The kids aren’t alright

The pandemic is making life harder for Fraser Valley teens, adding to the 'stress pileup' teens throughout history have faced.

By Grace Kennedy | January 19, 2022 |5:00 am

The pandemic has been hard on everyone—but especially Fraser Valley teens. More youth are struggling than before the pandemic: in Abbotsford, Langley, Chilliwack, and especially Hope. There, one Grade 8 student in every 10 is thriving, compared to one in four provincewide.

Data from UBC’s Human Early Learning Partnership shows that Grade 8 students across the province were doing worse in 2020-21 than they were a year before, particularly when it came to developing critical relationships with their peers and feeling supported by their families. (This did not seem to be the case for younger students, who had similar well-being scores.)

These challenges aren’t new. Past research has shown that children tend to become more stressed, more sad, and more pessimistic as they enter adolescence—possibly because of changes to their relationships and development.

However, UBC’s report said that “confronting new stressors in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic with the associated disruptions may have been particularly challenging,” adding to the “stress pileup” teens often experience. This may also be connected to teens’ declining ability to self-regulate: only 40% of Grade 8 students said they could easily avoid fidgeting, focus on a task, and stop impulsive decisions.

These trends hold true in the Fraser Valley as well. Pre-pandemic, approximately a third of Grade 7 students were thriving: they had good general health, a strong sense of optimism, high self-esteem, and were generally happy. During the pandemic, however, only a quarter of Grade 8s were thriving. Although that may not seem like a big change, it means in every classroom there is at least one more kid who is struggling, if not more.

(While the provincewide MDI data follows students as they age, the valley data jumps around. There is a year of difference between students who were surveyed in 2018-19 and the cohort surveyed two years later in Chilliwack, Langley, and Fraser Cascade. Mission’s students are three years apart. And Abbotsford does not have any pre-pandemic data for students in that age range.)

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Teens with the highest well-being in the valley tended to live in Abbotsford’s East Townline area and Fairfield neighbourhood (also known as North Clearbrook). Most school districts had at least one neighbourhood where more than a third of youth were thriving. Except Fraser Cascade. There, even the happiest region (Agassiz-Harrison) only had a quarter of its teens with a high overall wellbeing And in Hope, less than one in 10 teens were thriving.

There, half of all students said they had low optimism, low self-esteem, significant unhappiness, and a poor quality of general health. Half said they didn’t feel they belonged with their peers, although those friends they do have are important and valued.

Those kinds of peer relationships were one of the things most impacted by the pandemic for teens. Hope experienced the most significant decline, going from nearly half of students saying they felt they belonged with their peers to less than 20%. But the trend continued across the Fraser Valley, with fewer students feeling like they belonged than before the pandemic.

Friendship intimacy, another category captured by UBC’s data, also declined—although less significantly than the sense of belonging. More students said they were spending time with their friends online, which may have allowed them to maintain close friendships despite being in online schooling and relatively isolated in their homes.

Perhaps surprisingly, the greatest decline was in the number of students who said they had strong positive relationships with adults at home. Pre-pandemic, 78% of students had strong relationships with their parents and other adult family members: those students felt their families listened to them and supported them. During the pandemic, only 67% agreed with that.

The decline was greatest in Langley, which went from 81% of students being highly connected to their adult family members down to 68%. (Langley also saw a significant decline in the number of students participating in the survey used to collect the data, which could impact the data quality.)

You can read more about the UBC data in each school district’s Middle Years Development Instrument report: Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Langley, Mission, Fraser-Cascade. To read the overarching provincial review of the data, click here.

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Grace Kennedy

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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