Pandemic Generation

The Pandemic Generation: Children’s inclusion and participation in Covid-19 health promotion in Aotearoa New Zealand

There are 1.1 million children and young people in Aotearoa New Zealand, representing 20% of the “team of 5 million” who have collectively worked to control Covid-19 over the last 1.5 years. For this “pandemic generation,” the Covid-19 era has, and will continue to represent a significant proportion of their childhoods, likely impacting their perceptions of health, risk, sociality, and nationhood. Yet globally, childhood studies scholars have observed an under-representation of children in Covid-19 media and public health policy and messaging, where focus on children has been generally limited to questions of their susceptibility to or ability to transmit virus, or the social, developmental, educational and economic impacts of disruption. These things are vitally important, however, limited attention to children as social actors in the pandemic reduces them to caricatures of risk, vulnerability, suffering and resilience, and as passive recipients of care. Yet the multi-disciplinary field of childhood studies has long established that children are social actors with agency, and research in the social science of child health has demonstrated how neglecting children’s perspectives can impact child and family health and influence the success of policies and interventions. This research invites a view of children as participants in pandemic life and as public health promoters: as people who engage with government mandates, accommodate a restructuring of their childhood, and contribute to the care and protection of their families, communities, and nation as well as their own self-care. Moreover, the invisibility of children’s own perspectives on their experiences, challenges, and needs precludes effective policy to support them. Because children are a marginalised social group with few opportunities to speak and be heard, it is critically important that researchers, as mandated by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) actively solicit children’s perspectives and advocate for their inclusion in matters that affect them.

Aotearoa NZ has made some important efforts to include children in public health promotion and messaging. There have been few opportunities to hear children’s responses to this messaging, however, meaning that little is known about how children have heard and incorporated messages into their health practices, how children are understanding and making sense of the coronavirus and the pandemic at local and global scales, or their perceptions of measures like masks, contact tracing, lockdowns, managed isolation and quarantine, and vaccination.

This research therefore seeks to answer 3 main questions:

1. How have children been represented, included or excluded in/from COVID-19 public health promotion, media and messaging?
2. How have children experienced, perceived and understood the pandemic, the coronavirus, and public health messaging in the context of their everyday childhoods?
3. How have children participated in public health promotion?

These questions will be addressed through two strands of research: 1) an analysis of NZ policy and media documents relating to the pandemic, and 2) focus groups and interviews with children. Through comparing children’s representation and their realities, I aim to indicate areas where children may be better supported by health promotion policy in future.

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