Brock team begins online study of children’s experiences during COVID-19

It was a news report on the dramatic rise in calls to Kids Help Phone that moved Rebecca Raby to action.

As a researcher with a long history of working with children and youth, the Professor of Child and Youth Studies was concerned, and curious, about how young people are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.

To that end, Raby and her research team of six graduate students have launched their online study of children’s and young people’s experiences at home during the pandemic.

“Clearly, there are children who are in a lot of distress out there,” says Raby. “But I suspect we’re also going to hear stories about really cool, compelling things that kids have started to initiate at home with parents, siblings, on their own or online.”

Raby and her team are starting one-on-one online interviews this week with up to 30 children and youth from ages eight to 15.

The research team member is asking participants a number of open-ended questions, says Raby. Some example questions include:

  • How are you feeling?
  • What’s your favourite thing to do each day?
  • What are you finding hardest about this situation?
  • Have the rules of your household changed?
  • How has the situation changed your extra-curricular activities and your job, if you have one?

In two weeks’ time, the team will be doing the next round of online interviews, asking the same questions, and in two-week intervals after that over the next few months. In between the major sessions will be “mini-interviews” to stay in touch with participants, says Raby.

“I do think that this is an opportunity for some kids to have extra social contact,” she says.

Raby says she and her team sought to recruit children and youth from a wide diversity of backgrounds and age ranges, adding that the team is still seeking participants from lower income families.

“The experiences of children during the pandemic are going to vary so greatly depending on a number of factors, including if they have disabilities, are lower income, the size of their living space, whether they are travelling back and forth between parents,” she says. “All of those kinds of things can shape what their experiences of the pandemic will be.”

Raby says the pandemic has greatly accelerated the team’s research process, and that she’s been “really impressed” that Brock’s Research Ethics Board has been open to quickly reviewing research applications related to the pandemic. As soon as patterns and themes start emerging from the interviews, Raby plans on sharing the findings with media so that the wider public is aware of children’s and young peoples’ experiences right away.

“I suspect we’re going to learn a lot about personal coping, family dynamics and online peer friendships,” says Raby, “providing us with a sense of how children are dealing with this difficult situation.”

Such knowledge might help families by offering ideas and coping strategies arising from the young people themselves, she says, and provide government and service organizations with ideas on how to better support children who are having a hard time.

Down the road, the team aims to publish their findings, partly as an historical record of this time and also “to inform thinking about children’s experiences in social isolation in general,” says Raby.

“There are children who are in social isolation quite regularly, even in normal life.”

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