By Priyanka Jaitly Judge
Schools are shut, your building is full of people but you haven’t seen a soul in days and even when you do, you smile but your mind activates its protective mechanisms of staying at a safe distance. It’s the reality we are living today. The WHO talks of there being a second and third wave of a pandemic called COVID 19. Psychological well-being is tricky to say the least. With a life-threatening disease hovering over our head, the economy crashing and people losing jobs, homes and security, the human psyche is in grave danger of a huge imbalance and disorder. Growing up amidst all this are our children, a whole generation.
The pandemic generation
Each generation has something different at which they are looking – Gertrude Stein
Generational cohorts vary depending on your point of reference and its perception. This generation, Gen Alpha will be known for the pandemic 2020. Kids born between 2010 and now are going through a sudden lopsidedness. Born in the lap of technology with the iPad as one of their babysitters, most have parents that are older than what any other generation has had and also the most indulgent and focussed on the topic of parenting. This is also one of the most diverse generations that has seen a cultural mix of the highest order as people travelled more and relocated more and mixed more.
These children today are suddenly seeing the queerest combination of a world that is equipped with everything and yet equipped with nothing. Their world was oscillating between abundance and scarcity. Abundance of money but scarcity of time to spend, a house full of luxuries but lack of inclination to be in it for too long. Our children had a wishing wand they got all they wanted before they could even think it up but little time to enjoy them with those who gave them all that. It was a lopsided world for sure.
But suddenly the world tripped and toppled over to the other side and we all fell into the confines of our homes. This generation is now growing up in the middle of a pandemic the likes of which are not known to anyone alive today. It is being compared to the second world war and some other horrors the world has lived through. Children as young as four or five are familiar with the words social distancing, quarantine and violators. Take your child for a drive around his or her school and try and read those eyes. They are confused, happy and sad all at once because life as they know it has toppled and this time even their guardians have no answers.
Children look at the world differently from adults and are the most vulnerable because they are growing and shaping their thoughts and beliefs. It is an absolute necessity that we be able to hear their inside voice in order to help them learn what they need to. What happens when a generation that is born with the silver spoon goes through a pandemic?
Of course, like everything else in the world, this pandemic has different shades to it. For some children it has been the most loved and nurtured times, while for some others, it has been purely about survival. But there are certain themes that would perhaps run across all sections and that is the psychosocial or the psychological and social aspect of children being exposed to the pandemic crisis. These would be common for this generation though they might experience them in varied degrees
Restoring the natural order
All things which greatly hurt me greatly teach me. – Karen Salmansohn
Ironically, there is a lot of good that happened due to this pandemic. Nature restored itself, whether it was the clean air we breathe or parents spending and nurturing their children. Some lost order was restored for sure. From the lap of the nannies and daycare centres straight to being with the parents 24/7 suddenly created a more secure environment in these uncertain times as their safe people, their parents and guardians are all around them more than ever. Children understand there is something deadly outside and they are adapting beautifully, enjoying their extended stay at home doing school activity and following other leisurely routines.
This generation has often been tagged impatient and forever wanting. However, in this pandemic they seem to have accustomed to being content and patient with being at home, not going out for quick treats, no new toys and the list is endless. This comfort of families around all the time is something this generation has seen very little of. Unknowingly, COVID 19 has filled homes with grit, flexibility, adaptability, togetherness and humour in extraordinary times. As they say in the Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister, “Finally, the Rainbow Fish has only one shining scale left. His most prized possessions had been given away, yet he was very happy.”
The little things matter
“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Having talked about what Gen Alpha stands to gain from a generational perspective, it is as crucial to identify where they might be left grappling. In this pandemic, the children have had to witness anxious adults, separation from friends and family, isolation from school and other primary activities, experienced the concept of rationing due to lockdowns and some have even seen mass evacuations and read about the death toll due to COVID 19. Basically, they have seen a lot of confusion and a haphazard social order.
As per The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP, 1998) the levels of destruction experienced during and after the disaster will determine a child’s response to it.
Children who were raised after World War II grew up seeing their parents struggle with hardships to simply provide a living for their families and also saw many close ones lose their life in this battle. One key characteristic that worked for them was to follow the rules rather than standing up and breaking the norm. The emphasis was on being safe and showing appreciation for little things. This generation eventually came to be called the silent generation.
While on the face of it most children have adapted very well to the ongoing pandemic it is very difficult to establish the relationship a child has to the disaster. My son told me he misses the park and the drives we used to go for, those visits to friends and family.
Multiple studies indicate that disasters can affect children in myriad ways depending on their age and the pre-crisis functioning. Though there is limited research on the subject, a number of studies on children exposed to disasters reveal that the effect may be manifested in children in terms of feeling irritable, alone, and even in difficulty talking to parents. Regressive behaviour in younger children and depression in older ones can be commonplace. Even a child as young as two years can recall events associated with a disaster (Ref: Yule and Canterbury 1994).
Some other mental and behavioural sequels for children who grow through disasters could be experiencing depression, stress reactions and maladjustment with the new normal. We need psycho social educational interventions for all but especially for those who got a raw deal in these pandemic times. In the Indian context this would mean to cater to children of the thousands who are witnessing their parents lose their jobs, homes, etc.
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Emotional recovery and restoration
Emotional recovery is what we really need for everything else will be reconstructed to perfection. Every time you do something that resembles the normal before COVID, it’s calming for the children. It’s healing. It’s very crucial to study the way the pandemic is going to shape the perception, context and experience for children of different ages. We need to recognise the emotional needs of our children as they grapple with confusion, anxiety and a new set of emotional stimuli and responses.
Thankfully the children still have two big constants in their life today to help them feel the old normal.
A child will play, no matter what, no matter where: Children have survival skills that they stumble onto when in crisis. Play is a vital survival skill for them. They can entertain themselves, distract themselves and even find happiness in mayhem so thank god a child will be a child and will play and will see the little things around and find joy at home, in quarantine, in lockdown and all these unprecedented stimuli in his present day environment that are new even for the significant elders around yet children will play around and sing around, goof around and be childlike.
Natives of technology: The other constant in this ever evolving and disruptive times is technology. Since these kids are technological natives of sorts, there is a sense of continuity in this disbanded state of affairs thrown at us. They were born with technology as a babysitter and soother so they feel at home with classes happening virtually and meetups happening over Zoom. Of course, there is no compensating for the park, school and the muddy puddles. But the children are being able to live it up thanks to technology.
As per Howe & Strauss generational theory children raised during a certain time share similar historical and cultural experiences that lead to a type of generation: “Not every member of the cohort will share it, but every member will have to deal with it, willingly or not, over a lifetime” (Howe & Strauss, 2000).
Psychologists and all those concerned with child development have often asserted that understanding a child is not child’s play. It is a mix of their social, emotional and cognitive development and the factors that support or hinder this (Cosario 1997). We need to understand a child in this context and do it real time. We cannot establish beliefs and assumptions about our child’s world as it changes every day. No matter how cushioned your child is today your child is perceptive of the crisis that we are living as well as that of your anxieties, he is witnessing the abnormalities in your everyday routine and he can see that the whole world is on its knees. It is therefore imperative to study our children and understand the real aftermath of this disaster.
(The writer is a fulltime mom and writer, who has a Masters in Psychology and also works as a management consultant)
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