed this was the case based on feedback from interviewees and a sense that young people are asking “when is this ever going to end?”

Parents also described their children struggling with the enormity of the pandemic and the associated restrictions, while parents of children with special needs faced additional difficulties.