The author Ishana Sharma of Cathedral and John Connon School, Mumbai puts forth her viewpoint about how children felt during the pandemic.
The date was 22nd March, 2020. It was the first day of the national lockdown in India and nobody knew what lay ahead. The lockdown generated a conflate of emotions including surprise, tension and a tinge of delight. Mostly all schools and colleges had closed one or two weeks prior to the formal announcement of national lockdown and I vividly remember how happy my friends and I were with the initial closure as we had absolutely no idea how long this would continue.
I personally remember being so flabbergasted and petrified of Covid-19 during its initial stages. What was more staggering than the lockdown was the thought that a virus could leave the entire world so frazzled and confused. I was evidently overwhelmed by all that was happening. As a matter of fact, nobody would have fancied staying at home, isolated from the rest of the world, not knowing when things would go back to normal.
Online school was a novelty for all of us. Log into your teacher’s online class, turn your camera on, unmute yourself, then mute again, make notes, submit assignments, take a break, log into yet another class, eat, sleep and repeat. This is what the past year has been like for children in a nutshell. Without a doubt, the process was rather monotonous and mundane in the beginning, but soon we adjusted to it. I give full credit to all my teachers for trying to keep us engaged at all times, but virtual classes have their own limitations. All the exhilaration and enthusiasm of going to school physically, spending time with friends, standing up to greet your teachers and generally being in the whole “school” environment was absent.
If online schooling was not a challenge in itself, children also had to face isolation and there was no socialization during these unprecedented times. The social quotient for children was almost negligible. This greatly affected their mental health. As a matter of fact, we had to adapt to virtual birthday parties rather than the conventional celebrations, which was extremely disappointing. As far as my memory goes, the last birthday party I remember going to in-person was in January 2020, which is more than a year ago.
Children and adolescents throughout the world have faced a predominant onset of psychological problems varying from stress, anxiety and irritability. Certainty is a coping mechanism for children, knowing exactly what will happen makes children feel secure and sheltered. However, Covid-19 completely eradicated any signs of certitude and made a substantial number of children feel vulnerable and more prone to illnesses, both mental and physical.
The physical impact of Covid-19 may not be as much in minors as it is in adults. However, it is noticeable that children are not immune to the social, emotional, educational, mental and psychological effect of the disease. Abysmally, 91% of the student population has been negatively affected due to Covid-19. Children are in constant stress and they have suffered great academic losses as well. We are privileged to even be attending classes and making academic progress. On the contrary, a plethora of children do not even have basic facilities such as proper internet or functioning electronic devices.
While adults have ventured out during various stages of un-lockdown children have been strictly confined to their homes. This has led to the condition of children being more adversely affected than adults. Rather than in-person interaction with mentors and peers, children are left confined to their homes as they continue to drown in fear and anxiety. Fifteen studies describing the conditions of 22,996 children/adolescents showed drastic changes in statistics of mental illnesses. For instance, 34.5%, 41.7%, 42.3% and 30.8% children have grievously been suffering from anxiety, depression, irritability and inattention, respectively. Out of the 22,996 innocent children, 22.5% developed a consequential fear of losing their loved ones to this egregious disease.
As we all are aware, many children have neurodevelopmental, behavioural and/or emotional difficulties such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Their conditions require special attention and care, which has become difficult to find during the pandemic. This leads to a higher probability of their conditions worsening.
Situations did improve by a fraction in late 2020 and early 2021, giving hope for a better future to many. Children started going to school physically in countries such as Japan, Sweden, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Belgium and France. However, there was a sudden rise in cases in many countries shortly after lifting of the lockdown, shutting down schools again and reverting to virtual schooling.
One cannot even begin to imagine the academic loss suffered by young minds aspiring to be doctors, scientists, engineers and artists. Imagine paying the school fees, saying goodbye to all your friends and family and then being struck by the lockdown, not knowing when that dream of yours will actually become a reality. This is the life of not one, but thousands of students, who have lived this nightmare and faced the dejecting but true reality.
In conclusion, what had to happen has already happened and now, we must approach ways of fixing this collateral damage. We can start by looking at the positive side which is getting to spend quality time with yourself and your family. One thing we can do to protect children mentally is by counselling them and helping them overcome their fears. We need to find the light at the end of the tunnel and let it lead our journey ahead. The last year has been uncalled for, the situation has taken a toll on the mental health of citizens. With a series of lockdowns, unemployment, depression, health scares and an overall forbidding situation, it is vital that we do not lose our calm and sail through this storm together. The existence of humans has not ceased despite several pandemics that occurred in the past. The greatest and most admirable thing about life is that time passes, and this too shall pass. We must not give up just yet and rise from the ashes, stronger than ever.