Discussion – Key Debates, Viewpoints & Interviews
Covid life-courses – "My Life in Times of Coronaviruses": Changes in the Everyday Life of Children of Madrid
Lourdes Gaitán, founding member of the Sociology of Childhood and Adolescence Group (GSIA)
On March 14th 2020, the state of alarm was declared in Spain and measures were taken to combat the pandemic caused by Covid-19. Among the measures applicable to all citizens was highlighted the restriction of movement on roads and spaces for public use. This measure, added to the closure of all schools, led to a radical change in the way of life of children and adolescents in this country. In the Madrid region, which is the one most affected by the disease, this change affected more than 1,000,000 children aged 0 to 16.
As the closure of schools had occurred a few days earlier in this region, and at the same time the state of alarm included the shutdown of establishments and the recommendation of teleworking wherever possible, it can be assumed that families with young children and children of school age, were able to organize the chain of home care with some margin of time. Advice and initiatives of various kinds emerged to guide activities that could be done with children without leaving home early. Likewise, the idea was imposed that it was necessary to protect children against the threat of losing the pace of school learning, or not passing courses, by setting up a replica of the classroom inside the home, ignoring the fact that not all children would be in the same conditions to achieve the results required.
Certainly, as Jens Qvortrup  explained, children are "in principle exposed to the same social forces as adults, although in a particular way". But that particular way is usually interpreted by adults on behalf of children, leaving little room for them to express their judgments, opinions and feelings, and even less for them to participate in decision-making that affects them. However, children are not simply silent spectators, nor passive subjects of the beneficial action of adults, but they are themselves active members who contribute to the well-being of their family and their community, building their own resilience strategies to deal with crisis situations .
Taking this perspective as a starting point, it seemed appropriate to ask ourselves the following question: how do children see and how do they live the Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences, especially in the context of their daily life? It is likely that, as time passes, much research will be carried out based on the memories of these days, but collecting the very first impressions of what is being experienced today, here and now, seems to be something worthwhile, even if it is necessary to use unsophisticated tools and allow for some methodological licence.
The purpose of this brief article is to present the results of a consultation involving a dispersed group of children, living in Madrid, from 4 to 14 years of age, between March 23rd and 8th April 2020 (the second and third week of house confinement).
The path followed to collect the data
Spain is among the 10 countries in the world that use WhatsApp the most. This tool is an ally keeping the population communicated during forced isolation caused by the alarming situation, and thus it has also been used to collect information from children for our small research project.
Contact with children was made through female friends, who are grandmothers, mothers or aunts of children of the ages noted above (there were also men, but it was mainly a chain of women). They have given the necessary authorization, explained to the children the purpose of the consultation, thus achieving their participation, or not, and sent the researcher the messages that the children made, either in the form of a writing or drawing, audio or video, through WhatsApp.
Before launching the consultation, three children were spoken to directly, who advised that it should be somewhat brief and “free style”, that is, that each child should express his- or herself on the subject from any angle and by any means.
30 children participated in the first round of consultation, in a well balanced sample: 50% boys / girls; 50% 4 to 8 years old, 50% 9 to 14 years old. The origin social class is mostly middle class, with some representation of working class and of single parent households.
The second round was not originally planned, but was done to check the firmness of some statements observed in the first one, by comparing those with the opinions of another group of children of similar characteristics. Here the answers were also open, but it was suggested that children do mention the three main advantages and disadvantages that they saw in the current situation. 29 children participated in this round, and the distribution was more irregular: 60% boys, 40% girls; 41% 4 to 8 years, 59% 9 to 14 years.
What children tell
Children tell, or better, draw, their emotions. At first, they feel uncertainty and disorientation, because their usual life has been interrupted. The virus, especially among the youngest, is lived as a threat, which is outside, and therefore they cannot go out. In these circumstances, the home, one's own home, is perceived as a protective environment, as a safe haven where parents, siblings, and even pets are. They want to understand why it happened, because what has happened (“a little bug that came from China and people have become ill in all, all countries”, Amelia, 4 years) know it well; they are informed, even if adults try to leave them out. Sadness, because the buildings and the streets are empty, there is no space for colour (“I will paint the rainbow in colours when I am happy, but not now”, Amina, 6 years).
They talk about family life. The "quarantine" (they do not say "confinement") has led to a reorganization of roles within the home. They explain how the schedules are combined: the work of mom, dad cooking, they, the children, collaborating in cleaning tasks... But above all they talk about being, playing, telling, playing sports, dancing, watching movies and series, all the family together. Above all, it is this family way of life, apparently forced by isolation, which is the aspect most valued by them.
Managing their own free time also seems to be a novelty for them. Faced with the semi-compulsory and directed nature that all the leisure activities with which adults obsessively try to fill children's free time in industrial societies, in the current circumstances they feel that they can choose and invent what to do, and even choose to do nothing.
The opposite side of this freedom to choose what to do with your time is represented in the school tasks. The situation generated by the pandemic has highlighted the importance of the different “digital gaps” in teaching - see Fernández-Enguita. For the children consulted, what is revealed is the "gap" that indicates the difference not so much in children's access to digital media, but between schools and teachers with or without digital experience. Thus, there are children who express their concern about, and difficulties in, distance learning, or the overload of conventional tasks, while others relate their daily encounters in the virtual classroom as a satisfactory experience.
Some of the children consulted say they are bored or feel confined or angry about not being able to leave home. But all this is related to the impossibility to be with their friends, talking, playing, or doing sports with them. Fortunately, technology has come to help them:
But in the 21st century we are lucky to have technology, I talk to my friends and my family by video call, I play on the console with them and (have) meetings with them and my teachers. (Santiago, 10 years).
At last they feel that the solution is in their hands somehow. Marco has represented it like this:
Explanation: In the middle is the Coronavirus, and the red line of a heartbeat machine. You have to choose which side to be on, or the one on the top, which is to look at a screen all day [it is a drawing of a binary code], or the one on the bottom, in colours, which is being fun, playing with the family, hanging out.
It remains to be mentioned their strong feelings of empathy with the adults who are caring for everyone, their compassion for people who are suffering from the virus, their solidarity, and a sense of community and collective effort. So children share the message of the emblematic Spanish song in this crisis:
It will pass! We will resist! (Lucia, 10 years)
 Qvortrup, J. (1993) ‘Nine theses about childhood as a social phenomenon’. Eurosocial Report, 47:11-18.
 Gaitán, L., Pechtelidis, Y., Tomás, C. et. al. (2020) Children’s Lives in Southern Europe. Contemporary Challenges and Risks. Edward Elgar.
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