“Young people’s lives revolve around making social contact. They are now limited in that, and they’re not being handed any alternatives. We know that these are things that can make people feel very bad indeed.” Crone is the founder of the Erasmus SYNC lab (Society, Youth & Neuroscience Connected), and she and her team are currently conducting research on how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting adolescent and student welfare.
What was your study like?
“We started out with a study involving nine hundred young adults, half of whom were Erasmus University students, while the other half were adolescents living in Rotterdam, aged 10 to 18. We asked them to keep a daily diary for two weeks, and to answer questions such as how they were doing and whether they’d had any chance to meet others. Those diaries gave us a good understanding of how emotions change from day to day.”
What were your findings?
“The results quickly began to show us that the older the young adults, the more poorly they were doing. They were more prone to anxiety and less likely to feel strong. We found that things were really quite rough for teenagers aged 16 to 20 and young adults aged 20 to 25. This prompted us to conduct more research on young adults at that stage of their lives.”
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Can you explain what that follow-up study was like?
“The study was mainly designed to help us answer the question as to how young people were doing in general. We not only conducted research on the effects on the brain and distributed surveys but also started working with panels of young adults. As part of this project, we visited several neighbourhoods in Rotterdam to talk to young adults. When you’re conducting a study involving young adult panels, the answers you get may not be representative of all young adults in our society. And if you only conduct research on how the brain is developing, you may not be sure what exactly these developments point to. By combining both research methods, you get a clearer picture.”
What picture did you get?
“In our study we discovered that young adults are driven by a wish to go out into the world. They want to have an impact, earn respect and change society. These are all common character traits of young adults aged 15 to 25. It’s great that they have that drive, because it’s what society needs, over and over again. The digital revolution, our thoughts on climate change, and combatting social inequality – these are all movements spearheaded by a younger generation. The restrictions are hard on everyone, but the younger generation is being hit disproportionally hard, and this is obvious from their level of well-being.”
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How is this study relevant?
“In my capacity as a scientist, I try to give back the things I learn from my empirical research to organisations, lecturers, parents and young adults themselves in the form of building blocks. These building blocks are basically small pieces of knowledge. I regard knowledge as a big ball, and what we seek to do is make that ball slightly larger bit by bit, by finding out more and more about our world. By passing these building blocks on to the right organisations, such as Jongerentop010, we can allow them to come up with clearly defined solutions.”
Could you give students some advice, based on your own particular expertise?
“First of all, it’s not surprising that [young adults’] level of well-being should be declining. After all, this is the stage of your life where you wish to do things for others, but the only thing you’re hearing is, ‘stay at home, stay at home’. We should probably think about it in a different way. So if we know that young adults need to be able to feel that they’re having an impact, we must help them find a way to express that need. We must learn to exercise a new kind of creativity, in which we try to focus on the things young people can do. The virus doesn’t cause young people to fall ill, so we’re asking this huge group to make an enormous sacrifice, just to be considerate to other generations. So I hope other generations will be considerate themselves and give young adults the opportunity to feel like they’re doing something useful.”