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Sometimes, there are things we know and then there are things we understand.
We knew that the fallout of the Covid pandemic was affecting young people differently from the rest of the population. We knew that the effects of coming of age during a crisis trail young adults for years. We knew that all this was happening in a world where the inter-generational bargain was already under threat, where jobs were less secure, education expensive, wages stagnant, debt rising and that Covid had exacerbated this. What we did not understand was what it is like to be subject to those forces, to live in the skin of a young person during this time.
Maddi, Tristan, Michelle, Emmanuel, Melis, Noah, Bethany and Jake helped us understand.
Over the past four months, these eight young people opened up their lives to readers in a series of personal diaries, the cornerstone of the Dreams Interrupted series, revealing in forensic detail how the pandemic is affecting Australia’s young people. In so sharing, we readers could understand just what it is like to try to find your feet while the world under you is trembling.
The Dreams Interrupted diaries gave volume to voices which, despite Instagram and YouTube and Tiktok, are rarely heard. They wrote with heart-breaking honesty, with fury and yet with hope.
The eight came from the breadth of Australia, from incredibly diverse backgrounds. Their dreams were different. But we soon found they were traversing a shared, and uneasy, path.
Like hundreds of thousands of young people across the country, seven of the diarists had lost their jobs when we set out. The last, Jake, had clung on to his work as a chef while staff around him were sacked, working harder and harder until he too had to go. These were casual jobs, mostly. Jobs often seen as petty cash for students. But as we learned, they meant so much more. They meant self-respect. Freedom. Independence. They meant growing up. Leaving home. They meant paying rent.
Alongside the financial struggles and stress, at the core of that path over the past four months was the horrific toll on the mental health of our diarists caused by the time we have lived in. We saw them mourn friends lost to suicide. Increase their anti-depressants to fight resurgent eating disorders. We saw them terrified by uncharacteristic psychotic episodes, and numbed by the anxiety that consumed their days.
But there were triumphs. Emmanuel, who had fallen into depression during lockdown as his work dried up, so down he could not pick up a pencil to draw, persisted and scraped together enough money to begin Tafe, working towards his goal of becoming an art teacher. Bethany and Tristan, who both got tangled up in Centrelink, frightened by the refusal or cessation of a social security lifeline, ultimately found support.
Mostly, as the series rolled to an end, we saw an emerging defiance. It would be careless to call it optimism. It is more of a determination. There was a great faith in each other as a generation that they might play the hand they are dealt and make a future for themselves, rather than inherit one. But amid that solidarity, a sense also that they were in a way on their own. That the political fight may be shared, but the personal one – to be employed, to make a start in life – that was their independent responsibility. While they fought for the social safety net, not one of them wanted to rely on it.
It is easy to dismiss the plight of young people because they have exclusive access to two of the commodities older adults most value: youth and time. And in the transition to adulthood there have always been challenges. Students have subsisted on Maggi noodles and council clean-up furniture before. Young people have protested injustice before. And we have all, each of us, been impacted by this pandemic. Jobs were lost most by the young, but no age group was spared. We all inhaled the anxiety suspended like a fine dust in the air around us.
But to say this generation is doing it hard is not to say they are the hardest done by in history. It is to say that the world we leave to young people matters. That the wellbeing of our youth matters. It is to say that it is a stain on us who are older when we allow the road behind us to become harder to follow.
The young people who laid bare their lives to us in Dreams Interrupted showed us that the challenges they face are significant. That they are felt not just materially, but in the soul. By opening up their lives we could bear witness to these impacts, this unfairness.
What they also showed us, as they signed off their final diaries, setting off to Tafe, or uni, or building their fledgling careers, is that they may be shaped, but will not be defined, by the fallout from Covid. Not without a fight. They are still holding on to their dreams.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Young people might be shaped by Covid, but they won’t be defined without a fight | Australia news