Our Primary and Secondary schools did very well to stay in session from September to December. Following the abrupt finish to the traditional school year in March, it was very important for our children to get back into classrooms, reconnect with friends and have some degree of normality return to their lives. Going back to Level 5 restrictions after Christmas, which includes schools being closed once again, was not greeted with whoops of joy or anything like it. At the start of 2020 a prolonged break from school would’ve been any child’s dream, I think – certainly my own, albeit a long time ago! The reality of studying from home, combined with the loss of a host of extracurricular activities: all sports, music, drama, art, swimming; family visits, parties, rites of passage like First Communion/Confirmation/foreign trips away with school/school tours/ Graduation from Primary and Secondary/Gaeltacht and Foreign Language Summer Schools/University visits/Debs/holidays to anywhere/shopping trips with friends/driving lessons/socializing/ first forays into independence, new friendships and relationships etc, has been anything but a dream.
The summer months saw the salvaging of some sports, limited opportunities to meet up with friends and maybe even a holiday but the change in the way we live our lives has been profound. We have no way of knowing how this will affect our young people in the long term. Some will have adapted, taken it as it comes, but for others it has been a time of great anxiety and fear. Grappling with how suddenly and abruptly life has changed. It’s all so different and while we are living through it, there’s no choice but to get on with it. The internet is a double-edged sword. It’s a lifeline for keeping in touch with friends, family, education, heartwarming stories, shopping etc …but on the other hand , paradoxically, it can make people feel more isolated and lonely with constant reminders of what is being lost and with no real end in sight.
As soon as one becomes a parent, we are advised by various experts about what is best for our children. Socialisation, community, family events, talking to them, reading with them, any sport participation, trips to interesting places, playdates, sleepovers, playing music, dance classes and any number of other activities…..all apparently essential things that help your child become a well rounded individual. Ideally, access to TV, gaming, technology and any activity that means your child is spending too much time alone, sedentary, is to be avoided at all costs. Where does the pandemic leave us? And them? Everything is topsy-turvy. I think it’s fair to say that we have all been on a massive learning curve! I don’t have any sage advice……. All anyone can do is their best to adapt to our new circumstances.
Young people are really concerned about the ongoing interruption to their lives. Now it is heading into its second year. Today’s 6th Years, were last years 5th years and have really drawn the short straw. That step from Secondary to Third Level is still a huge one and is daunting for even the most robust. Factor in a pandemic and all the precautions that go with it, agreements not being reached quickly, the Leaving Cert compromised again, campuses not being physically open for visits, two unsatisfactory school years on top of all the other restrictions that we have been living with….and no one can dispute that our youngsters have really been hit hard. As adults, I think it behooves us to acknowledge that we understand how much has been lost. They need to be supported and encouraged to talk through any anxieties and fears that they may have. Can you imagine such loss of freedom as a teenager? Being confined to quarters for weeks on end? Preparing for exams online? No socialising of any kind? Now, thankfully, with a return to school and the vaccination roll out, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and we can look forward to a time when COVID no longer dictates and dominates our lives.
My sister, missed out on almost a year of her life, aged 15, through illness and though it was huge at the time, she survived and thrived despite this interruption to her life. That’s my hope for our young people. That they will all thrive, flourish, be resilient and go from strength to strength.