Why we're giving 'Generation Covid' a voice to share how the pandemic has affected them

Julie Etchingham Tonight blog
Julie Etchingham presents ITV's Tonight programme 'Generation Covid: Our Children in Crisis?' Credit: ITV Tonight

It's been a strange time, hasn't it, with the lifting of coronavirus lockdown?

Little by little, we're emerging from behind our doors, venturing out, slowly but surely pushing back the edge of the small circles in which most of us have been living our lives.

If you've got kids like I have - two boys aged 14 and 17 - that gate that swung so cruelly shut on their young lives is starting, slowly, to open again.

They have been fortunate.

Apart from being subjected to my cooking more than usual - they've had space at home, a garden, a dog and have had access to computers in order to get some lessons online.

We've all been in good physical health.

But even with these privileges it's been challenging. The anxiety, the boredom, the isolation from friends and no certainty about their future world will look like.

As a mum, I've felt sad and worried for my boys - their journey to school no further than from their bed to their desk, all the time life's little punctuation points of celebration and freedom slipping by.

When I met up with girlfriends, we all shared similar stories and worries.

One has a teenage daughter who doesn't open the curtains - another who'd got so used to being in the house, she no longer wanted to go out, even with lockdown lifted.

So with warning after warning about Covid-19's long term impact on young people's mental health - not least from Childline - I was keen, not just a journalist but as a mum - that we devote a Tonight programme to listening to kids' experiences of lockdown.

To give 'Generation Covid' a voice and to help us understand what they've been through.

We've spoken to kids up and down the country - from primary school age to A level. Some in comfortable homes - others in about the worst circumstances imaginable.

'I used to have a happy life, but now everything's gone wrong': Tonight speaks to primary school children about their experiences of the pandemic

Some of the stories have been heartbreaking and shocking.

It is no wonder that the Children's Commissioner, Anne Longfield, is calling for a mental health counsellor to be based in every secondary school, when the kids go back in September.

In Leeds, Ayla, who's 15 was completely candid when she described being separated from her friends in lockdown. Softly spoken and tentative, she told me:

Phoebe, 19, who lives in Blackpool was in tears when she told us about her Nanna.

"She's in a care home at the minute and she's got dementia and she's really poorly. I'm trying not to cry - not being able to see her for two months has been really really hard.

"That's affected me in trying to keep strong for the family."

For some of the kids we spoke to - bereavement has been terrible.

Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities have been hardest hit.

Four teenagers we spoke to in Tower Hamlets had all lost friends and relatives. And they'd had the extra burden of explaining the rules of lockdown to older generations who don't speak English.

"If we can't communicate it properly," Muhsin, 17, told me: "If we misunderstand it then we are essentially putting our older generations at risk, and that responsibility, that burden we face during lockdown is something that's being overlooked"

We heard stories of older kids taking responsibility for homeschooling little brothers and sisters, of family rows in cramped homes, of fears for the future.

It's important to say too, that we also heard some moments of light and hope.

Some of the older kids said they'd learned self discipline in getting on with their studies, that they had enjoyed time with parents usually too busy to sit down for family meals.

One student had decided to ditch plans for university and start his own business, so he could feel a bit more in control of his future.

Child psychologist Laverne Antrobus speaks to Julie Etchingham about the "enormous" mental health toll on children and her advice to parents:

But however Generation Covid has experienced lockdown - there is no getting away from the fact it will shape all their lives.

We're hearing a lot from politicians about the economy, jobs and getting the country moving again - and rightly so. Our young generation deserves to be right up there on the list of their priorities.

It will be on their shoulders that Britain secures its future. We have to make sure they are strong enough.

Watch ‘Generation Covid: Our Children in Crisis? Tonight’, 7.30pm on Thursday 16 July on ITV and the ITV Hub