The upside of Covid-19

    26 August 2020

    There aren’t many silver linings to Covid 19, but for the first time in a while we’ve got a whole generation of kids who’ve actually been through something traumatic.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pleased they’ve had to live through a global pandemic, but experiencing a public health panic may create a particularly durable cohort of young people. For a long time, the overall level of peril faced by kids had been heading steadily downwards. Consequently, they’d been able to project fear onto increasingly trivial things, like micro-aggressions, pronouns or spending seven minutes without Wi-Fi.

    This pandemic should be character building; they’ve now got a story to tell.

    I’m sure your children will one day take great pleasure telling their offspring: ‘You don’t know the meaning of risk! I had to get swabbed before I could go in a sand-pit….my mum breast-fed me wearing a welder’s mask.’

    A whole generation of schoolkids have had to deal with serious disruption to their lives. This possible evolution in young people will probably be over-looked. Following the exam fiasco, the press moved onto BTEC students, who would have to wait another week for their results. The reporter spoke of increasingly ‘traumatised’ young people.

    Maybe some were, but I’d imagine there were just as many students who’d already learned that things can be a teeny bit unpredictable during a global pandemic. They’ve seen local quarantines imposed at the drop of a hat. They’ve walked past playgrounds with padlocks on. There’s something about singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to your Nan from a parked car the other side of the street which reminds you things aren’t working like they normally do.

    I’ve been amazed by my own son’s fortitude. At first we were worried all the talk of air-borne peril and mortality would disturb him, but he’s taken most of it in his stride. The only thing that hit him hard was the early part of Lockdown, where for several weeks his only company was me and my wife. It must’ve been like living with your boss and the head of HR.

    I hope the Covid crisis teaches him that fear is something you have to accommodate sometimes. That risk is a consideration you negotiate with, not totally kick down the road, where it may morph into something even more dangerous.

    I hope he’ll realise that ‘What doesn’t kill you make you stronger’. I guess you could also argue that what doesn’t kill you may always leave a mark. One negative consequence of Covid is that Germophobia could run riot. My son has seen a lot of grown-ups rubbing their hands together in public. Either he’ll develop a fear of bacteria or people hatching cunning plans.

    Excessive worry about dirt wasn’t entirely unknown pre Covid. We already had plenty of parents who had an almost ideological relationship with anti-bacterial wipes. Aggressive sanitisation of cafes is nothing new when you’ve sat in Costa and watched mums deep cleaning tables between each bite of a tea-cake.

    Despite the possible exceptions, I believe 2020 will breed tough young people. As rebellion was steadily going out of fashion, any kid who’s broken a government guideline has already had to make their own calibration between advice, risk and personal liberty. We’ve got seven-year-old out-laws who flouted the law to hug their Aunties. Renegades who dared to sit together in a park. Sleep overs that were verging on sedition.

    What this generation have also been reminded of – along with their elders – is that life can have genuine bumps in the road. Such realisations can breed gratitude for what you do have.

    I’ve enjoyed seeing more and more families going for walks. In restaurants I’ve seen more mixed generations sitting down to eat together. Lockdown gave us a brief glimpse of what it’s like to be without the people we love. So instead of just sending Nanna a birthday card from Moonpig many families are deciding, ‘Sod it, let’s do lunch at the Brewer’s Fayre…especially if it’s between Monday and Wednesday.’

    I cherish the idea that, out of all the debris of the Covid crisis, my son might one day exhibit some of the resilience my grandparents developed. They took the stress of the war years in their stride.

    I guess they also took to drink and smoking forty a day, but he doesn’t need to know that.

    Geoff Norcott hosts the podcast What Most People Think