“Cast adrift on a tide of uncertainty and unfulfilled dreams!” These were the words used by the former head of a London Girl’s School recently to describe the state of our generation of lockdown teenagers.
The threat to the mental health and education of our teens as a result of the forced closure of schools through lockdown has been a common thread of many recent media reports.
Add into this now, the fear that we all feel as stories escalate about mass gatherings in Britain’s parks; the excessive consumption of alcohol and the threat of many young people being targeted by county lines drugs gangs and suddenly overnight the post lockdown world as a mother of teenagers seems less bright.
There is no doubt that the gradual easing of the early restrictions and the ability for us and our teenagers to meet up with friends once again – albeit outside and at a safe distance – came as a welcome relief. Yet like many I was also wary of how we could police this when our teens were outside the trusted cordon of our homes and away from our watchful gaze.
Trust is the foundation for many decisions we make as parents as our teenagers grow up, spread their wings and start to move beyond the boundaries so implicit in the early years of parenting. Covid-19 has certainly given cause to test the true depth of that trust. There is no room for little white lies in this scenario. The old adage “what you don’t know can’t hurt you”, is no longer valid and it is something I find myself reiterating multiple times a day as my own offspring head off to meet up with friends, just in case they are drawn into temptation. The risks now more than ever seem more threatening.
Yet let’s be honest whatever rules we all apply to choosing who to see and where, unless we all sign reciprocal disclaimers we can never be truly sure of who others have seen or have come in contact with. Therefore it stands to reason that if we can’t be sure, then it’s fair to say neither can our teens.
I have been perturbed by the ever increasing reports and photos of the festival-like scenes and behaviour being played out all over the country by groups of young teenagers and adults. I have not however been surprised.
Restricted as we all have been, it has been tough. For those without access to a garden, however, there must have been moments during the long, hot weeks of lockdown where their homes felt like prisons and insanity came knocking at the door.
In our pocket of London we are surrounded by green spaces and have felt eternally grateful over the last few weeks not only for the welcome respite offered by nature on our doorstep, but also for the ability for us to vary our daily walks.
In the early days the Commons were eerily quiet; virtually deserted day and night except for those exercising or walking their dogs and one thing that was guaranteed, was there was not a teenager in sight, as many chose to indulge in the unsolicited pleasure of long lie-ins and newly unfettered access to their screens, as parents everywhere recognised their pain.
Yet as the weeks ticked by and no doubt the boredom set in, there was clear evidence in the early mornings of gatherings from the night before. Bins ignored, vast quantities of bottles and pizza boxes were abandoned and left for the armies of local volunteers, who have became a more common sight than the early morning dog walkers as they fought to clear and restore the Commons to their sanctuary like status; a scenario played out across the country no doubt but more so in the densely populated areas of London.
Now, as restrictions have been officially eased, stories abound locally of large groups gathering as early as midday, drunken teenagers, police chases, arrests, fires and abandoned alcohol bottles and nitrous oxide canisters. Where to now?
There is no opportunity for a return to school before the “normal” official end of term, so as parents we are looking ahead to an even longer summer without the opportunity for summer camps, work experience or even holidays. Beyond that is the abyss left by a lack of access to education. A dismal future indeed and a worrying one.
As we all search for a solution to this nightmare, we can all only be sure of one thing – there isn’t one – not least at yet and the job of parenting in lockdown will just get harder. Same old, same old seems to be the pattern of the days, weeks and months ahead. Never before has groundhog day seemed more like the new norm. The only light at the end of this tunnel for our teens at least is a return to school and I for one was delighted to hear that is on the horizon.
That said, my worry like many parents is that this new found freedom will precipitate a situation whereby they don’t return to school and that right now is my worst nightmare. The impact of Covid-19 across the population is immeasurable but there is some talk of the positive legacies that may occur as a result of reforms forced by this crisis. It is hard to see how this can be possible when considering the educational landscape.
The disproportionate learning losses resulting from the lockdown of schools will compel our teens to play catch-up for some time to come and the full repercussions of this may never be fully realised. Lost experiences through missed milestone moments are unfortunate, sad even; but a loss of access to education commits our teens to a future without purpose or aspiration and that is scary indeed.