What are some examples of social consequences
What consequences the Corona period has for children and young people
Ms. Seitz-Stein, kindergartens and schools are gradually opening again. We received several questions about what the closure of schools and the restriction of contact options for children mean.
Katja Seitz-Stein: The question is not easy to answer because the differences between small children and adolescents, for example, are very large. Even within an age group, the emotional or social conditions vary greatly. Therefore, it helps to imagine different scenarios.
What scenarios are you thinking of?
Seitz stone: For example, to a five-year-old kindergarten child who has two younger siblings, mother or father are at home. The child lives in a middle-class family and may be happy about the new situation. They can play with their siblings and see what is happening at home. The situation is different for an 18-year-old student who is about to graduate from high school. Although she may have good learning strategies, the frustration is great because it is unclear for a long time whether she will be able to take her exams. We therefore always have to look at the concrete situation in order to be able to understand the effects of an event.
Still, the crisis is something that happens to all of us.
Seitz stone: Yes, the current situation is new to all of us. The decisive factor is how well we manage to adapt. In developmental psychology, we differentiate whether critical life events affect individuals or groups. The corona pandemic affects our entire society. This makes them a shared experience, which is why individuals do not become too isolated.
However, there is a lack of games and exchange in kindergarten, especially for preschoolers. How important are encounters with people of the same age?
Seitz stone: Social contacts are very important even for small children, even if they tend to play next to each other at first. But they hear others and seek eye contact. Later on, cooperative play develops, role-playing games are added. Seeing the seesaw in the playground shows how important other children are. Some games are only fun for two. While adults are always stronger and know more, in kindergarten everyone interacts on an equal footing. In play, the children learn prosocial behavior or mutual consideration. The extra-family exchange is all the more important, the lower the potential for interaction with family members - around the same age.
What are the consequences of missing contacts?
Seitz stone: This is a concern that currently worries many parents. They fear that isolation will have irreversible consequences for their child. I would like to confidently counter this: If the environment is right, then the separation of a few weeks or months will probably not change much - even if in individual cases the mourning for missing friends or acquaintances can be very intense.
Do the children develop special needs during this time?
Seitz stone: Yes, it is important for well-being to structure the day to give children support. It is beneficial to get up and go to bed in a regular manner, with regular meals so that the daily routine does not get too confused. It is important that parents are approachable for their children - and not just annoyed or don't have time. We should therefore try to keep times free when we consciously engage with our children. Times when, for example, a video conference is not taking place at the same time. Of course, that's easier said than done. If parents have a “suitcase” filled with ideas for possible employment that they can offer if necessary, that helps.
Does this also apply to older children or young people?
Seitz stone: We know that screen times increase significantly in older children or adolescents. Also that there are serious changes in the sleep-wake cycle. It is no longer so easy for them to tell what to do and they have to regulate themselves more. It is therefore more difficult for parents to offer support. But we should try to be more sensitive. This applies to all age groups, including kindergarten children. Of course, this is particularly difficult right now, as the stresses are higher for parents too. However, we should keep in mind that these are still the "normal" situations in a pandemic. There are families who have to shoulder much higher burdens.
How can we imagine such burdens?
Seitz stone: Imagine you have a child who is cared for in an institution and who always needs someone by his side - with meals or schoolwork. When the children are at home, the parents have to provide care alone around the clock. This only works as long as the parents are healthy. If at the same time you have no one who can step in, you live in a small rented apartment and are currently threatened with short-time work, the burden increases. This is where the effects of the school closings can be seen. We have many families who have to cope with almost unimaginable situations.
Which conflicts can arise?
Seitz stone: If the stress is very high, if you have alcohol problems or your own mental illnesses, situations can arise that should not actually exist. If there is a lack of opportunities to communicate, physical violence can increase. There is therefore a reasonable assumption that the number of unreported cases of child abuse is currently increasing. We know from the financial crisis of 2008 that family systems change in crisis situations. Financial hardship comes with - it's hard to say - more being beaten.
How do the support offers work in the pandemic?
Seitz stone: As far as I know, we try to maintain the psychosocial offer as much as possible. The problem that new needs are now also emerging from people or families is certainly difficult to solve. In many cases, there is also a lack of insight that it is up to the adult to look at the well-being of their own family as a whole.
Does that mean we need to be more aware of the circumstances?
Seitz stone: We speak of a systemic view. Whether the children manage to cope with the situation depends on the health of the entire family - on the relationships between parents and children, between the parents or on how the siblings treat each other. Added to this is whether we can communicate and organize ourselves well, and which values guide us. If the family is healthy, it acts as a protective factor for the child. If you add financial worries or illnesses, it becomes more difficult to cope with stress. Factors such as racism or marginalization also play a role. The number of people who died of Covid 19 in the United States is much higher among the African American population.
Can children who are in psychological care currently be well cared for?
Seitz stone: Of course, the colleagues try to support the children as best as possible in accordance with the legal requirements. In older children, video conferencing has been shown to work amazingly well. But it is difficult with younger children or in families who lack the necessary technical skills. In some cases contact could be kept by phone. In some cases, however, very worrying situations arise.
Can digital media even replace our personal contacts?
Seitz stone: We all feel - even without scientific research - that personal contact and closeness to other people cannot be replaced. Sure, it's okay for kids to watch their grandparents on video. However, this cannot be compared with a real encounter. This includes being able to touch each other while hugging, for example. As humans, we are designed for body contact. This is missing in video conferences, even if they are currently a sensible protective measure.
Some readers have commented that they can no longer hear news about the pandemic. A feeling of powerlessness sets in, you can't do anything anyway.
Seitz stone: I would like to see it differently. Of course, we had more options before the lockdown. However, when I feel like I'm at the mercy, that's a bad feeling. We should therefore realize that we are the ones planning our day and that we always have alternative courses of action. I can ask myself: What are my options today - and which ones do I choose? This can help us regain control over ourselves.
Interview conducted by Thomas Metten. He is a member of the KU and the "Mensch in Motion" project.
Prof. Dr. Katja Seitz-Stein holds the chair for developmental and educational psychology at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt. Her research focuses, among other things, on the development of self-concepts in children of preschool age and during school time, as well as the promotion of mathematical skills.
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