How to spread your wings when you live under a bell? How to find a place in the wide world when it retracts? While the health crisis is taking hold over time, many parents see it every day under their roof: their children are living a truncated youth. “My son never leaves his room”, Louise, mother of three children, one of whom is a first year law student is worried. “He has hardly set foot in college for months and no longer sees his friends except through a screen. ” She is sorry that these years of openness to others and discoveries that are youth are reduced to the bare minimum.
→ READ. Growing up in the coronavirus era
Of course, the harshness of the times has nothing to do with that of the 1940s or even the 1960s, when the conscripts of the contingent were living their 20 years in the Aurès. Nevertheless, the lack of social relations, of prospects and the fact of perceiving only a vague future are difficult to live for the youngest. Students are doing badly, as evidenced by the increase in cases of depression. Faced with this observation, the government has taken certain measures, such as returning once a week and per half-group to tutorials in the first year of university, or reimbursement for psych sessions.
Latent anxiety or faltering confidence
But, beyond the students, all young people are concerned to varying degrees, warns psychotherapist Nicole Prieur (1). “The situation of the students is certainly the most acute, because the vast majority of them live alone, in bad conditions, and that only the meetings, in normal times, gave them the self-confidence which allows to project themselves in the future. However, the children are not immune to the harshness of the times either, even if they put less words on what they feel. “
Thus, up to 11 or 12 years, children experience latent anxiety. They understand the danger for their grandparents who they can no longer see but they do not quite understand what is happening. In addition, as long as the schools remain open, they keep a social life “Which allows them all the same to forget the heaviness of wearing a mask, for example”, decrypts Nicole Prieur. Teenagers are more aware that the crisis will last and that the world they are going to have to enter is less secure than they had thought. “Their confidence in the adult world is faltering. Therefore, their fundamental question can be asked as follows: in what will I be able to trust tomorrow? “, analyzes the psychotherapist again.
“They are poorly armed to face the difficulties”
The fundamental nature of these questioning may be surprising. Often times, parents are quick to put things into perspective by arguing that the 2021 curfew has nothing to do with those experienced by grandparents or great-grandparents during the war. Should we see a kind of weakness among the youngest in this difficulty in supporting this inglorious effort?
“We cannot blame our children for reacting based on the education they received and the world they have known, extends Nicole Prieur. This generation grew up in a stable era, marked by opulence, where it was believed that the best was bound to come. They are therefore poorly equipped to face the difficulties. “ There is no point, she says, in trying to remind people that in lots of places in the world, we fight for food and survival. “We can recall it, but only after taking note of their suffering, because it is real. “
Now, what to do ? First, support and maintain the link with the older people who no longer live at home. Then try not to communicate your own anxieties. And, above all, to maintain children’s dreams, argues the philosopher Martin Steffens (2). Indeed, nothing is worse at this age, which projects itself out and into the future, than feeling deprived of prospects. “We can get this message across: patience, we will need you to imagine a better world. Certainly, for the moment we ask you to accept certain renouncements, but do not stay on your sofa for all that: find ideas that we will need after the crisis. “
Some of the young people seem to have heard the message. “The voluntary commitment of young people is notable during the first confinement”, notes the Credoc. Also, nearly one in two young people (47%), in 2020, signed a petition or defended a cause on the Internet, a blog or a social network, according to the 2020 barometer of the direction of youth, education popular and community life. Here again, even the youngest can be involved, to their measure. “We can very well discuss with them the lessons we can draw from this crisis, adds Nicole Prieur. Let’s not forget that children have more imagination than us. They are capable of surprising us. It’s up to us to show them that they amaze us. ”
In this perspective, it is better to bet on the imagination and the reflection of the child than to turn into a “soft toy” and multiply the soothing “it will get better soon”, confirms Martin Steffens. “Do not take ourselves for Roberto Benigni in the film Life is Beautiful, who, to protect his young son from being interned in a concentration camp, tells him that it is a game. The child must understand that life is sometimes hard and that, through the effort he consents, it is part of a normal movement of mutual aid between the generations. ”
But it works both ways, warns the philosopher. “We are creating a colossal debt vis-à-vis the youth that will have to be paid after the crisis: the young are fading behind the older ones, but then we will have to make room for them. ” Will the “next world” belong more than usual to young people?
People under 24 are vulnerable
Degraded mental health. At the end of 2020, nearly a third of 18-24 year olds (31.5%) show signs of depression (anxiety, loss of taste for life, sadness, etc.) against 23% of the general population, according to Public Health France. Before the crisis, only 12% of them were affected.
Increased precariousness. 15-24 year olds were the first
victims of the economic and emotional crisis, according to a study by Crédoc. Between March and September 2020, 38% saw their income drop (compared to 30% on average), 25% did not see their fixed-term contract renewed (compared to 11% on average) and 33% felt alone “often or all days ”(compared to 27% of them in January 2020).