Tough family dynamics made lockdown most difficult for children

Children already struggling before the Covid-19 lockdown bore the brunt of the problems it created.

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The Office of the Children’s Commissioner undertook Life in Lockdown, a survey of 1400 tamariki aged between 8 and 18, immediately following the level four and three lockdowns in March to May this year.

Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft said it showed how Covid-19 exacerbated existing inequalities with the impact of the lockdowns varying depending on the children’s family situation, with those already disadvantaged usually faring worse.

“When asked what the worst thing about lockdown was, relationships … rose to the top. About half replied that, along with missing friends, tough family dynamics or annoying siblings were what made lockdown most difficult,” Judge Becroft said.

Digital inequality was also highlighted by the survey. About 22 percent of respondents did not have access to their own device and 3 percent had no access to a device.

Māori and Pacific children were even less likely to have access.

The survey also asked a range of questions exploring how overall wellbeing had changed since the last survey in 2018, Judge Becroft said.

Overall, the wellbeing of most of the children and young people was higher than responses to the same questions in 2018, but wellbeing was not experienced equally with students from lower decile secondary schools reporting consistently lower wellbeing than those from higher decile schools.

“A concerning finding is the overall low level of students that agree, or strongly agree that ‘I can cope when things get hard’ as well as the significantly lower response for secondary school students compared to responses in 2018. Surprisingly, a much lower proportion of decile 6-10 students agreed they could cope, than in 2018,” Judge Becroft said.

“These results show how important it is for policy makers to recognise the different pressures on families and address the underlying issues of poverty that drive so many inequalities. It also shows the urgent need to address mental wellbeing of young people in Aotearoa New Zealand.”

A surprising upside of the lockdown was how much tamariki and rangatahi valued spending more time with their whānau.

“We learned that young people really valued time with their family. When we are thinking of what to give our kids for Christmas this year, maybe it’s more of our time,” he said.

“This also sends a powerful message to policy makers, that if they’re really interested in improving life for young people, then solutions for freeing their parents and caregivers to spend time with them is really important.

“A third of students described strengthened family relationships as the one positive thing about Covid-19 lockdown. In addition, nearly half told us that their relationships with whānau and friends improved during lockdown.”

One 12-year-old girl said in the survey: “I loved spending time with my family because I feel I could relate to them more than I could before”.

Judge Becroft said the survey demonstrated the importance of seeking children’s views in setting policy.

“Crucially, our research demonstrates how vital it is to seek the views of children and young people when making policy that affects them. That’s their right, and it makes policy decisions better too.”

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