Imagine being a teenager or early twentysomething in 2020 – it’s been a very different experience to what they were probably expecting. Thousands of university students have been forced to return to their childhood bedrooms after their first taste of freedom was well and truly curtailed. Younger teens have had school unceremoniously cancelled, and others have not been able to leave the house at all due to health concerns. But the good news is, with lockdown easing, things are finally changing.
Here three young people, with very different experiences of lockdown, describe what life feels like now they are recovering some of their much-yearned-for freedom …
‘Our phones are what connect us’
Anya, 19, Bristol
I always thought the phrase ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ was a bit of a cliche but my boyfriend and I are absolute proof that it’s true. Luke and I have been a couple longer in lockdown than out of it. We met in January and went from sleeping at each other’s houses five nights a week to not physically touching each other since 16 March.
I have cystic fibrosis so I have had to shield at home with my mum; we even disinfect food packets when they come into the house. But despite our physical distance, Luke, who’s 23, and I are closer than ever. These extraordinary times have meant we can really focus on getting to know each other at a deeper level. He makes me feel good and takes me away from the mundanity of every day. We’ve had the time and space to really talk about what’s important to us and best of all we make each other laugh.
In early lockdown we’d FaceTime from the moment we woke up to when we went to sleep. I’d walk around the house with him in my hand; Mum got totally used to him being here with us and has got to know him too. We’d even have date nights watching the same film on Netflix from our bedrooms.
More recently we’ve made our first tentative steps into the outside world together, albeit still being physically apart. We have to take things slowly as I’m still shielding but I have driven over and had a barbecue with his family in his garden, even if I do take my own chair and plate and cutlery to be safe.
We are taking it a day at a time but for now, I’m so relieved he is always by my side thanks to our phones.
‘My friendships mean more to me than ever’
Carrie, 14, Macclesfield
Friendship has become even more important since March. I speak to my best friend Yaz most days and if I didn’t have her I don’t know what I’d do. We just get each other.
I get on really well with my family but you talk to friends in a different way. I’ve used my phone more since lockdown than ever before. But when you’ve suddenly had all your freedom taken away it’s hardly surprising. I spend hours chatting on social media or FaceTime. Some days I look back and see I’ve been on my phone for eight hours.
Before lockdown hit I loved my own space. I’m a keen mountain biker so I’d be out in the woods with friends or hanging out at mates’ houses, or a coffee shop.
Now lockdown has eased, I’m out and about more so I use a lot of data. I go mountain biking and while there are more people on the trails we always do our best to socially distance. I like to meet friends in the park or go to a place nearby to wild swim. I always have my phone to reassure my mum I’m safe.
But I miss socialising without having to think so carefully about it. I never thought I’d say it, but I can’t wait to go back to school.
An unexpected bonus of this year is I’m getting on really well with my brother Dan, who’s 18. We used to bicker but now we really talk to each other. The other day he even invited me to join his friends around the firepit in the garden.
‘I’m finally getting some freedom back’
George, 21, Bishop Sutton
The second year of university is known as the party year, you’re in the swing of student life, there are no exams and just plenty of socialising and nights out. So I never imagined I’d be driving back to my family home at 1am on a March morning, as lockdown hit, and then spending the majority of the year back in my childhood bedroom. It has been hard to take, as up until March, I hadn’t spent more than three weeks consecutively at home since finishing my A-levels. On the plus side, I have enjoyed being close with my family again.
I’m studying modern languages at the University of Oxford and suddenly my academic world has been taken completely online with seminars and tutorials. It has definitely been a challenge getting used to a new normal but I’m trying to remain positive.
One benefit has been changing the way I work. When I was at uni it was like we were always working, doing snippets here and there. But now I’ve learned to work more intensely and so I get the work done faster. It means I have more free time.
While I’m not seeing much of my uni friends I’m finally able to get out and catch up with local friends. We’ve met up for fish and chips near a local lake and have enjoyed river swims and socially distanced drinks at the harbourside. When the weather is good, life almost feels normal again as we sit in parks and chill together.
But we can’t be spontaneous any more, we actually have to plan to meet up. In the old days we would just float around town and see who was around. I’m certainly more reliant on my phone and it’s useful having unlimited data. I’m used to crashing at a friend’s house if I’m visiting but now I have to think about getting home instead.
It’s my year abroad next year and I’m lucky as I have got a job and am heading to Berlin. For those who are staying here, university is going to feel very different.
When you can’t see the people you care about as much as you’d like, staying connected is more important than ever. That’s where unlimited data comes into its own.
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