John Coleman is a psychologist with a long-standing interest in young people. He has written extensively about adolescent development, having worked in schools, universities and in research centres. His current interests are support for parents of teenagers, and the teenage brain. During lockdown he has been writing blogs and running workshops for parents and for professionals about the situation and how it may affect teenagers and their families. John kindly ran a workshop for us on this subject, so we asked him if he’d be happy to share some of his fascinating insight on our blog channel.
What do we know now about the impact of lockdown on young people's social lives, that we couldn't have anticipated before?
It would have been hard to predict how the lockdown was going to affect young people. We now know that the reaction has been very varied, depending on all sorts of circumstances. Some have done well during lockdown. This is because the pressure of school has been lifted, they have been able to sleep for as long as they liked, and any conflict over screen-time has disappeared since it has been essential for everyone to use the internet. On the other hand, some have struggled, especially those living in cramped conditions, those with on-going family conflict, and those with pre-existing health or mental health conditions.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge as they transition out of lockdown?
The biggest challenge is likely to be re-integration into the social world that existed before lockdown. This will be especially tricky for those who are lacking in self-confidence, or for those who were on the margins of the peer group. For those who already felt isolated, and who struggled with friendship, this will be a testing time. However, I do not share the general anxiety about the return to school: in my view most teenagers will be pleased to be back, and will accept the obstacles that have been caused by the fact that they have missed some elements of the curriculum. Most teenagers are very adaptable, and will adjust to the new situation more easily than adults expect.
How lasting do you think the impact of lockdown will be?
It depends on which aspects of the pandemic are being considered. As stated above, I believe that education will rapidly readjust and overcome the challenges. However, the long-term economic impact is bound to be very substantial, and this will undoubtedly affect the lives of those in the older age groups. It is very concerning to think that youth unemployment will rise to levels we have not seen since the 1980s. I also think there may be long-term impacts on those with different types of health conditions. Services have been either severely restricted or closed altogether during lockdown. Those with long-term conditions (epilepsy, diabetes etc), and those with mental health problems will have missed out on the treatments that would normally have been on offer, and this may impact on their health over the long term.
What kind of support do they need to help them deal with these changes?
I believe extra support for parents over the autumn would make a significant difference. As people struggle to get back to work, and the economy deteriorates, it is going to be hard for parents to give the teenagers in the family the support they need. Innovation and creativity are needed to find ways of getting more information and support to families in the medium term. As for schools, I believe support for teachers would be valuable in this period of readjustment. Workshops on teenage development, as well as opportunities for reflection and reappraisal would create a caring environment. Teachers are going to be under considerable pressure this autumn, and additional support would assist those who themselves will be adjusting to changing circumstances.