The Children’s Society looks at why the COVID-19 pandemic means families need reassurance and support, and what professionals can do.
We have also focused on children’s well-being and shown how much this declines for all young people during early-mid adolescence. National figures on the scale of mental ill health among young people add further evidence that, for many, adolescence is a time of potential vulnerability.
With the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) and the resulting restrictions on day-to-day life it felt important to bring together what we’ve learnt on these topics and to complement this with a fresh look at what research on adolescent development tells us. We hoped this would offer clues to the impacts of the pandemic on adolescents and their families and prompt ideas about how to address its negative effects – and we have summarised the findings in our new briefing.
We found that recent studies have shown that adolescents:
- Have to learn to cope with stress and only develop healthy responses through their experiences (Seiffge-Krenek, Aunola and Nurmi, 2009).
- Find relationships with parents to be a primary source of stress – and that this is harder to deal with than stress in peer relationships (Stange, Hamilton, Abramson and Alloy, 2014; Persike and Seiffge-Krenek, 2016).
- May be more vulnerable to online harms if they live in disadvantaged families (Finkelhor et al, 2020; Orben and Przbylski, 2019).
- Have a strong ‘need to belong’ in terms of membership of, and approval from, peer groups (O’Brien and Bowles, 2013).
- Are likely to carefully manage the information they share with their parents about what they do, who with and where (including online) – especially when their unsupervised activities might be viewed negatively and evoke parental sanctions (Kerr, Stattin and Burk, 2010; Keijsers et al, 2012).
It seems abundantly clear that these – and other aspects of normal psycho-social development in adolescence which are outlined the briefing – will be impacted by the restrictions necessary to tackle the pandemic, and that this will have significant effects in both the short and longer term.
At the same time many parents will be under extraordinary pressure and it’s hard not to think that their capacity for parenting will become stretched – especially when confronted with the additional challenges that their adolescent offspring are likely to present in the current context.
So, there’s a strong likelihood that parental neglect will increase during the pandemic – at a time when there will be less opportunity for professionals to identify it or respond. Awareness and understanding of the scale and consequences of adolescent neglect is sometimes not as good as it should be – in part because of a poor (but improving) evidence base. However, there’s already much to suggest that young people can suffer negative outcomes from neglect in their adolescence – and that an effective approach to prevention and response is the business of everyone who has a stake in safeguarding.
In the briefing we have proposed ways in which practitioners can respond to young people and work with parents where neglect is, or could become, a problem. These include basic and practical advice which we hope can make a contribution to supporting the prevention or mitigation of neglect. There are also suggestions to local and national policymakers for how broader responses to adolescent neglect can be built-in to present and future work.
The harmful impacts of adolescent neglect are becoming better understood. Teenagers aren’t as resilient as they may seem and neglect can blight a young person’s life or even contribute to a tragic outcome, as recently published learning from Serious Case Reviews has reinforced (Brandon et al, 2020). So it’s really important to take steps to ensure that parenting is supported during the pandemic, as society gradually recovers, and in the future.