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The lockdown generation: 16 young people on spending a year at home

Richard Godwin
·19-min read
<span>Photograph: Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Getty Images

Lucy, 14, Belfast

I’m a very overthinking person. When I first heard about a virus it made me really shaky. It set my anxiety to a nine or a 10. When they shut school, I thought it might be five or six weeks at the most. I didn’t think it would span months.

School is definitely more difficult now I’m going into Year 11, and there’s a lot to deal with when it comes to online lessons. People my age find a lot of stuff difficult. You can go from being at your highest point and, a few hours later, after some extremely challenging online lesson, you’re at your lowest point. That’s affecting everyone. Being trapped inside a house doesn’t help at all. It definitely puts a dampener on how you see things. During the winter, when Christmas was coming up, there were periods where I felt really burnt out. But I’m getting used to it. I’d say I’m coping a solid 7.5 now.

Playing games is a good escape. I like open-ended, world-building games like Skyrim, where you have freedom to do pretty much anything you want to. There are some games that you can play with friends online but even that can get pretty exhausting. Sometimes you just have to crawl into your shell a wee bit and have some escapism.

Lucia-Marie, 14, Pembrokeshire

I was barely ever home before. I’d go out with my friends and get back late. The age that I’m at, you just want to be with your friends. We’d hang out down the beach, or in the park or something. It’s changed a lot. It’s a bit like going back to being a child. I haven’t seen anyone for ages. When we do go back – I’m just imagining in my head completely different people.

I know it sounds bad, but it’s almost as if no one else is going through what you’re going through – even though literally everyone is. Everyone is feeling the same but you kind of forget that sometimes. We do talk a lot though over social media – Instagram, Snapchat. It’s brought us together in that way, but honestly, I just miss actually going out and seeing everyone. Not having to worry about social distancing.

I’m lucky that my sister is here. She’s 19 and she’s got a car so nine times out of 10 I go out with her. One of my favourite places to go is a little beach down the road called Caerfai. It’s quite small but up the top you can see the whole of the sea. It’s secluded and it’s really pretty. I feel bad for people who are stuck in flats. In the summer, 100%, as soon as we can, we’ll all be going down the beaches, jumping off the quays, swimming.

A small child stands by bedroom window tenderly holding stuffed bunny
‘I’m learning to read and write now.’ Photograph: Cavan Images/Getty Images

Sammy, 6, Perthshire

We go on a lot of walks in lockdown. There’s a place called the Witch’s Path and we sometimes go there. I haven’t seen any witches but I do see a cat. It’s a cat that was the witch’s cat but it betrayed the witch I think. It feels like it wants company. It’s sneaky and it jumps out of different spots. The cat’s name is Sam, like me.

I’m learning to read and write now. We do all our work on the computer which is really, really hard. We’re doing super-sentences. A super-sentence is like a sentence with better words in it. Maybe four words? But not ten-hundred. I wrote one poem about my friend Fionn and one poem about Sam the cat and I shared them with my teacher.

I don’t like Boris Johnson but my granny and grandad do. Well, I do like him, but he isn’t my favourite government. I think they should try their hardest to make coronavirus go away. Like, washing their hands all the time. Or having a bath all the time. Once, I had a bath and it was so deep I actually swam in it.

Esmae, 9, Lancashire

I found it really hard at first. My mum’s in a wheelchair so my grandma used to come round to our house to help a lot. But our grandma couldn’t come because she was shielding. I was spending a lot of time with myself and I didn’t get to see a lot of my family. And we are a very, very close family! We’re on one street and then across the street is an auntie and then one of my other aunties is just across from my grandma. And everyone works for the frontline, too. My dad is a paramedic for East Lancashire Ambulance. I do worry about them but I know they’re being as safe as they possibly can and I’m very proud of them. My mum had to buy new spoons because I was banging them so hard on the saucepan for the NHS.

In the first lockdown I went into school as a key-worker child. But now my mum and dad have to go into work – so my brother’s looking after me. He’s 16. Sometimes it feels like I’m the one looking after him.

I don’t mind homeschool. After you’ve done your maths you can just go and get your lunch early – you don’t have to wait for everyone else. I’ve even been able to make new friends. We had a new girl in my class and I’ve never met her properly but we FaceTime after every lesson and do our work together.

It’s been really hard on my mum and dad because they’ve been trying to make me and my brother happy. It’s not just children who need the rest of their family for support and company. It’s also the adults. They need the rest of their family to stop them from going crazy because of how crazy we are.

Olivia, 16, Birmingham

Coronavirus has taken a massive toll on me and my friends. There are so many inherent flaws in the government’s approach and I feel like young people have been completely excluded from the conversation.

And yet, at the same time, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Maybe it’s because I’m growing out of the awkward teenage years and into the better teenage years. But 2020 was one of the best years of my life.

There are so many awful aspects of lockdown but one thing that is good is that people have been able to get to know themselves so much better. When you go to school every day, you’re beaten down by negative presences in your life. But when you spend time by yourself you come out a different person.

I identify as non-binary. I knew that about myself when I was 12 but I didn’t want to tell anyone about it. All this time that I’ve spent by myself allowed me to say that this is really who I am. There’s not really any point pretending that it’s not. It’s done wonders for my mental health. And it’s really great seeing other people going through things like that. There’s a trend on social media: me before lockdown and then me after lockdown.

One of my friends had a very unhappy relationship with people at school. People would beat her down, insult her – it was a toxic environment. But now she’s made friends online with people from different schools and it’s really helped. They’re building her up instead of breaking her down – and I’ve seen her self-confidence grow. The clothes she wears, the makeup she wears, the way she expresses herself is so different.

I’m not nervous about going back either because I’ve found so much confidence. I can separate myself from school. School is now just a place I go to learn.

Shy girl peeking around curtain
‘I don’t want to grow. I want to ungrow.’ Photograph: Getty Images

Keziah, 9, London

At first, I thought lockdown would be fun because I could be away from school, I would stay up late – it would be like the weekends! And then as the months passed, it just got harder and harder and harder.

We’ve been doing way more work than we used to do at school. I wake up at 7.55. I’ll brush my teeth, get dressed, make my breakfast and I might squeeze in a bit of time to watch TV. And then class starts. Each day my teacher will give us a riddle where there’s no right or wrong answer. For example: “Is there more future than the past?” Really deep questions that we have to think about. People will be writing in the chat: “My brain is hurting!”

Maths used to be my weakest subject but now I think I’m improving. The work’s getting harder every day. If it keeps getting harder in Year 5, who knows what it’s going to be like in Year 6? I don’t want to grow. I want to ungrow.

My mum had coronavirus in March last year. I was really scared when she had it. She was screaming. One night, she had to go to the hospital and I had to sleep at my auntie’s. She got through it because she is a very strong mummy. I think my auntie was getting annoyed with me because I kept asking and asking when she would come back.

We have got closer because of lockdown though. Before lockdown, I wasn’t sleeping in my mum’s bed so much. Now she doesn’t kick me out any more.

Torin, 10, Bristol

The first time I heard about coronavirus was in school. We were doing this news quiz thingy and there was a question, which virus has occurred recently? People were talking about it a lot. If someone coughed, people would make jokes, like: “Ahhh! You’ve got coronavirus!” And we’re not really allowed to do that any more because it’s very deadly now.

At first I was enjoying the fact that we were at home but now I kind of want school back to normal. I have six brothers and sisters so there’s quite a few of us in the house. We all sit round this one table and try to do work at the same time but because the computers only go up to a certain volume it’s hard to hear. There’s so many distractions. Because my mum is a key worker I was offered to go into school and it was much easier.

Sometimes we get on each other’s nerves. But mostly it’s good having lots of people around. I’ve got things to fiddle with, like these mini-skateboards and ramps. I like to pretend I’m outside actually doing it.

Charlie, 13, Portsmouth

I first heard about coronavirus on my birthday last year. I think Mum was reading the news and she brought up that there was a virus developing in China. I already knew it was going to hit England because, well, come on – look who we’ve got in charge.

There were definitely some concerns. My dad had a heart attack before Covid hit so we were wearing masks and carrying hand sanitiser before it was even a thing. It was very annoying that no one was taking it seriously at first. I feel sad because last year was the last year of my childhood and that year was taken away because someone – not saying who! – didn’t lock down the country before it got worse.

My dad is on furlough and it’s been nice having him around. Normally he’s working in London in a casino for five days at a time and it’s very nerve-racking because he’s living with Uncle John and going to work every day. Now he’s with me and my two brothers. He loves it.

On a typical day now, I get on my computer at 8.45, do a couple of tests, come off for a bit and check on how the pandemic is going on Google or the BBC and pray to God that it ends as soon as possible. Then I log back on, do a couple more tests, come off, have a little relax, have dinner, go to bed.

Compared to normal lessons, it’s a bit better for me. My mum is telling my dad that I’m above average on my reading now. When I was in Year 7 I had a reading age of 9 but now I’m in Year 8 I have a reading age of 15. I’ve been writing lots of my own stories. I’ve got a current story where Peter Pan is in London with a family and there’s a boy who is looking after Neverland for him. I think the reason I want to write a story about that particular world is because it’s a place where you never grow old – and you can be whatever you want to be, really. Currently in 2021 what I want to be is a writer and actor but mostly a villain with a hook for a hand.

Sinairie, 14, and Otis, 11, Bristol

Sinairie I talk to myself now. I literally look in the mirror and talk to myself. And I’m not talking about foolish stuff. I’m like: “Are you OK, Sinairi?” It feels like my brain is slowly deteriorating. I used to like performing arts, dance, PE. But the fun has been sucked out of it. The teachers are not getting it. I don’t know why they’re not getting it. They’re setting way more work than we get in school. You have to submit it through Word and things like that so it takes five or 10 minutes extra.

I feel the government is run by toddlers. We could have done a better job. What they’re missing is actually being in the situation. You can’t compare their lives to normal people’s lives. Our generation has had to grow up fast. We’re not as dumb as we look. We do say some stupid things, but we have good ideas, too. And I feel like you’re not taking us seriously because we’re not the same age as you. I know children that have gone through horrible things, much more than a lot of adults. Does that make them an adult? No. But what you have in government is lots of people who haven’t gone through things making judgments about situations they don’t understand.

I always knew our government would fail after the whole Windrush thing. That really let me know. You’re not for us. You’re for you. I think Covid has really proven that.

I think it’s going to end terribly. We’re going to have to pick ourselves off the rubble. Everyone’s going to fake it to make it, put a smile on their face, pretend they’re OK when they’re not.

Otis Schools need to teach people that the more money you have the more likely you are to succeed.

Girl in rainbow mask by window
‘I’ve read all the books in my house.’ Photograph: Justin Paget/Getty Images

Shadiya, 14, Janena, 12, and Jamilla, 13, Bristol

Shadiya We’re on screens all day. We’re at our laptops for school and then watch TV until we get our phones and then we go to bed. We have to come off our phones at 9. Other kids never do. TikTok is so toxic. There was this TikTok with this woman talking about how the evil spirits will get you and I had a nightmare I was attacked by evil spirits and I became a devil. This happens though. It’s normal now. Videos of people getting stabbed. And on Snapchat, I swear you can put anything on your story and Snapchat won’t take it down.

I live in a house with my two little brothers and I share a room with Janena and Jameela. We argue. Before, you’d go to school and come back and it’s like it never happened. Now you argue and you’re in each other’s face all day. There’s an argument every day about silly things. Like me and Janena were watching this show, Good Girls, and there was this man on the show and we were arguing whether he was depressed or not.”

Janena Because everyone is about to die, right? And he starts laughing. Ain’t that depression?

Jamilla I don’t find it [lockdown] boring. I don’t really have a problem with it. I wasn’t doing anything before that I’m not doing in lockdown now. Janena and Shadiya are usually downstairs watching TV. So I’m just upstairs by myself the whole day. I like that.

I used to read loads of books. I could finish a book in a day. Some people read to get to sleep but I would read the whole night. I’d finish a book and read it again. Little Women. Or there’s this one called Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo about World War One. I read it like five times. And The Secret Garden. That’s very nice. The book world is better than the real world.

Now I’ve read all the books in my house, so I don’t know what to do. I stay in my bedroom and create stories in my head. I think about weird stuff. I think about ants. Ants are very nice creatures because there are loads of them and they could team up and literally destroy the human race – but they don’t.

Luis, 17, London

I live with my grandma. She’s vulnerable to coronavirus so I don’t really go out that much. The way I see it, if I was to get the virus, nothing would happen. It would be like a cold to me. But if my nan got it, it would be bad for her. So I’m staying home for her.

When the first lockdown started I didn’t really mind, to be honest. I’m at home. My friends are at home. We’re all on PS4 together having fun. We’d play Fifa until about three in the morning and then we’d jump on Monopoly and it would get hectic. That’s when Disney+ was really hyped up, too. I watched all the Star Wars movies, all the Marvel again. Then there was Netflix on top of that. My sleeping patterns were a mess. I was going to bed at like five in the morning, waking up the next evening for dinner, eating through the night. Over and over again.

I had to change course though. When the online lessons were going on, I’d turn on my PS4 and play Fifa with my headphones in, listening to my teacher talk to me. I wasn’t doing any of the work. Barely anybody was. When we came back in September, a lot of people had to change their subjects. I had to switch to travel and tourism. I’m quite enjoying it, to be honest. So I’m happy how it’s turned out. Second lockdown, I’m doing it right this time. When we go back, I’m definitely gonna do work. If I’m in a classroom, I’m 100% doing work.

Yasmin, 12, anf Lena, 9, Manchester

Yasmin We were on a Year 6 trip to York when everything shut down in March. We were so excited on the bus; we were going to cool places like the York Dungeon and the chocolate factory – but then we had to go straight back and our parents had to collect us. We were devastated.

But I kind of enjoyed the first lockdown. My mum stayed home with us and we learned new skills like baking and sewing and knitting. I’ve also learned how to do watercolours. But on the second lockdown, both of my parents had to go to work as they are doctors and our aunt came over and took care of us. And I’m in secondary school now and I have to do live lessons. My eyes have started to get really painful from looking at the screen. Sometimes it gets confusing because the teachers get the timetable wrong.

I don’t think Boris Johnson has done a very good job; he opened shops and restaurants and he just made it all worse and everyone’s work went to waste because we had to do lockdown again.

Lina I had to go into self-isolation because in November the person who sat next to me at school caught coronavirus. I was crying when I found out because I was really nervous. Someone in my class had the test four times and said it was horrible so I really didn’t want to go to get one, but I had to.

My mum drove us to Manchester Airport. It was like a parking place full of tents. It was very funny because you had to stop the car and they held up a sign saying, “Call this number.” And we had to call the person outside the car and then they would stick the test through the window and tell you the instructions over the phone. I got it down my throat and up my nose and it was really painful. But it came back negative so I was happy.

When it’s over I’m going to spend lots of time with my friends. And I’m going to go swimming. I usually train three times a week so it’s really different not going. I’m worried I won’t be able to do as well. When I went back before the last lockdown I wasn’t as good as before.