What challenges are youth in New Zealand facing due to the Covid-19 pandemic?

By Jason He

Overall, New Zealand has been praised for its collective response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a country. In March 2020 prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced the implementation of a 4-level alert system to manage and minimize the risk of COVID-19 in New Zealand. Although these Alert Levels were largely effective in containing the pandemic, they did come with their own challenges — especially for the younger population.

Alert Level 4 was implemented on Wednesday, 25 March 2020. The country was in full lockdown, which meant that people were instructed to stay at home, travel was very limited and public venues and businesses (except for essential services such as supermarkets, pharmacies, etc.) were closed. Coping with all these changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was a huge challenge for the youth of New Zealand.

One of the biggest challenges for them during this time was the closure of educational facilities. Schools were forced to change and adapt to teaching digitally, via online classes. Course criteria and methods of assessment had to change too. With very little time to prepare, online learning may not have been effective or accessible for all students in New Zealand. Providing home schooling for younger children has also been a challenge for some parents, who were either having to work from home, or are essential workers who have to go out to work — for these parents it may have been very difficult to provide their children with the same support that having a teacher in a classroom would have. Finally, in some cases students even dropped out of their education altogether due to lack of motivation and support or because they had to search for a job to help support their family during these unprecedented times. It has been difficult for youth, their parents and their caregivers to make education a priority during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has also had a huge impact on the mental health of youth in New Zealand. Drastic change is never easy, especially for younger people. Strict restrictions during the lockdown has been a big psychological challenge, and it has affected the wellbeing of many children. Being isolated at home may have caused an increase in stress, anxiety and depression. It will have been challenging for young people not to be able to socialize with friends or family members, or to undertake group activities such as sports.

Another factor to consider are the homes that children are staying in: they may not always be safe for them, physically or mentally. They might not have enough healthy food or warmth to keep them well during the lockdown. Not only might their health be a risk at home, but also their safety too. Amidst the pressures of lockdown and being forced to stay at home, cases of family violence such as abuse against women and children could increase. Seeking help and staying safe and healthy will have been even more of a challenge for young people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday 8 June 2020 we moved to Alert Level 1, and everything started to go back to a ‘new’ normal. However, after 102 days of no community transfers of COVID-19 cases, four new cases were identified in Auckland, with an unknown source, on Tuesday 11 August 2020. Auckland Region went back to Alert Level 3 the next day.

Just when we thought the challenges for youth due to COVID-19 pandemic were easing, we got hit again, with the same — if not more — challenges for the future…

 

Jason He is a member of Child Helpline International’s #Youth advisory council.