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By UNICEF Australia
19 May 2020

Despite the abundance of news and information on COVID-19, there has been little media and political attention given to the impacts of the coronavirus restrictions on young people.

UNICEF Australia was interested to hear from children and young people about the lived impacts of coronavirus and the developing and ongoing concerns they have. 

As part of the Young Ambassador Program’s national research into the views of young people in Australia, UNICEF Australia surveyed more than 1,000 young people between the ages of 13 and 17 and conducted consultations with young people from both regional towns and capital cities. 

In their words, this is what they told us.

UNICEF Australia heard from 1,000 young people between the ages of 13 and 17 on how COVID-19 has affected their lives© UNICEFAustralia/Simic

About Social Connectedness:

Seven out of 10 Australian teens interviewed said the lack of social interaction was negatively impacting them.

  • ​“The social interactions that you get with people when you are at university and then when you don’t - it’s massive. Because I’m from a small town, I barely get any social interaction as it is.” - Female student, regional NSW.
  • “Now it’s only been like a month or two that everyone started to drop off and not be able to socialise… I’m getting pretty sour about hanging around my family all the time and I don’t know, it’s just pretty difficult.” - Female student, regional NSW.
  • I used to work as a lifeguard for my local pool and so my job was one of the first to be shut down and that’s pretty hard on me because not only am I not getting much money but also the pool is one of the main areas I like to go to. I enjoy working there and I enjoy talking to people there so I basically lost one of my key points in my social network which makes it more difficult to talk to people, which makes it more difficult to keep stress in and it just goes on and on.” - Male student, regional NSW.
A year 11 student learning from home is one of the many young people whose lives have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the national response to it.© UNICEF Australia/2020/Tran

About stress and anxiety:

Just under half of those interviewed said that COVID-19 had negatively impacted their levels of stress and anxiety. One in six said their levels had been very negatively impacted.

  • “I know for me specifically, my stress levels have just gone through the roof…  a lot of news articles are specifically about kids and metropolitan areas, who go to really expensive schools, saying how bad their experience is and how stressed they are. What about the kids who don't even have basic internet access? I can imagine how they are feeling.” - Female student, regional NSW.
  • “I wasn't really stressed on a macroscopic level. I had trust in our government and several other institutions who take into account this stuff - like the pandemic… I definitely became a lot more stressed on a personal level with my ability to carry out work and keep doing online classes and do all the assignments and homework and all those sorts of things on time from home, staying in my bedroom where my desk is, or always being tired every day.” - Male student, Perth WA.
  • “I am someone who has anxiety and has already been studying for Year 12 and my HSC. I was kind of happy that I was going to be at home because I was in my own environment. But I just found myself getting overwhelmed and just constantly just being worried I wasn’t going to get my work done.”-  Female, Sydney NSW.
A high school student studying from home during isolation© UNICEF Australia/2020/Abbott

About education and the future:

The overwhelming majority of young people say that they have had their education disrupted or stopped entirely. 

Older students were more concerned about future conditions than younger students with those aged 13 (71 per cent) reporting their education had been disrupted or stopped far less than seniors aged 16 and 17-years-old (93 and 89 per cent, respectively).

  • “Everyone likes to say we're all in the same boat. But different schools are really giving out different levels of help to the students.” - Female student, regional NSW.
  • “It's kind of scary to think that after this there may not be kind of like job security moving forward - like being in Year 12 and wondering how the HSC is going to pan out, and university offers are going to pan out. And then adding onto that fact, there may not even be a workforce to join after all of this happens.” - Female student, regional NSW.
  • “It's going to make it harder. It's already hard for us to go and get jobs and a house and all those kinds of things in life… it's going to make it a lot harder than what it would normally.” - Female student, regional NSW.
  • “When I was texting people during isolation, the common theme that I noticed … in regards to doing their schoolwork is that they feel battered or drained… I don't think children of highschool age are as self-disciplined or have known their own routine of working from home when there's so little people. And it's hard for them to get up. Like almost all of us won't even be going out for shopping and things… there was a period of the holidays during the end of last term where I didn't leave our property for 16 days, and that's just very, it just taxes people a lot…” - Male, Perth WA.
Many young people's lives have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the national response to it.© UNICEFAustralia/2020/Tran

About their friends and family:

More than half are also worried about the health and safety of friends and family and over a third are worried about a friend or family member contracting the virus.

  • “My mum is a teacher in the school and it [coronavirus] could be there because she's teaching all the nurses kids who can't be off…. it's just worrying like if you've got grandparents in town because .... if you're in contact with grandparents or other people you could be passing it on to them.” - Female student, regional NSW.
  • “So I live with my 87-year-old grandma, so obviously she's someone that's at risk for this disease. Basically when that sort of happened, our family decided that we would just go like full lockdown. So we have a government carer for our house that cleans and looks after my grandma some days. But we've sort of changed that so now that person goes shopping for us so we don't have to leave the house. Then we disinfect it when it arrives and bring it into the house and that's basically how our routine's been. Since coming back to school, as soon as I get home I have to disinfect all of my stuff, then I go for a shower immediately, put my clothes in like this like corona pile I guess, and then I just go to my room and just stay away from my grandma at all times.” - Male student, Perth WA.
Children have been staying connected with their friends and family online during the COVID-19 pandemic© UNICEFAustralia/2020/Simons

About being recognised and included in the national response:

Over two fifths of young people feel that there has been little recognition that many of them are either on the frontline as workers or have borne the brunt of the economic downturn through the job losses that have hit multiple sectors and industries.

Two in five also believe that many of the discussions about children and young people (for instance, around school closures) are more about the impact on parents and carers and believe they should be included as a primary consideration.

  • “I think what's being overlooked is that we're also adjusting to a global pandemic… it's sort of hard to recognise that we're in a history event that people are going to be learning about in school in 50 years' time. So it's kind of crazy to think that the media is only focusing on teenagers as kids that are in school, and not the fact that we're actually kids and we're missing out on things and that our mental health is suffering.” - Female student, regional NSW.
  • “I work at Bunnings and it's so hectic it's busier than it’s ever been - than we are at Christmas or anything like that …. I had to stand on the door for 10 hours and tell people you know I have to count each one and everyone's just getting mad at you, they're like getting angry, swearing and stuff like that and I just think the whole mental health of it all. I feel like people are going to have to learn how to be nice to each other when we get out of this… It's not all about me, me, me.” - Female student, regional NSW.
  • “In terms of decisions, like should we be in schools and stuff like that, I feel the onus hasn't really been on the students, but rather the teachers and specialists who know I guess what's best for us. And I guess there really hasn't been much opportunity for young people to make decisions on the matter. But I don't see how that could be different. I think the only thing that could be done is just hearing like [conversations like this]… so they are seeing how people are feeling, and also observing behaviours.” - Male student, Perth WA.

For more information check out our report: Living in Limbo