Children's fears in the time of Covid-19
Many children see the future as frightening and uncertain, especially at the present time. Helena Hörnfeldt, Associate Professor of Ethnology, has recently completed a research project about children’s fears, both past and present.
"Both the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis dramatically reveal both our planet’s fragility and our own vulnerability as a species," she says.
How is the Covid-19 pandemic affecting children’s fears?
"It’s clear that there will be no boundaries, fences or walls that can stop either climate change or the Covid-19 pandemic. That makes the fear even scarier."
"They are also influenced by the uncertainty of the future, in combination with a dystopian mediascape that focuses on threat, crises and catastrophes. What can we know about the future? What is the meaning of school, social life and love – if there’s no future to look forward to?"
What normally scares children?
"In interviews I conducted with children between 7 and 18, many children were mostly afraid of certain animals, failing in school, terror attacks, the dark and climate change. But their fears vary with age, gender and social background."
How does social media affect the information children receive?
"Nowadays parents can’t protect their children from seeing the enormous flood of news that comes to us, young and old, on mobile phones, TVs, and computers."
"Additionally, information reaches children without the filter of parents, teachers or state media. Many children find out what is happening from media to which neither teachers nor parents have access. There’s a risk that rumours and false claims about the coronavirus are spreading, but we shouldn’t forget that children today are significantly better at evaluating information and media than many adults."
How have children’s fears varied over time?
"Worry and fear are not a new phenomenon for humans. Feeling fear when faced with war, natural catastrophes, natural phenomenon, animals, nature, sickness and death has most likely been around in every generation, even if the way we understand the feelings and ourselves has changed. Over time, however, the fears have become more diffuse and amorphous and more tinged with anxiety, insecurity and angst."
Has the Covid-19 pandemic changed this pattern?
"Children’s lives today are characterised by a safety consciousness and expectations of absolute security, at least for children in wealthy countries of the West. At the same time, worry and fear determine more and more of our daily activities and life choices."
"When a threat or real danger comes as close as the coronavirus has, something happens to fear. The danger and threat are suddenly real. Fear of terrorist attacks was not nearly as apparent among young people in interviews I conducted before the 2011 terrorist attack in Norway. But that changed. If it could happen in Norway, it can just as easily happen in Sweden. Violence and death got close to young people when it had seemed so far away before. The same thing happened now when the coronavirus was only in China. When the unthinkable happens in an otherwise safe environment it changes how we understand and interpret our worlds and our feelings at their core."
Why did you become interested in children and fear?
"I started my research on children and fear connected to climate changes. My entry point was the similarities between governmental advocacy work in the 30s and 40s compared to today. Back then it was hygiene practices that they wanted to communicate to the population, and now it’s knowledge about climate issues. Both then and now, the messages were communicated through the children who would then pass information on to their families."
April 23, 2020