Exceptional youth during the Covid-19 pandemic – Youth living conditions yearbook 2022

Marjatta Kekkonen, Mika Gissler, Päivi Känkänen & Anna-Maria Isola (eds)


The 2022 yearbook Exceptional youth during the Covid-19 pandemic – young people’s living conditions discusses the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on young people’s human relationships, interactions, lifestyle, communities and institutions. The book engages in the discussion on how the pandemic-related movement restrictions, restrictions on gatherings and regulation of close contacts – all of which were imposed to safeguard the population’s health security and health care – manifested among young people as changes in living conditions, social relationships and experiences of social inclusion.

The publication consists of studies in which the exceptional circumstances and phenomena of the Covid-19 pandemic are discussed as generational experiences that define young people and youth and which manifest themselves as changing and narrowing – yet also expanding – communities, social relationships and opportunities for interaction among young people, as collective memories of an exceptional childhood and youth, as a digitalisation of young people’s everyday life, facilities and operating environments, as changing practices in school, leisure time, study and working life, and as hazy outlooks for the future and for social inclusion.

In the fifteen research articles contained in the yearbook, the Covid-19 pandemic is studied from the viewpoints of young people of different ages and stages of life. In addition, three young people share their own thoughts and feelings from the Covid-19 pandemic. At the beginning of the book, the impacts of Covid-19 on young people's health and welfare are introduced using the latest statistical data. This statistics section reviews the different stages of the pandemic, detailing the numbers of infections, deaths and vaccinations, and uses register and statistical data to shed light on the development of use of services and receipt of social benefits for children and young people. Many statistical systems took a digital leap forward during the Covid-19 pandemic, with data being published monthly, weekly or even daily.

The first chapter of the book, entitled Covid-19 and the unique life of young people, describes young people’s experiences of the Covid-19 'shock phase’ in spring 2020 based on writings collected from young people themselves. In the autumn of the first year of Covid-19, children of primary school age were interviewed and asked about their thoughts and feelings about remote schooling and in-person schooling, their parents’ remote work and their close relationships with other children. Measurements were taken of life satisfaction among 15-year-olds both before and after the outbreak of Covid-19, and the results initially confirm – but then in closer analysis overturn – straightforward assumptions about the negative impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The chapter Young people’s learning environments during the Covid-19 pandemic discusses young people’s thoughts about the closures of educational institutions and the transition to remote learning. The chapter begins with a detailed international literature review of changes in teaching and study practices during the
Covid-19 pandemic. Both the literature review and the yearbook’s own empirical studies show that students found remote learning arrangements both positive and study-supporting, on the one hand, but also a cause of study difficulties. Of essential importance is the teacher’s role in structuring remote studies and supporting the student’s learning. Digital learning environments thus open up new opportunities, but everyday digital life is not just about IT capabilities, but instead more about the agency of young students as learners and students. In order for distance learning to promote pupils’ welfare, attention must be paid to its implementation in a manner that strengthens the student’s agency and inclusion.

The chapter Experiences of inclusion during the Covid-19 pandemic uses extensive survey data to examine young people’s experiences of social inclusion and perceived loneliness and psychological stress. Experiences of social inclusion during the Covid-19 pandemic seem to have become polarised, with girls' experiences of inclusion having weakened. Even though the life satisfaction of all young people decreased during the Covid-19 pandemic, life satisfaction decreased especially among young people belonging to gender and sexual minorities. One in four higher education students felt lonely either fairly often or continuously, and such experiences recurred more often among women than men. Experiences of loneliness were also linked to mental strain. It became difficult for higher education students to form social relationships, and they had to consciously consider who, how and where they wanted to meet other people.Of essential importance in this is consideration of who the important, close people are for each young person. Studies show that as young people’s experiences of social inclusion weaken, cohesion and trust in other people also decrease.

In the chapter Moving forward together in times of catastrophe, the exceptional and indeed strange Covid-19 year is studied from the perspective of young people who were already in a more vulnerable position than their peers before the outbreak of the pandemic. In this chapter, a voice is given to young people coming out of child welfare institutions, young people recovering from mental health problems, and those seeking a suitable path for themselves in working life or education. For them, the Covid-19 pandemic was a time of crisis which had a detrimental effect on their sense of safety and coping, on their transition phases, and on the availability of support. At the same time, these young people hoped that the Covid-19 experiences of the majority of the population would make them better able to identify with these young people, who even before the pandemic had to adapt to many types of uncertainties, restrictions on mobility and an isolated life at home. The future appeared uncertain.

In their three perspective pieces, young people describe the Covid-19 period through their senses, emotions, disappointments and frustrations, while also sharing experiences of empathy and gratitude. The Covid-19 pandemic meant for young people not only forced and restrictive measures, but also the freedom to give up busyness and a focus on efficiency and performance.

This 14th yearbook has been produced by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) in cooperation with the Finnish Youth Research Network (NTV) and the State Youth Council. The widely-read yearbook offers fresh information to decision-makers, professionals, researchers and those interested in youth issues.