Young people are struggling right now. They’re grieving their losses – for the lost possibilities of today and the opportunities of tomorrow. Meanwhile, many are blaming young people socialising for the second wave of Covid-19. Urging young people not to ‘kill your gran’, UK health secretary Matt Hancock was reported recently saying specifically that those aged 17 to 21 and living in affluent areas are accounting for a large number of positive Covid-19 cases.

This 52INSIGHTS explores the current culture of blame around Covid-19 and youth.


At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, there wasn’t much doubt about it - we were all in this together. We clapped, we baked, we worked and studied from home, we yoga’d with Adrienne. Throughout the first wave, the first lockdown, there was largely a shared sense of community and communion and, despite the likes of Cummings-gate or GolfGate in Europe, most were understood to be sticking to the rules.

Now, as wave two of Covid-19 surges through Europe and around the world, people are tired and emotions continue to run high as we come face to face with the longevity of this deadly virus.

People I know took the lockdown very seriously at the start when everything was new and scary. As time goes on it might feel like people have done their part already. Now that there’s a second wave, people are getting sick of it. There’s a sense of impatience maybe - I’d say many would feel like they’ve done their time already.” Mark, aged 26.

Stats show that cases are rising among younger generations, as imagery of groups of students gathering in large groups has gone viral online. Yet there’s also a sense that because of the bad behaviour of the few, many are being tarnished with the same brush by older generations. And yet, despite the perception that the younger generation in general doesn’t care and isn’t compliant, multiple research highlights that the perception doesn’t match with reality. Compliance and worry are still high among all generations, although it fell marginally for young people over the summer and early autumn as restaurants, cafes, gyms facilitated social interactions, and there was a pushing off the boundaries in the trade off between risk and social opportunities.


This is not surprising. In Emerging From An Emergency, our 2020 edition of Youth Culture Uncovered (our annual insights programme, exploring what it’s like to be young), we highlighted the negative impact on the already fragile state of young people’s mental health as they battle against anxiety and depression, brought on the isolation of not seeing their friends and the uncertainty of their now and near future. The young people from all over the world who shared their personal experiences of journeying through the pandemic with us spoke of individualised experiences, but shared a common narrative - the loss of social interaction with their friends is ‘the loss’ they struggle most with.

Irish Mental Health Charity, SpunOut’s ‘How’s Your Head’ report released just last week, further highlighted the mental health challenges faced by young people in Ireland - with 35% of the 2,173 15-24 year olds surveyed saying they missed their friends.

Milestones that mark young people’s passing from childhood to adulthood have been largely obliterated - from graduations to festivals to internships, stunting young people’s growth and the chance to connect with others and build resilience in the process.


“Young adults should be figuring out who they are and building resilience by building relationships with others, through socialising, learning and exploration of their identity. But instead we’re in a Covid-19 world. A world of no exams (Leaving Cert), no debs, no grads, no gigs, no festivals, no clubs, no matches to attend. A world of contracted culture, of cancelled lectures and internships, of reneged contracts, of lost jobs. A world of lost futures. We’re all losers to the deadly virus, but young people are disproportionately affected, as their losses are not just immediate, but span decades ahead.” Claire Hyland, Head of The Youth Lab

Beyond the challenge of stunted self-development, and mental health challenges, they face a widening of the intergenerational wealth gap.

Even in BC (Before Coronavirus) life, young people (aged 15 to 24) were more likely to be unemployed or in worse quality jobs than older adults (aged 25 and above). According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) the global youth unemployment rate in 2019 (13.6 per cent) was well above the pre-global financial crisis rate in 2007 (12.3 per cent). And let’s not forget that the IMF declared in 2018 that emerging adults’ older siblings, 28-35 years, held 60% of the wealth their parents had at their age. And that recession pales in comparison to this K-shaped recession, which impacts the more vulnerable more.

So, coming into this crisis we have a cohort that are more vulnerable to economic crises and shocks. And here they are now faced with the triple whammy of (1) disruption to education and training (likely to reduce employment opportunities and earnings in the future), (2) a reduction in immediate earnings and employment as businesses collapse and job losses rise, and (3) the rising obstacles to finding work and transitioning to better jobs. There’s also faced with the reality that their passion and their career dream may not come to fruition, but caution is needed here - a tone deaf approach to young people making dramatic career shifts will likely be met with a ‘tone deaf’ rejection. Ballerina becomes cyber analyst - really?


Young adults the world over are struggling. They’re grieving their losses – for the lost possibilities of today and the opportunities of tomorrow.

They need our help, not our judgement.

As many countries around the world, and particularly Europe, increase national and local restrictions, further restricting young people’s ability to explore the possibilities that youth brings, we need to work hard to find alternative ways to help young people not just be safe, but find some happiness in their every day.


As positive social change agents, there is an opportunity for brands to come to the support of young people, whether that’s helping them find moments of escape or moments or comfort. As businesses the world over pivot to new ways of operating in a home-centric landscape, consider how you can show up with positive impact - here are some thoughts to inspire your brand action:

  • Psychologists herald the power of having something to look forward to. Can you schedule events (virtual/safe non-virtual) that give young people something to look forward to?
  • With boredom high, what educational and entertaining content/ interaction can you provide to give young people a pause from the grim?
  • Young people who are active parts of communities and tribes tend to fare better as they have an avenue to connect and express themselves, how can you tap into your community of brand lovers to drive further engagement between the community? Build in elements of creativity and fun - young people need this now more than ever.
  • Is there a more frictionless, seamless way you can appear in the homes of young people - from click and collect, to home delivery, to curb-side delivery, how can you improve safe interactions?
  • What moments of random joy can you identify and celebrate? Let’s work collectively to change the negative news narrative and push some positive messaging, from random acts of kindness and gifting, to putting a spotlight on the young people who are creatively finding ways to survive and help others in the process.

We are still in this together - us against the virus.

Let’s help each other out and give some support to the young people in desperate need of it.

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