The research sheds new light on the effects of the pandemic on young people, according to Rebecca de Leeuw, Assistant Professor of Communication Science at Radboud University. "A lot of attention is given to the negative effects of the coronavirus crisis on young people, such as the increase of substance abuse and depression. This research is very important, but it is also good to look at possible positive developments in young people during the pandemic. We can make good use of these insights to get through future crises.”
Together with scientists from Radboud University and Erasmus University, De Leeuw worked on an article entitled “Moral beauty during the Covid-19 Pandemic: Prosocial behaviour among adolescents and the inspiring role of the media”, published in Communication Research. During the first lockdown, the researchers had a group of nearly 900 young people between the ages of 10 and 25 fill in questionnaires daily for a fortnight about what they saw in the media and what activities they engaged in.
The results showed that young people who were affected by media stories also displayed more helpful behaviour. For example, they helped their parents with the housework, their grandparents with the shopping, or their younger brothers or sisters with their homework assignments when their parents were unable to. They also tried to cheer others up by things like sending messages or baking biscuits. They offered help to strangers, for instance by doing volunteer work. Helping others tended to give them a greater sense of happiness that day.
'Moral beauty' on social media
The young people were often inspired by stories on social media, such as the story of a school principal who personally came by to tell students they had passed. De Leeuw: “They also loved Captain Tom, who raised millions for the British health service during the pandemic. These stories about good deeds - or ‘moral beauty’, as we call it - motivated these young people to do something nice themselves.”
The results of this research are interesting for young people and parents alike, De Leeuw thinks. “It shows that media can also have a positive effect. We already knew that adults can be inspired by media to want to help others, and now we see that it can have a similar effect on young people.”
The researcher hopes that society and politics will start to see young people in a more positive light. “During the pandemic, young people have often been dismissed as anti-social. The news often focused on how they misbehaved at illegal parties, while the vast majority never participated in such activities. Should there be a new round of lockdowns, it would be good to show more confidence in young people, and involve them in caring for others. They can offer a real contribution, not only because they are less at risk of falling seriously ill, but also because most of them are very keen to do their part.”