A report was recently published summarising the responses of 140,000 young people around Norway to the Ungdata survey, a large, well-known study conducted annually across the country.
Despite living with the pandemic for a year, the survey indicates that the younger generation has, in general, done fine and have dealt with these challenges well.
“There is little indication that we’re going to see a generation of youths with major mental health challenges as a result of the pandemic,” says Anders Bakken, head of the Ungdata centre at NOVA, OsloMet, who has analysed the data.
The surveys were carried out about a year after the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic in Norway. Around 89 percent agree with the statement “My life is good” and 77 percent feel that they have everything they want in life.
A challenging pandemic year
This does not mean that the pandemic has gone unnoticed.
When asked direct questions about whether the pandemic had negatively affected their lives, 27 percent responded “quite a lot” or “a great deal”. A further 23 percent stated that the pandemic had affected them “to some extent”. The pandemic has had the greatest impact on social and leisure activities.
In general, more girls than boys experienced a negative effect from the pandemic period, and it has been toughest for older, rather than younger teenagers.
The analyses show that 3–6 percent of the youths’ quality of life has been poorer during the coronavirus than under normal circumstances. Close to 30 percent also said they felt more unhappy, sad, or depressed during the pandemic than before. About the same number were more worried or felt lonelier than prior to the pandemic.
On the other hand, 68 percent felt that the pandemic had a positive effect on their lives. Every third youth did more fun activities with their family and 23 percent felt less stressed during the pandemic than before.
Drug and alcohol use decreased slightly, and there is little indication that the pandemic in general has had a negative influence on areas such as friendships, family, optimism for the future and violence.
Reduction in leisure activities and social events
The most significant difference between the pandemic year and other years is observable by the changes in participation at school or during leisure activities. Close to half of the young people felt they had participated in fewer leisure activities than before the pandemic.
This decline has been most prominent for youth clubs. While three out of ten lower secondary pupils answered that they had “been at a youth club in the last 30 days” before the pandemic, this figure dropped to two out of ten during the pandemic.
In 2021, the number of youths who say they are currently part of an association, club or team fell by three percent from the previous year. This drop was also between three and four percent when it comes to participation in organised sports.
“Somewhat more teenagers have stopped doing sports compared with previous years, particularly at lower secondary level,” says Bakken.
Nonetheless, he is surprised that this figure is not higher, since we know how much has been closed during the pandemic, as well as the restrictions placed on activities. It is also too early to say whether this decline will continue as sports activities start up again and return to normal.
The percentage of those who exercise on a regular basis has not changed to any degree during the pandemic, but more youths have worked out alone and fewer have used the gym.
Many have been lonely
The survey shows that close to every third young person has felt lonelier during the pandemic than before.
“This indicates that many have experienced loneliness during the pandemic,” says Bakken.
However, he is not particularly concerned about these numbers.
“When youths were asked whether they’d been lonely in the past week, a smaller group of around 11 percent responded that they’d been very lonely.”
Nine out of ten youths have at least one close friend– Anders Bakken
“This figure is about the same as right before the pandemic and does not indicate that the pandemic in general has led to more young people feeling very lonely,” he underlines.
As was the case before the pandemic, loneliness is more predominant among girls than boys, and loneliness among both sexes increases somewhat from the start of lower secondary until the start of upper secondary school.
Ungdata shows that around nine out of ten have at least one close friend. This applies to both before and during the pandemic and is regardless of sex and age.
It is nonetheless worrying that some people do not have any friends. Two percent stated that they do not have anyone they would call a friend at the moment. Four percent do not have anyone to spend their breaks at school with, and seven per cent do not have anyone to spend their free time with.
More screen time
Most youths spend much of their free time on digital activities. Screen time has increased over time and the pandemic has enhanced this trend.
Aside from school, 76 percent of the youths spent at least three hours a day in front of a screen in 2021 compared to 65 percent before the pandemic. Screen time increases somewhat throughout the lower secondary years, but levels out from year 10.
Aside from school, 76 percent of the youths spent at least three hours a day in front of a screen– Anders Bakken
Boys and girls have had about the same amount of screen time during the pandemic. While boys spend most time on gaming, girls spend most time on social media, although there has been an increase in the use of social media among all young people.
Few socioeconomic differences
Many have been concerned that the ramifications of the coronavirus have varied between youths from different social backgrounds. Analyses of how young people experienced the pandemic show no such differences.
Regardless of their background, around half of young people felt that the pandemic had a negative effect on their lives and around one in five felt that it had a positive effect. Nor does socioeconomic status have any major effect on responses to questions about worries, loneliness or sadness.
The most pronounced difference between young people with different social backgrounds is found in leisure activities. While around 50 percent of youths from higher social strata participated in fewer leisure activities than previously, this figure was 40 percent among youth from lower strata.
“This is very much related to sports activities being shut down during certain periods,” says Bakken.
There is also a slight tendency towards those in the lowest social strata experiencing more family arguments due to the pandemic, and that more of those from the highest socioeconomic strata did more fun activities with their family than previously.
More school-related stress and lower satisfaction
More young people felt that their schooling situation had been stressful in 2021. 53 percent experienced this “often” or “very often”, compared to 48 percent last year. More than six out of ten girls and more than three out of ten boys say that they are often or very often stressed by schoolwork.
The survey does not say anything directly about the consequences of school-related stress. Pupils can become energised when demands are made of them, but stress can also be problematic if it is prolonged and becomes too great and unmanageable.
Six out of ten girls say that they are often or very often stressed by schoolwork– Anders Bakken
In general, there is high satisfaction with Norwegian schools. Of the respondents, 87 percent explicitly state that they enjoy school, and most feel that they fit in among their peers. It is also very positive that 84 percent feel that their teachers care about them.
However, not everyone has had such good experiences from school. In 2021, as many as 73 percent say they find school boring, and 25 percent say they often dread going to school.
Most of these figures have changed 1–3 percentage points compared with last year’s survey, and all of the figures indicate that young people perceive school in a more negative light than before.
“These changes follow a trend that we have seen in Norwegian schools for some time,” says Bakken.
“The proportion of youths who enjoy school has changed from 95 percent in the mid-1990s to 87 percent in 2021.”