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Irish Independent
Irish Independent
Chrissie Russell

'I now realise how dumb people can be' - a year of Covid through the eyes of our teenagers

Alana Ni Chuinneagain (17) from Co Galway deals with stress by running. Picture: Ray Ryan

A year after the first case of Covid was notified in Ireland, we are all living in a changed landscape. And none more so than our children. From pre-schoolers to Leaving Cert students, each age group has had to sacrifice parts of growing up that we parents took for granted: the chance to go to school, the pleasure of meeting up with friends, the fun and games to be had at sports clubs or other activities.

What has it been like for them, with all of those essential components of childhood taken off the table? What is it like, to watch and wait for normality to resume?

We asked children of all ages to share their pandemic experiences with us. What are they missing most? How do they feel the pandemic is shaping their childhood? What are they hoping for?

In this, the first of a two-part series, we asked Irish teenagers about their lives during Covid:

Alana Ní Chuinneagain (17), Co Galway

“Lockdown has definitely changed me. I’m looking after myself more now — both physically and mentally — but it’s been extremely tough. My mother has leukaemia and it’s been really hard trying, not only to protect myself, but also her. Even with being masked up, sanitising and distancing, there’s never been a day that I don’t worry about transmitting it to her. I’m definitely anxious about going back to school, but I know we’re all taking the necessary precautions.

“I live in a rural area with no broadband so online school hasn’t exactly been a breeze. My brother and sister are also in school and my dad works as a teacher. The noise of four people trying to homeschool and use the internet has been difficult.

“Something that’s really helped me through all the lockdowns is road running. There are no facilities within 2k or 5k of my home so I’ve to work with what I’ve got — and that’s an endless amount of country roads! I’m training for a marathon this summer and I’ve definitely seen an improvement to my mood, concentration and work rate. It’s helpful to have something to strive for and look forward to. With so much uncertainty at the moment, it’s nice to know I can always throw on my runners.”

Calum O’Byrne (13), Co Dublin

Calum O'Byrne (13)

“I was in sixth class and I remember our teacher saying there was no way there would be a lockdown but, by the end of the week, we were told we wouldn’t be coming back to school.

“To be honest, I’ve enjoyed being at home, especially when it was sunny. There are some bike jumps near our house and I got to learn how to ride a mountain bike and do those.

“It’s been nice being with my family, having dinner together every night and we still managed to go to Donegal like we do every summer.

“Most nights we watch the 9 o’clock news together and I’m used to Covid being on the news now, although it’s weird that we used to think 40 was a lot of cases and now we’re happy if it’s ‘only’ 500 or so.

“I’d been excited to start a new school and meet new people, but it hasn’t really worked out like that. I don’t feel cheated though, this is just something we all have to accept right now.”

Emma Louise Thynne (15), Co Clare

Emma Louise Thynne (15)

“I’m an extrovert so I’ve missed the social side of school but I’ve also been able to explore a lot of new hobbies this past year, like digital animation, roller-skating… and I’ve done a lot with Clare Youth Action (CYA) on and off-line

“I feel lucky to live beside the water and be able to go for beautiful walks within my 2km and even meet friends outdoors when restrictions allow. But I also have friends who’ve had Covid, and that’s been heart-breaking, seeing them online, isolating in their room and wearing a face mask while their parent brings food to their bedroom door.

“I watch the news with my mum and dad — I think you have to be aware of what’s going on. The people who say they ‘don’t need to know’ are the ones putting others in danger. I feel ashamed when I see people in my own age group not sticking to the rules. The last year has made me realise how dumb people can be.”

Jasmine Kelly (17), Co Cork

Jasmine Kelly (17)

“My anxiety levels dropped considerably after schools closed because I felt that no matter how hard our school tried, it wasn’t safe. My parents have been amazing, having open conversations with me about how we should handle Covid, and they’ve left the decision up to me whether I return to school on March 15 or not. My mum has been a star supporting my new hobbies and holding them as equally important to my schoolwork and my school has been great too, always prioritising our wellbeing.

“Who I feel let down by is the government. They seem to have this tunnel vision of getting us all back in school and claiming it’s for our mental health. But for many teenagers, like myself, this doesn’t ring true. It feels like they just want to shove us in school so they can get the workforce back and I’ve found it unbearable to watch our mental health being weaponised to force the economy back and running. Schools are not safe. No one has learned from last year and it feels awfully like history will repeat itself.”

Adam Lambe (18), Co Monaghan

Adam Lambe (18)

“It’s no doubt been a very tough year but this year I’ve also engaged in a lot of online events which opened me up to meeting so many new friends, and it was the year I met my amazing girlfriend. What I’ve found is that the lockdowns have been what you make of them. Personally, I feel I’ve been able to pursue hobbies and see it as a time of personal growth. I work with the National Youth Council, SpunOut and other organisations to help other young people and I’ve found these organisations a great way to meet people and keep busy.

“Not everything has been sunshine and roses — the lack of physical interaction can feel isolating and online learning has been a struggle — but I found,with everything being online, it’s opened up opportunities to me that wouldn’t have otherwise been there.”

Niamh Buckley (15), Co Cork

Niamh Buckley (15)

“In the beginning I was checking the news apps several times a day and it was scary listening to the numbers, outbreaks and deaths, but I felt slightly removed from it all, as I live in the country and, in the early days, there were very few cases around our area. That’s all changed since Christmas and now the virus seems everywhere. I know lots of people who have tested positive and I prefer not to watch the news as much now as it makes me feel quite anxious.

“I really miss seeing members of my family and I miss sport. I play Wheelchair Basketball with The Kingdom Wheelblasters, (IWA Sport Club based in Kerry) and I never thought when we finished our training session last March, that we wouldn’t be back.

“I joined a gym last summer and quickly developed an interest in parapower lifting — something I never would have thought to try before Covid! I really enjoy it and can train at home. But I can’t wait to get back to normality, playing basketball, meeting friends and having a reason to put on make up and dress up!”

Racheal Diyaolu (18), Co Carlow

Racheal Diyaolu (18)

“In March, when we were told we were getting two weeks off school because of some mysterious virus, we were all delighted to be getting a short break from a busy year! But everything was thrown into perspective for me when my father got the virus a short time later. Thankfully, he made a full recovery, but it showed me that no one was immune.

“My bedroom became my classroom. The international summer camp couldn’t go ahead. Entering sixth year in a pandemic was terrifying, and nothing was certain. Finally we have clarity on how the leaving cert will go ahead, but it doesn’t undo all the stress and worry. We’re still constantly playing catch-up.

“I wasn’t able to get a summer job, so, with no disposable income, I started making gifts for friends’ birthdays and that rekindled my love of embroidery. I got more involved in online activism, attending events with BLM and international Zoom calls with Amnesty International.

“I can’t say I’m not afraid for the future, because I am. But I’m also excited for life after Covid because I know there will be an end to this. I’ll look back at what I’ve learned from the events of this pandemic and know never to take anything for granted.”

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