Background: To reduce COVID-19 infection rates during the initial stages of the pandemic, the UK Government mandated a strict period of restriction on freedom of movement or ‘lockdown’. For young people, closure of schools and higher education institutions and social distancing rules may have been particularly challenging, coming at a critical time in their lives for social and emotional development. This study explored young people’s experiences of the UK Government’s initial response to the pandemic and related government messaging.

Methods: This qualitative study combines data from research groups at the University of Southampton, University of Edinburgh and University College London. Thirty-six online focus group discussions (FGDs) were conducted with 150 young people (Southampton: n = 69; FGD = 7; Edinburgh: n = 41; FGD = 5; UCL: n = 40; FGD = 24). Thematic analysis was conducted to explore how young people viewed the government’s response and messaging and to develop recommendations for how to best involve young people in addressing similar crises in the future.

Results: The abrupt onset of lockdown left young people shocked, confused and feeling ignored by government and media messaging. Despite this, they were motivated to adhere to government advice by the hope that life might soon return to normal. They felt a responsibility to help with the pandemic response, and wanted to be productive with their time, but saw few opportunities to volunteer.

Conclusions: Young people want to be listened to and feel they have a part to play in responding to a national crisis such as the COVID-19 epidemic. To reduce the likelihood of disenfranchising the next generation, Government and the media should focus on developing messaging that reflects young people’s values and concerns and to provide opportunities for young people to become involved in responses to future crises.

Cite as

Strömmer, S., Sivaramakrishnan, D., Shaw, S., Morrison, K., Barrett, M., Manner, J., Jenner, S., Hughes, T., Hardy-Johnson, P., Andreas, M., Lovelock, D., Paramananthan, S., Bagust, L., Buelo, A., Woods-Townsend, K., Burgess, R., Kanu, N., Gul, M., Matthews, T., Smith-Gul, A., Barker, M. & Jepson, R. 2022, 'Young people’s experiences of COVID-19 messaging at the start of the UK lockdown:Lessons for positive engagement and information sharing', BMC Public Health, 22, article no: 352. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-022-12755-3

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Last updated: 08 February 2024
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