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  • Brendan Shaw

'Coronavirus is yucky': a pandemic through the eyes of kids

Updated: Apr 12, 2020

My five-year-old niece has nailed it.

While there are reams of news stories, pages of medical advice, hundreds of learned online published articles and millions upon millions of words in opinion pieces and online blogs, my niece has put the whole Covid-19 outbreak in simple language.

And just as the Covid-19 outbreak happened in China during the Lunar New Year holiday period when families travel and reunite, it is particularly yucky at this time of year when in many countries around the world people will be spending Easter in lockdown in their own homes when they would normally be out visiting extended family.

Children would usually be travelling to visit their grandparents at this time of year.

But that's not happening in 2020.

Coronavirus is yucky

But my niece is leading the way on how to cope in these difficult times.

Through our extended family Whatsapp calls she has been demonstrating all the songs and jingles they learn through online schooling about handwashing and cellular biology.

She's been having Zoom dance parties with her friends and when it gets tough, she's been out having a 'fence catch up' with her school friends while out walking the dog and getting her daily exercise - appropriately social distancing all the time, of course.

She is also learning yoga online at home to the sound of her favourite songs from the movie 'Frozen'.

Watching my niece and our own kids live and adapt through the outbreak has made me ponder how young people are looking at this.

Depending on how this goes, for the younger members of society the Covid-19 outbreak may come to define their generation, just like we talk about 'war babies' or grandparents who grew up in the Great Depression.

They may develop habits, norms and attitudes that they will keep for life.

An inexplicable need to have tonnes of toilet paper stored in the house might be one, but let’s not go there.

Intergenerational issues in Covid-19

The data suggests that the elderly are the most susceptible to the virus, whereas children are less affected.

Source: Global Change Data Lab, "Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) – Statistics and Research". 2020. Our World in Data, University of Oxford,, accessed 5/4/2020.

Although we do need to remember the difficulties in using the case fatality rate of calculating the impact of Covid-19 because it could be that many kids have the disease but just aren't showing any symptoms.

The different generational impact of the disease has led to different perspectives towards it.

Young people tend to feel that the virus won’t affect them.

The advice has been clear, though, that young people should not be complacent about the risks to them.

The WHO Director General has warned young people they are not ‘invincible’ and the experience from Italy shows that young people can be hospitalised from Covid-19.

There has been advice issued to young people to think of the older generations and take positive action to protect them against Covid-19.

Whether the younger generations can switch the same argument for future policy discussions on climate change and policies to reduce carbon emissions remains to be seen, but there are intergenerational issues at play here.

For example, we probably won't know for some time the full impact of shutting down the economy today and putting millions of workers out of jobs, particularly many young people, to help stop the spread of the disease.

One of my sons is a case in point. He lost both of his part-time hospitality jobs as a result of the closure of restaurants and events, but he's building his online business to replace the work.

The lessons from previous recessions is that it can take a long time for those made unemployed to find new jobs, in part because firms tend to take longer to rehire people after a recession and because many firms themselves go out of business - so there's fewer jobs to go back to.

Social distancing

Then there’s the impact that social distancing is having in families and society more generally.

From Wuhan there were tragic stories of the illness being spread within families where the kids were fine with the disease but transmitted it to their grandparents who subsequently died.

So the social distancing, even within extended families, is really important.

One of the strategies for living in the lockdown is knowing how to maintain the connection between kids and their grandparents while those grandparents are maintaining separation given the potential for kids to be carrying Covid-19 but not show any symptoms.

My five-year-old niece has taken to having sing-along sessions with her grandmother (my mother) by Facetime on the iPad as a way to keep in touch. (To be honest, I'm not sure who is enjoying it more, my niece or my mother ..... )

Young people naturally tend to go out and socialise a lot and it’s been interesting watching our teenage kids dealing with the lockdown and social distancing.

At one level our own kids are just carrying on with their use of social media, video chats and online gaming with their friends like they were long before Covid-19 came on the scene.

A survey I did in our household led to our teenage kids joking that they enjoy the lockdown because after years of being told by their parents they can't stay at home all the time and watch movies, now they're being told to do exactly that!

I'm not sure whether that says more about what they were doing before Covid-19, but at least suggests they have a sense of humour.

We'll see if they're still saying that in a few weeks ......

Already there are reports that the strains of families being cooped up together for weeks on end without going out is starting to show.

Facebook is full of hilarious examples of parents ranting about having their kids home all day and having to home school them.

So far in our family, the most confrontational event we've had during our family lockdown was a rather competitive game of Pictionary (which, of course, the kids won ..... ).

Adaptability and the new normal?

I do wonder whether the younger generations are, again, showing the rest of us how to adapt and survive in this outbreak.

Already our own kids are changing they way they learn, how they work and how they live life.

They are already telling me that going school is inefficient and they are learning more in 30 mins working online at home than they do in an hour spent physically spent at school.

Maybe there's a thing or two we can all learn from them.

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