The Covid-19 pandemic has been a disaster for children. Lockdowns and school closures have impacted far more than their education, as the record number of calls to a British child-abuse helpline have revealed.
Human beings are social creatures and most of us need contact with other people to thrive. Children are no different from adults in that regard. But at critical stages of their development, they especially need contact with their contemporaries. Parents and relatives can never be a substitute for friends of their own age.
As a teacher, I work with children every day. While I teach them science, they also learn from each other about what it means to be human. For much of the past year, that did not happen.
While teachers pulled out all the stops to set up online learning platforms – and make them work – the world that children experienced collapsed from three dimensions to two. Clubs and societies also suffered, but perhaps the biggest loss was ‘playing out’: hanging around with other children doing nothing in particular, apart from growing up in the company of their peers.
The irony, of course, is that the lockdowns were never imposed to protect children from Covid-19. The infection-fatality rate among young people is tiny, at below 0.01%. To put that into context, it is similar to the overall mortality from chickenpox, at 0.009%.