Canadian youth during the Covid-19 pandemic

By Phyllis Huang

It is challenging to define the difficulties Covid-19 has induced in young Canadians. My own experiences vary from close friends in my immediate circles. Canada’s youth constitute a quarter of the country’s population and are diverse; though our experiences differ, it is undeniable that there are common challenges that youth are forced to tackle.

Kids Help Phone, a Canadian national child helpline, has witnessed a daunting rise in the number of young people calling. In a single day, around 2,000 calls and texts are received. Some calls received by the helpline have even indicated cases of domestic abuse as isolation continues.

Everyone is forced out of their comfort zone, and uncertainty causes many minds to wander into dark places. Calls that Kids Help Phone received all shared similar sentiments: “scared”, “nervous”, “where are my friends?”, “what’s happening with my family?”. One of the greatest challenges that youth face is the deterioration of their mental health as they become embroiled in concerns surrounding social isolation and even finances. Younger children are not immune to Covid-19 stressors. They are anxious about why they cannot see their friends and cannot go to summer camps. Those that are older have lost potential jobs and are worried about funding their own education. Youth of all ages are surrounded by adults who may have been laid off or have even tragically contracted the virus. The truth is that children should thrive in a naiveté-tainted childhood. However, they have been thrown into the harsh realities of a global pandemic. A threat that has caused school closures. A threat that has forced them to be deprived of community programs they were dependent on, from breakfast programs to school counsellors. Charities such as I Can For Kids in Calgary and Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada in Toronto have stepped up to mitigate the loss of resources.

The disturbing narrative of Covid-19 has yet to come to a conclusion. The next chapter is back-to-school season as children embark on journeys back to “normalcy”. While the government is concerned with a logistically sound return, they must suture in messages that assuage our youth. Rather than solely acknowledging these unprecedented times, our children need comfort and compassion more than ever. The statements some Canadian officials have crafted about deeming the “Easter Bunny’s” or the “Tooth Fairy’s” operations as essential are incredibly endearing.

Be wary of clustering the experiences of all children into an oversimplified story. High poverty rates among minority youth prior to the pandemic have left them more susceptible to financial disruptions. Be attentive to those around you, ask the youth and children in your networks how they are doing. Take the time to understand their individualized struggles. Youth have voices. They can advocate for themselves, but it is contingent on adults and institutions that they rely upon to listen, empathize, and amplify them during these erratic times.

 

Phyllis Huang is a member of Child Helpline International’s #Youth advisory council.

 

Charities across Canada need support so they can continue to help the most vulnerable children. You can find more information about what you can do to help those most in need during COVID-19 at CanadaHelps.org