The Youth Lab


This 52INSIGHTS explores how youth are feeling around going back to school, and some of the trending conversations around it - from mask-wearing to the ‘quaranteen glow-up’.


As back to school season kicks off around the world in unprecedented times, kids are feeling in two minds about the return.

12-year-old Fionnán is heading into 6th class and on the one hand he's nervous about how successfully safety measures will be adopted in practise by his peers, while on the other he's looking forward to studying with a real teacher again.

"I feel quite nervous because I don't know if the correct safety measures are going to be put in. I feel a lot of the kids will ignore social distancing and hand sanitizing and stuff like that. But I'm looking forward to seeing my friends again and having a teacher that is not Google!" Fionnán, aged 12, Ireland

Limor, aged 10, feels 'terrible' about going back to school - for reasons beyond Covid-19. She's hopeful that safety regulations might mean less time in the classroom, and more time with friends.

"I think we'll be doing less school because we have to do classes in slots. So having a bit less school is the only good thing about going back - and meeting my friends." Limor, aged 10, Ireland

Young people are hyper aware of the fact that school opening up opens up a lot of new dangers in relation to Covid-19. Among the uncertainty and excitement, the concern for other people’s health, and their own mental health, is real:

“I feel like it’s going to be completely different when I go back to school. My school isn’t being very direct with me about how it’s going to go - I don’t know if it’s mandatory to wear masks or not, I don’t know how many students there will be, I don’t know how many days of the week I’m actually going to be in class. I’m scared and worried for my grandmother and my parents. The education department isn’t being direct with us either - not telling us how our GCSE’s are going to be affected. It’s just not straightforward, so I’m not comfortable and my mental health is down at the same time. I don’t want to go into a state of depression.” Grace, 15, UK


One thing that continues to divide opinion is the issue of masks in schools.

  • Irish schools are generally enforcing the wearing of masks. Students from Mount Sackville were seen in the Irish Times yesterday wearing masks printed with the school emblem, showing a fervent commitment to the measure. The education minister confirmed that students who didn’t comply with the mask rules would be sent home.
  • America’s student’s remain unsure of what to do with teachers encouraging the wearing of masks in the absence of any clear directive from the government. However a student was suspended for sharing a TikTok of her school hallway with minimal mask wearing and no social distance.

Overall the confusion surrounding the issue merely adds to an already stressful situation regarding the safety of schools re-opening amid the pandemic. Students and teachers alike are fearful of returning to the close-contact-nature of the school environment and the likelihood of increased spreading of Covid 19.


“A Glow Up is a mental, physical, and an emotional transformation for the better. Glow Ups can be both natural or planned. As well as being gradual and permanent, or fast and temporary.” Urban Dictionary

‘Glow Up’ is a trend which emerged in 2018 on twitter with people showing awkward childhood/teen photos alongside their current shinier selves with the hashtag #GlowUp to demonstrate how they have improved over the intervening years from 2012 to 2018. In late 2019 this morphed into a TikTok challenge with TikTokers making glowup videos to the sound of Runway by Stunna Girl, giving Stunna Girl a viral breakout hit due to the lyrics ideal application to TikTokers Glow Up Videos.

‘How are glow ups different from makeovers’ you ask? A makeover is more aesthetically focussed and immediate change, done with make-up or clothing. But a glow-up indicates a more gradual change that often represents a change from within that then shines out.

The onset of Covid 19 and the subsequent lockdowns gave rise to the ’quarantine’ glow up. The theory being that we could use the time to focus on ourselves and emerge butterfly-like from our lockdown with rock hard abs and a peachy bum. Inevitably, while the premise of self-improvement is pure, circumstances might not be the best for every individual. Young teenage students are thinking about how their glow up will be perceived in the ‘post-Covid’ classroom - after months away from their friends. The mental health impacts of the glow up trend can be negative, especially if the glow-up is perceived to have failed.


  • It’s important to acknowledge the emotional landscape that younger audiences are in and will be navigating over the coming weeks and months. Think back to when you began to navigate working from home - everything will feel different, weird and uncomfortable. Amidst huge uncertainty, trial and error, there is great opportunity to create resources of support for students - around touchpoints of health, learning and socialising in new ways.
  • Young people generally seem to see the normalising of masks as a positive thing. Brands can show support for people’s safety by endorsing mask wearing or manufacturing masks to give to customers as a gift.
  • Structure and guidelines are important at a time where uncertainty and mixed messages are rife. Simple advice that is easy to follow shows reliability and clarity that brings comfort at the moment. Brand comms around back to school should be supportive, simple and concise.

See also


“You’re going to have to grow up faster than some generations.”