Trauma of 2020 stunted social development of young people, finds study

If you feel like you still haven’t recovered from the trauma of 2020, now there’s science to back it up.

A new study has found that the year 2020 was so traumatic for young people that their social development has been stunted.

Researchers have found young adults felt less intimacy, were less satisfied with their relationships and felt less supported by their friends in the year of the pandemic compared to 2019.

They said that, as a result, young people may struggle to form lifelong friendships and relationships. They might even find it tough to progress with their careers as they grow up.

The differences were not drastic, but the study’s authors found that young people experienced enough missed opportunities for their development to be put at risk.

Youngsters also experienced more stress and anxiety than people growing up in more normal years.

However, the researchers were surprised to find young people in 2020 did not feel much more lonely than they did in other years.

For the study, the German research team looked at the social development of 415 Californian young people aged 18 to 35 over eight months in 2020 and compared it to that of 465 young Californians in 2019.

Participants shared updates on factors relating to their development.

‘If everything goes well, young adults select into social networks, initiate friendships and romantic relationships, and find their occupational niche,’ said Dr Janina Bühler, the study’s lead author.

‘Our findings, however, show that external stressors and environmental variations may set young adults on a less fortunate path. Small effects can have lasting consequences,’

The researchers noted that the effect of stress caused by seismic global events from the pandemic to the killing of George Floyd and the bitterly fought US presidential election that year varied greatly between participants.

‘Environmental conditions and contexts are critical for development, because they provide the opportunities that people need to grow in a healthy way,’

‘In 2020, the average young person may have had fewer of these opportunities, causing fear and anxiety while potentially hindering their development.’

The team said that further research examining how people who were less affected coped could lead to better resources and support for struggling youngsters being developed.

The findings were published in the journal Social, Psychological and Personality Science.

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