Life interrupted: How has the pandemic affected our youth?

Despite all the difficulties they go through during this time, these Malaysian youth believe that they can get through it because they're 'all in this together'. Photo: Filepic

This year was supposed to be special for student Alison Low, But, instead, the 16-year-old has been feeling a sense of loss since the movement control order (MCO) came into effect in March. The Form Five student feels as if she’s missing out on life.

“This is my last year in secondary school and it’s supposed to be a year to create final memories in school with my friends. But instead, I’m spending it at home.

“During the first and second week (of the MCO), I felt really demotivated like I’d lost all sense of direction, ” says Low, who is also president of the PJ Child Council (a programme by the PJ City Council to make the city more child friendly).

Over time, the SMK Bandar Utama Damansara 3 student says she managed to overcome her "inner conflict”.

Low has online classes and tuition through Zoom and Google Meet but admits the lack of engagement and interaction makes studies difficult.

“I often find myself zoning out or being less attentive during an online class, ” she says.

But, having a proper schedule and managing time well helps, she discovers.

Going through studies at home without actual interaction with their teachers and classmates is not that easy. Photo: FilepicGoing through studies at home without actual interaction with their teachers and classmates is not that easy. Photo: Filepic

“Schoolwork piling up in our Google Classroom and WhatsApp groups can be pretty overwhelming at times too, ” says Low.

“I’m worried that, after having not met anyone besides my family or the food delivery abang since like forever, we might have forgotten how to relate. I wonder whether or not I’ll be able to interact with my peers and teachers face-to-face like before, when the restrictions are fully lifted, ” she says.

Even so, Low notes that there have been positives that have come out of the MCO/CMCO.

“It feels like a ‘break’ from our hectic school life which used to be filled with co-curriculars and many other activities, ” she admits.

“Now, I’ve more time to improve my piano skills and workout at home. I also went cycling with my brother the other day. It’s surreal being able to engage with the outside world after so long, ” she adds.

Putting life on hold

Unicef data reveals that 43% of adolescents surveyed throughout Malaysia feel safe and calm about the pandemic. But, 52% feel tired, bored and agitated; 33% feel nervous, anxious and scared; 22% feel lonely, sad and lost; 13% feel angry, frustrated and irritable; and 7% feel depressed, confused and concerned about online classes.

Like Low, other teens and adolescents are feeling anxious not only about the Covid-19 pandemic but also about their lives, which have been put on hold because of the movement restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.

Anila (right) spends time helping out at home during the MCO/CMCO. Photo: Cathryn AnilaAnila (right) spends time helping out at home during the MCO/CMCO. Photo: Cathryn Anila

For Cathryn Anila, 20, who completed STPM last year, it's difficult to have no fixed classes or job yet.

“I’ve always been on the go and constantly having something to look forward to. So it’s not easy to adapt to not doing anything," says Anila who is a senior child advocate at Childline Foundation and the founder of Vanguards4Change, two NGOs that advocate children’s rights.

The MCO, she says, took a toll on her mental health.

“My internal clock is so messed up that I sleep at around 5am and wake up at 12pm and I’m not sure how life is going to be post-CMCO... and the nights really trigger many anxious thoughts, ” Anila says.

“I don’t have classes or my usual interactions with children during outreach sessions, and I miss my usual mamak food and boba tea. All this makes me feel unproductive and without a sense of purpose, ” she laments.

Anila also notes that it’s also not easy to stay at home with a large family.

“There’re eight of us at home. We’re all trying to cope with our emotions, everyone is going through different challenges right now, and it’s difficult to always be patient and understanding with each other, ” she says.

But despite all this, Anila manages to see the brighter and sometimes lighter side of things.

“After being cooped up at home for so long, I’ve even forgotten how to wear my jeans!” she laughs.

Anila has enrolled for German language classes, which continue online during the MCO/CMCO. She also keeps herself busy with online meetings and webinars on child rights advocacy, and is also a part of Unicef’s @KitaConnect project.

Zechery with his little sister, playing the piano at home during the MCO/CMCO. Photo: Elmus ZecheryZechery with his little sister, playing the piano at home during the MCO/CMCO. Photo: Elmus Zechery

Going through times like these has made student Elmus Zechery, 17, realise that "we don’t really notice the little things until we lose them".

“Our social life has taken a big hit during the pandemic – we haven’t been able to say hello to friends that we used to see almost daily, or to even go out and visit them on special occasions like birthdays, ” says the SMK St Anthony WP Labuan student who is also the National Child Representative Council president.

“Students have been pushed to adapt to a system that we haven’t been fully integrated into and our teachers have had to adapt to a completely new style of teaching online, ” Zechery notes.

“The hardest part about the MCO and CMCO is living a life different from what we’ve grown accustomed to. But now, after getting used to it, it’s going to be just as hard to re-adjust once the restrictions are all fully lifted, ” he says.

Spending more time online

Vigneswaran studies online during the MCO/CMCO. Photo: Vigneswaran Krishna Murthy ThevarVigneswaran studies online during the MCO/CMCO. Photo: Vigneswaran Krishna Murthy ThevarStudent Vigneswaran Krishna Murthy Thevar, 21, really misses university life where he can participate in activities and move around freely.

For the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia student, online classes aren’t always easy to follow because of inconsistent Internet and the many distractions that make focusing during e-classes difficult.

"Living with a large family with two other siblings who are also in university, means we all have to find our own space to study at home without disturbing each other," he explains.

“Since the MCO started, studies have also changed from exam-based to assignment-based which is more hectic with more deadlines, ” he says, adding that these factors make him feel stressed and depressed.

Like most of the other youth, he is concerned that it will be difficult to return to the outside world when the MCO/CMCO is fully lifted.

Vigneshwaran usually sleeps around 4am and wakes up at 8am to attend online classes.

“It’ll be hard to wake up in the morning and get ready for early morning lectures. Even though we now attend early morning lectures online, we can just get out of bed and turn on the computer to join the class immediately without having to get ourselves ready to take transportation to attend lectures at the university, he explains.

Student Mohd Hanif Mohd Jame, 17, says that there are many distractions at home so it’s often difficult to focus and sometimes, Internet connectivity is an issue too.

“Online learning and traditional classes are quite different, and it’s not always easy to understand what the teachers are teaching in the online classes, ” he says.

Besides his online studies, Hanif has been spending his time enhancing his card skills and has also produced some card trick videos to upload onto his social media.

Beware of cyberbullies

Hanif steps up on his card skills and has uploaded many card trick videos on YouTube and Instagram. Photo: Mohd Hanif Mohd JameHanif steps up on his card skills and has uploaded many card trick videos on YouTube and Instagram. Photo: Mohd Hanif Mohd JameBut, with more people being online - for studies, social media, or other activities - teens and children could be more exposed to cyberbullies.

Hanif, who frequently uploads videos to YouTube and Instagram, says that he has encountered this in the form of negative or derogatory comments.

“But cyberbullies are just immature, so I usually ignore them, ” he says.

“I’ve also noticed many negative comments for other's videos posted during this time, even those with good content, ” he adds.

Anila believes that the constant negativity - anxiety and anger on social media and forwarding of negative news or memes in chatgroups - especially during this time, has also affected the way people react to things.

“It’s more common for people to make negative comments now, not because they genuinely mean it, but because they may be going through difficulties during this period, ” she says, citing a recent case where a TikTok user committed suicide because she was cyberbullied by individuals hiding behind a troll page.

The five youth concur that returning to the outside world after the restrictions have been fully lifted won’t be so simple.

“It won’t be easy adapting to the new normal - life just won’t be the same as before, it may never be the same again - and we’ve no choice but to study harder and smarter than ever before, ” Haniff says.

But despite the difficulties, Anila believes that there will be some positive takeaways.

“We’ve all gone through a change in lifestyle and after this, we won’t take the little things for granted. We’ll hopefully have more empathy and kindness. We’ll realise we’re all in this together because one infected person is potentially a threat to the whole community, ” she says. “Our consciousness will be heightened and we won’t be as selfish as we were before this pandemic, ” she concludes.

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family , teenagers , youth , new normal , mco , cmco


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