Children in the coronavirus crisis

22. March 2021

home-schooling and isolation

home-schooling and isolation

What are the physical and psychological consequences of the coronavirus crisis for your children? The coronavirus pandemic has turned parents’ and children’s worlds upside down, severely restricting the everyday lives of families with children. Children can only attend crèches, kindergartens and schools if they need emergency care.

Personal contact with grandparents and friends is off the menu during the coronavirus crisis. Leisure activities such as sports events are cancelled, and children can’t see their usual daycare staff and school teachers.

In addition, parents and children are often overwhelmed by home-schooling, as the parents have to work from home at the same time as home-schooling their children. The whole situation tends to be very stressful.

How are children dealing with not being able to see their friends? And how about children from socially disadvantaged families living in cramped living conditions, perhaps with several siblings? Excepting their immediate family, some children have had no contact with the outside world for weeks or months.

And this could lead to further consequences of the coronavirus crisis: behavioural problems, psychosomatic illnesses, developmental disorders and sleep disorders in our children. As we have frequently read of late, experts have also voiced another major concern: the increase in violence against children during the coronavirus crisis.

Pathological media use

Computer addiction has risen sharply in children and adolescents. An recent article in “Welt-Online” described how a seven-year-old gambled away 2,700 euros on his mother’s smartphone. Media consumption has also increased during the pandemic.

Children and adolescents sit at a tablet or computer screen for distance learning classes, and when classes finish they switch to playing computer games because there is nothing else going on. Health insurance company DAK launched the “Media Addiction 2020” preventative campaign, and found that gaming time has increased by an average of 75 percent.

The average time spent playing computer games on weekdays rose from 79 to 139 minutes a day, and at weekends to 193 minutes a day. And the tendency is rising. There is a great danger that children and adolescents will drift off and lose themselves in the exciting, colourful world of online games, says Professor Rainer Thomasius, medical director of the addiction centre at the UKE.

It’s so easy: to play video games, kids simply have to click on the same keyboard they are using to do their schoolwork. How are parents supposed to control or prevent this? In addition, children can even keep playing during online lessons, which they would never get away with during normal lessons.

Hard times for young adults

And how are things for our adolescents? In the last few weeks and months both politicians and the media have condemned an entire generation. Young people have been described as party-happy “super spreaders“. They were even told they shouldn’t be going to parties. Adolescents have anything but parties in mind, however, because they are faced with enormous problems.

A current youth study paints the following picture. Every four years the Heidelberg Sinus Institute researches the world of 14 to 17 year-old teenagers in Germany. A hedonistic society is far from the truth, the youth study shows: “Today’s young people are significantly more serious than their predecessors. Teenagers are worried about climate change and the lack of social cohesion,” it says.

Adolescents and young adults are facing major challenges during the coronavirus crisis. They are worried about the future, feel lonely, and are dealing with family conflicts, heartache and even depression. Their worries revolve around: “Will I be able to finish school” or “When will I see my friends again”. At the moment, the younger generation is feeling frankly unsettled. We should all be more understanding of young people in the current situation.

In addition, doctors have found that young people are already significantly overweight. After an interview with School Senator Ties Rabe (SPD), the BVKJ Hamburg released a statement which succinctly summarised the situation as follows: “We have perceived an alarming increase in obesity as a result of the closure of sports clubs, the lack of school-based sports activities, and children not walking to school.”

Long-term consequences of the coronavirus crisis

Perhaps in a few years, we will look back on the current time and we won’t be talking about COVID-19 and the coronavirus crisis. Instead, perhaps we might read:“This was the time during which children developed lockdown syndrome, which continues to affect our society today, and continues to ensure that our children are not developing normally”, as stated by Stephen Pusch, administrator of the Heinsberg district, on Maybrit Illner’s show on February 4th.

The German Minister for Family Affairs Franziska Giffey is also seeing “depressive moods and loneliness” in schoolchildren. In some families, the stress being caused by the current coronavirus lockdown is putting children’s welfare at risk. Paediatricians are sounding the alarm. In an interview with WELT editor Laura Fritsch, Norman Heise, chair of the state parents’ committee in Berlin, said “Children have stopped talking, and are having physical and psychological problems due to the coronavirus lockdown”.

An investigation in August 2020 by the Pronova company health insurance fund has already shown how our children are coping with the coronavirus crisis. One hundred and fifty paediatricians were asked to assess the effects of the coronavirus crisis on children and adolescents.

Forty percent stated that they had observed increased physical complaints in their patients. Much more worrying, however, are the results on psychological stress: nine out of ten paediatricians said that things had got worse. You can imagine what the situation looks like today, six months later.

Tips from UNICEF on dealing with the coronavirus crisis

Meaningful ways to keep busy during the coronavirus lockdown: UNICEF has put together some tips to stave off boredom during the coronavirus crisis and ensure that your children aren’t constantly glued to screens, tablets and smartphones.

Coronavirus crisis: Meaningful things to do at home with the kids – the WWF offers tips on how children and adults can spend their time at home in a meaningful way. From craft projects and audio books for the young ones to videos and online seminars for teenagers.

Caritas Limburg suggests a good way to structure your children’s day

Together with your kids, draw up a daily plan. Depending on the children’s ages, you can use symbols instead of words. Hang the plan up somewhere that everyone can see it. In the evening, reflect together on what worked well and what could perhaps be done differently. And very important – every evening, consciously reward yourself and your family with a joint activity for another day spent (positively) together! Be creative and, despite having a schedule, remain flexible in designing and implementing it! Maybe you can think of some joint family projects that you would like to plan and implement? (gardening, customising your bikes, tidying up the basement…) You can download the plan here.

What else could you do?

It is important to establish a fixed daily structure for children and teenagers, so set times that you can stick to. Start with what time you’re all going to get up, and include times for playing, studying, meals and going to bed. Media consumption should be limited.

Stay healthy and take care of your children (and pets too).