Young people (YP) were not prioritized for public health messages during the pandemic. They are uniquely vulnerable to the long-term impact of the pandemic and mental health issues. The TeC-19 project supports recommendations to improve communication between YP and government
Problems and Purpose
Limited messaging has been targeted towards young people during this COVID-19 pandemic. This is despite the pandemic having major impacts on their lives, including their exams being cancelled/changed overnight. Messaging and information designed for young people has not been presented on appropriate platforms. Overall, HM Government’s communications were confusing for young people. Young people were not prioritised for specific public health messaging in the same way as for other age groups. This led to disengagement by young people. Young people are uniquely vulnerable to the long-term impact of the pandemic and the pandemic response because they are in a critical period for psychosocial development and uniquely vulnerable to developing mental health issues. Designed to shed light on the impact of COVID-19 on young people, the University of Southampton’s Teenagers Experiences of COVID-19 (TeC-19) project engaged 72 young people between the ages of 12-18 years in discussions beginning in March 2020 and continuing with follow-up discussions at irregular intervals until March 2021. Findings from this project support recommendations for ways to improve the communication between young people and political decision makers.
Background History and Context
· The project so far:
1. The University of Southampton’s Teenagers Experiences of COVID-19 (TeC-19) project has engaged 72 young people between the ages of 12-18 years in discussions about the impact of COVID-19 and the pandemic response from March 2020 to the present. This longitudinal qualitative study was funded by the Institute for Life Sciences (IfLS) University of Southampton and approved by the Faculty of Medicine’s Ethics board at the University of Southampton (27.03.2020). Participants lived in or near the UK cities of Southampton, Manchester, Brighton, and Birmingham. The participants were arranged in ten focus groups of 3-15 young people in each group. These young people have taken part in 6 focus groups between 23rd March 2020 and September 2020 and will meet a final time at the end of March 2021. The findings from TEC-19 indicate that throughout the pandemic, they have felt ignored and deprioritised by government and media messaging.
· Why young people?
2. Adolescence is a period of dramatic physical, psychological, and social change. During adolescence, biological, emotional, and developmental changes lead to the need to engage with life beyond their families. This is also a critical period for the development of mental health issues which for a proportion of them will continue to adulthood. Young people are also the parents of future generations. Thus, it is crucial to support optimal social functioning and development during adolescence. This has the potential to increase benefits for adolescents threefold; impacting adolescents in the here-and-now, impacting their future health, and the longer-term health of their children.
· Government communications public health messaging
3. The health and wellbeing of young people is essential to successful conclusion of key developmental tasks such as emotional and cognitive development, completion of education and transition to employment, civic engagement, and formation of identity and meaningful relationships (Lancet, 2016). Disruption to normal life during the COVID-19 pandemic may therefore bear specific and long-lasting consequences for this generation, exacerbating vulnerability and widening health inequalities. Poor mental and physical health affect both adolescents’ immediate and future health status, as do disruptions to adolescents’ education, which impacts their future employment, human rights, social capital and hence the economic prosperity of the UK (Lancet, 2016).
4. Adolescents have been uniquely impacted by this crisis without being given the opportunity to advocate for themselves and or be heard. Article 12 of the UN (United Nations) Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNRC) declares that young people have the right to express views and to have these considered when decisions are made that affect them. Young people’s voices are still not universally heard in policy and operational discourses, however. The lack of communication about the COVID-19 pandemic with young people in the UK presents another breach of these rights.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Methods and Tools Used
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
1. Recommendation 1: Identify and establish communication channels with key stakeholders to provide immediate insights to inform policy and practice. For example, by setting up a Youth Advisory Group as a key stakeholder in any national pandemic planning unit and engaging with Youth Parliaments and other national networks representing young people.
2. Recommendation 2: Involve and consult young people at all stages of planning and decision making about communication and messaging for their age groups. Give them opportunities to share opinions on, and react to, real-time events. This can be done using age-appropriate communication channels. For example, by using appropriate social media channel, such as TikTok and Snapchat.
3. Recommendation 3: Ensure engagement with a broad and diverse range of young people including marginalised or disenfranchised groups (e.g., reaching out via community groups, faith leaders, youth workers). Consider the diversity of young people and do not expect them all to react in the same way to messages or actions. Take context into account when shaping public health messages. Different groups of young people will have different trusted sources of authority so it therefore necessary to support a range of communication methods.
4. Recommendation 4: Recognise the capacity of young people to take constructive action, and the importance of positive messaging for young people and about their behaviour. Involve young people in delivering the pandemic response and in helping their communities. Having goals to work towards and meaningful activities to undertake is essential for good mental health. Additionally, the social connections such involvement fosters helps people regulate affect, cope with stress, and remain resilient during difficult times.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
 Patton, G. C., Sawyer, S. M., Santelli, J. S., Ross, D. A., Afifi, R., Allen, N. B., ... & Viner, R. M. (2016). Our future: a Lancet commission on adolescent health and wellbeing. The Lancet, 387(10036), 2423-2478.