Young people feel they are being let down by the lack of appropriate COVID-19 messaging for young people from scientists and MPs. 

A recent poll conducted by the British Science Association found that around nine in 10 young people between the ages of 14 and 18 feel left out of the COVID-19 conversation. 

One of those who feels strongly about the Government’s strategy is Year 9 student Ava Garside (13) who won the Junior category of the Youth Industry Strategy Competition earlier this year with a pin badge filter that she designed and built herself, which provides the cleanest walking route to school.  

“I’ve used science to try to understand the pandemic and think about how my life and the world around me has changed,” she says. “That’s helped me to think about things that I wouldn’t have imagined could happen just a couple of months ago. 

“It has also strengthened my view that science is a big part of our everyday lives affecting our health, climate or family lives.” 

However, when asked about the Government’s messaging for young people, Ava said the information, and the manner in which it changes, was really confusing. 

“At the start it was a strange feeling not to be able to answer my own questions or get an adult to help me to make sense of everything, but as time has gone on I’ve realised that a lot more people than me can’t explain and answer things,” she says. 

“Any information that I have seen has all been for either adults or people much younger than me. Therefore, I’d like the Government to start relaying messages to people my age because news and guidance for younger children is often quite patronising for us.” 

Three months ago, examinations were cancelled for 2020, turning the world for thousands of young people upside down across the United Kingdom. 

One of those students was Inverness-based 15-year-old Donald Campbell, who said he felt he was being launched “into a different time zone” as a result of lockdown. He did say, however, that it has come with some silver linings, including the chance to start and complete a Gold CREST Award on COVID-19 and air quality. 

“Lockdown has actually allowed me the time to think about many things, including future university and career prospects.  

“My schoolwork is now online for my five Higher courses, so I am able to study during hours that suit me, rather than being governed by a school timetable. 

“I’m also able to work on a second Gold CREST Award too!” 

Donald believed the scientists and politicians were doing what they could, but the ever-evolving situation made it difficult for any government to get it right. 

“The briefings are useful in hearing first-hand account of the facts and figures but I feel the press use them as an opportunity to discredit the Ggovernment and its scientific and clinical advisors.” 

The confusion being created means that more and more pressure is being put on families to provide accurate information. According to the BSA survey, more young people are turning to their families (36 percent) rather than scientists (22 percent) for the latest information on COVID-19. 

BSA Chief Executive Katherine Mathieson says the messaging is missing the mark with a number of communities, including young people. 

“The impact of this public health crisis on young people – their education, future plans and employment prospects – is huge, but is not something which has been given sufficient air-time in the public discussions or Government press conferences. 

“Young people also have great ideas and new ways of problem solving. We do both them and wider society a disservice by not addressing their worries or including them in the conversations that could lead to a better society in the future.” 

Assumptions about the desire for young people not being interested in learning about COVID-19 also appear to be false. The survey also illustrates that one in five young people want more messages targeted to them from professional scientists, while two in five are trying to understand the situation. They want to be included. 

Ava believes there are ways for younger people to feel engaged and part of the discussions. The incorporation of Youth Parliament member questions was one way the Government could be more inclusive.  

“It’s also important to make sure as many young people as possible can get involved if they want to and recognise that some might not want to.” 

Ava’s sentiments around more inclusion were echoed by Mary Webb School and Science College year 10 student Tabitha Salisbury, who thought that clearer messaging on social media could help younger people. 

“In my view, they should have laid out a plan that informed everyone what will happen and when, to avoid all of the confusion.” 

Donald, meanwhile, believes there is another strand of the coronavirus conversations that needs to be increased – the impact of the pandemic on mental health.  

“By taking a holistic approach to lockdown it may be found that working from home on more flexible hours may be a huge psychological benefit to many people and could save NHS and the economy considerable time and money in the long term.”