'Social recession' looms for pupils in virus fallout

Over 60 percent of secondary school students are worried about meeting people without their masks on, sparking warnings from social workers about a "social recession" among teens amid Covid-19 distancing measures.

The finding came in a survey by Lutheran teen services team, Integrated Children & Youth Service Centre Division in Hong Kong, of over 1,000 secondary students in June, which also found nearly half of the respondents fearing face-to-face gatherings even more than the pandemic.

Almost two in five said they felt guilty over having gatherings amid social distancing measures while 22 percent felt their communication skills have deteriorated.

About half said they felt more worried about face-to-face meetings compared to pre-pandemic times.

"This reflects the fact that teenagers are adapting by hiding expressions and emotions after living with the mask for a long time," said Lewis Chu Ka-yin, officer-in-charge of the group's teen services center.

"Not only do they lack opportunities to practice their expressions in expressing themselves, but they also lack chances to observe the expressions of others," he said.

Chu was worried that prolonged masking will create a "social recession" in teens and make it difficult for them to communicate with people in real life.

He added that the students are concerned when meeting their peers during the pandemic as parents disapprove of them going out or friends refuse to go out as they are afraid of being infected.

Chu also expressed concern over situations where teenagers feel frustrated when they fail to meet their peers, seeing it as a social defeat, and withdraw from further social contacts.

A student, Daisy, who sat for this year's Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education examinations, said her sense of separation from her friends amid the gathering ban came gradually.

"Those who weren't invited would be upset, and over time, they became more distant from our social circle," she said.

Daisy also said prolonged masking had made her teachers and classmates misunderstand her expressions, as she could only talk with friends on the phone and found that the chances to meet new friends in person were few and far in between.

She is embarking on an associate degree program next month, but some activities in her institute, such as the orientation camp, have been canceled due to the pandemic. She hoped she would have a chance to meet new friends in school once the pandemic subsides.

The group recommended youngsters work on maintaining friendships. When social distancing measures are relaxed, schools should host more group activities for youngsters to get back on track.

It suggested government departments or committees responsible for youth affairs should put more resources into training teenagers in social skills that they may miss during the prolonged masking.

It also suggested the government provide guidelines to employers so they can have better expectations management of their teen workers.