Irish teenagers on life now: ‘Most Leaving Certs wonder if third level is still even an option’

We asked second and third-level students how the pandemic has affected them

‘It feels like time is going by at an even faster rate.’ Photograph: iStock

Young people in Ireland have been largely ignored during the pandemic, certainly in comparison with other groups. So we wanted to hear directly from them. We asked two questions: how are they coping, and what are their concerns? Here are a few of their replies.

"I find it difficult to ensure that I am eating, sleeping and exercising enough"
ADRIAN

Co Meath
"I'm a Leaving Cert student. That opening sentence almost provides enough description of what you can imagine my life is like at the moment or what most of the 60,000 students sitting the exams lives are like at the moment. And yet it would appear that the stress, anxiety and nauseating worry we are experiencing on a near daily basis would seem at best unnoticed and at worst totally ignored by stakeholders and the Government.

“Most Leaving Certs, like myself, are now wondering if third level is even an option now. We don’t know whether or not we will have to sit a traditional exam, and what that may look like. We don’t know what kind of competition we are in for, in terms of college spaces – if Leaving Certs from last year who received inflated grades will heighten the points for the courses we wish to pursue. We don’t know how much more online learning we can take.

“It is tiring and overwhelming, both keeping up with assignments, trying your best in subpar live lessons and maintaining some sense of daily normality, one can only imagine how first-year college students must feel, another cohort and their struggles rarely talked about. I find it difficult to ensure that I am eating enough, that I am sleeping enough, and that I am exercising enough. I feel like myself and many Leaving Cert students are on the verge of a total breakdown, except this breakdown has been going on since the start of this academic year.

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“There is a history in this country of constantly screwing over the younger generations, from mass emigration in the 1950s, 1980s and late 2000s, to the lack of equality of opportunity compared to our parents, (young people can barely get on the property ladder, compared to 20 years ago), our student nurses are not getting paid for being a vital part of the healthcare service and in my case, the indecision, total lack of planning and haphazard dealing with the Leaving Cert, and the total disregard for young people’s mental health in this global pandemic has really told us all that this Government, a government that was elected in a time that mandated change, is clearly no different.”

"We were both feeling quite down about the prospect of another long haul lockdown"
MUIREANN and EMMA

Co Dublin
"We are two 19-year-old girls in our first year of college – one of us studying primary school teaching and the other studying nursing. In 2020, we found ourselves living through the Leaving Cert nightmare and then started our first year of college online, alone in our bedrooms. Going into the new year, like so many others, we were both feeling quite down about the prospect of another long haul lockdown, and were frankly feeling very bored . . . so we decided to do something about it!

“With nursing placement being cancelled, growing uncertainty surrounding primary school placement and all college classes online, we had a lot of time on our hands. On the 2nd of January, we were both chatting about how we need to have a new hobby to keep ourselves busy and to bring some excitement into our lives! So, we decided to start our own lifestyle blog.

“Life with M and Em was born! We started the blog in January and now we post twice a week on our website about everything and anything from our favourite movies to online school, from learning to drive to finding motivation to exercise. We have gotten such a positive response to the blog. We write all the posts ourselves and the art on the website is all original.

“Before this, we were sitting in our rooms, unmotivated, looking into a daunting new year full of lockdowns and restrictions, reminding us of how much we have missed out on and all the things we would love to be doing in our first year of college. Now, we have something to work on, something we enjoy doing, and it has brought a new purpose to our days. Despite how tough these times are, starting something new has for sure made being a teenager in lockdown a whole lot more fun.”

"I often feel deceived, like I'm the only one toeing the line"
CATHAL

Co Wicklow
"Most of us are doing what's right by staying at home, but there are those who are out every day with their friends as if there's no reason not to be. As a teenager this is heartbreaking and feels like a betrayal, all we see on social media is the activities of the people who are breaking the rules. I often feel deceived, like I'm the only one toeing the line, while all my friends are out having fun. While this is obviously not the full truth, it's how many of us feel during every lockdown that comes along."

"I wake 10 minutes before a class starts, roll out of bed, power on my laptop and force myself to concentrate on my lecturer"
AMY

Dublin
"I feel as though college students, including myself, have been left behind in the pandemic. I have not stepped foot on my college campus of DCU since the 12th of March. I admit I was delighted at first to have two weeks off, but now, 11 months on, I would give anything to attend a lecture in person. During the first lockdown there was so much uncertainty surrounding how to provide classes my modules were cut short and I ended the semester with relatively little upheaval. We all assumed we would be back on campus in September, but alas that was not the case.

“Myself and fellow college students around the country were thrown into the deep end attempting to navigate Zoom and learn the difference between asynchronous and synchronous lectures. I watched enviously as my younger sister donned a face mask and gladly went back to secondary school. Each morning I wake 10 minutes before a class starts, roll out of bed, power on my laptop and force myself to concentrate on my lecturer as the internet connection becomes increasingly unstable. I spend hours at a time in my bedroom trying to find books that are available online so I can write assignments, watch pre-recorded lectures, read long journal articles and attempt to organise group work. My bedroom has gone from a place of relaxation to stress and frustration. Everything is on you. I feel as though I am completing this college degree on my own.

“Education aside, it is the social aspect of college I miss the most. I am missing out on so many experiences of being in my 20s. Even the simple things like seeing my friends in person, grabbing a coffee between lecturers, taking a break in the student union building and getting lunch at Nubar seem like fragments from a different world. I am in my final year of college now faced with the crushing reality that I will never step foot on the DCU campus again.

“I am juggling college, work, a dissertation, Masters applications and studying for the HPAT. It can get a lot. One thing I am hopeful about is getting to my graduation in November, seeing my classmates and being able to say ‘We did it!’ (Even if I have to buy a face mask that matches my dress). I am optimistic that in the summer I can regain some of the time I have lost as a teenager. When cinemas, bars, restaurants and nightclubs reopen I will be first in line. Never again will I moan about waking up early to get to college on time. I will wake at 7am with a smile on my face, grateful I have the opportunity to attend a college campus again.”

"I'm watching my life pass by while I do nothing"
HANNAH

Co Cork
"It feels like all of the plans I had for my teen years has to be put on hold for who knows how long. All of the hope we had around this time last year is pretty much gone. There's no more "next summer will be better", it'll probably be the same. I'm finally old enough to go out and do things with my friends and instead all we can do is call each other. I'm watching my life pass by while I do nothing. I don't know when things will go back to normal or what that will even be like. I've stopped making plans for the future because everything is so uncertain. Will we be able to go to that arcade during the summer? Will we get to have sleepovers? There's only so much fun I can have from my bedroom."

"My body is too young to deal with a mind feeling so old"
PHILIPPA

Northern Ireland
"It's the insomnia. Knowing that there is a morose reality to wake up to. Out of a routine. Sinking into unhealthy habits. There are no nights out. No late night drives. Instead, the nine o'clock news. Broadcasters reciting rehearsed lines. Depicting the tragedies. Paying tribute to the casualties. A world full of madness. Yet, we, the future generation, are meant to act 'normal,' in a world filled with havoc and chaos. My body is too young to deal with a mind feeling so old.

“It’s the frustration against our society. A global pandemic isn’t enough to unite the people of Northern Ireland. What will it take for both sides to live in harmony? An all-island approach is the best way forward. Yet, the politicians of Northern Ireland are once again at a crossroad. One side is stuck in 1916. The other in 1690. When will we end this divide to fight the real enemy? Coronavirus. ”

“It’s horrible being put under that much pressure”
CHELSEA

“To be honest, I feel that the Government doesn’t know what us teenagers want in the slightest. The reason I feel like this is because they’re saying we want to go back to school for educational purposes, where that is not true. I’m in sixth year and I’m doing my Leaving. Yes, I need it done, yes for college and for my career in the future, but I do not want to go back to school. I can do that at home. The reason I and most of the teenagers I know want to go back is because they miss their friends. They want to be able to live the life that a teenager can have fun and not be stuck in their room or stuck in the house.

“Nowhere to go, no one to talk to, and slowly going insane because they are being made do things that when we had freedom could not think about or not have to deal with, such as depression, insomnia, worrying, being scared for our families/friends lives, losing a loved one – it’s horrible being put under that much pressure.

“This isn’t me saying all teens are thinking this, and we should have loads of freedom in a pandemic, or that other older people’s health don’t matter. I’m not saying that at all. What I’m saying is that teens and kids need that stimulation of freedom, that stimulation of doing something fun instead of being stuck in a house, not being able to get out, thinking about their problems and getting depressed.”

“I’m happy to comply with restrictions, but it’s difficult to prepare for potentially another year of them”
SCOTT

“I’m a 21-year-old in college. I’ve been keeping busy with college work and working out regularly, which I’m grateful for. I’m happy to comply with all the restrictions, but it’s difficult to prepare for potentially another year of them, knowing that people my age are missing out on two of the best years of our lives. By the time this is over, I will be almost finished college, having spent more time learning online than I did physically being in college.”

“It feels like time is going by at an even faster rate”
KATIE

“When the first lockdown happened I was halfway through first year, never would I have dreamed this might affect my Junior Cert, but I’m starting to worry that might be a possibility. I have more time now to relax with less homework and no sports, but every day is the exact same and it feels like time is going by at an even faster rate.”

“I had so many plans for 2021, but it looks like they won’t be going ahead”
JACK

Co Clare
“This is lockdown is tough. School is more organised than the first lockdown in March but still a hard. I’m not in an exam year, thankfully. There is a lot of uncertainty around the Junior and Leaving Cert exams, and I am only happy I am not affected by it. I had so many plans for 2021, but it looks like they won’t be going ahead. I am missing a lot of opportunities and events. I am at a point in my life where being social and communication are key but that is restricted. School is a pain, I miss my friends but overall I’m doing okay. This lockdown is much harder for some than others. I have a lot of time to myself and I am more active than I was before. I’m spending a lot more time with my family. I hope that the vaccine rollout goal will be reached and we can return to somewhat normal life. I think there is a lot to learn from this.”

“I feel that students like me, who have to take a pill every morning just to face each day, have been forgotten”
HUGO

Co Dublin
“Leaving Cert, no Leaving Cert, predicted grades . . . a hybrid, perhaps? As a sixth-year student, on the brink of reaching the ‘Golden Gates’ of university, I have been reduced to a baby in a pram, reaching out for a lollipop being dangled in front of me. My life and the lives of all my peers have been restricted to school. Of course, it is normal that a sixth-year should be fixated on the end-of-year exams. However, we are all so entirely crushed and beaten to the ground by constant assessment, leaked Government rumours and online school that we cannot physically work.

“I have always been an extremely motivated person, and have known since first year that I wanted to pursue a career as a solicitor and get involved in politics. My dream course would be law & politics in Trinity, which last year required 602 points. In a normal, ‘traditional’ year (an adjective so adored by the Education Minister) I would have no issue achieving this. Yet this year, having already missed out on four months of school, with more to come, my dreams are rapidly disintegrating in my hands. I am now at the point of giving up.

“I have for several years suffered with major depressive disorder, to top it all off. I normally found it difficult enough to keep up with school. How am I possibly meant to cope now? I feel that students like me, who have to take a pill every morning just to face each day, have been utterly ignored and forgotten by the Government, and especially by the TUI and ASTI. They don’t care about us. I am resigned to failing, as are all of my peers. Predicted grades is the only fair option.”

“Some of us are experiencing stress beyond what we could have ever imagined”
MELANIE
Co Kerry
“I’m a 20-year-old college student. Both of my parents are immunocompromised. My mother having several autoimmune diseases and my step father having leukaemia. At the beginning of the pandemic I had to make a huge decision on whether to compromise my college life and remain at home in my family’s bubble or to remain in college and not be able to go home at all.

“While other people were travelling and not restricting their movement I was laying in bed crying to see my family. While other people travelled home every weekend I couldn’t risk it. I couldn’t imagine ever bringing it into my home knowing it would be a definite death sentence for both of my parents.

“I pay full price for my repeat year of study as I was unable to complete my year of study last year due to my mental health. I was in receipt of a full grant with maintenance. Now I have nothing. I have searched for jobs but not having the flexibility most employers want, it’s near impossible. So now I can’t go home, I can’t see my family, and I am paying almost €4,000 that my family does not have to sit in front of my computer all day. And all I hear is ‘it’s the kids who are spreading this virus’.

“We are taking this seriously. I haven’t seen my friends or family in months. It’s extremely lonely and isolating and to have the blame put on a full group when it’s a small number of people breaking the rules is extremely demoralising.

“Some of us are experiencing stress beyond what we could have ever imagined in our college years. Some of us are breaking silently. We’re being told to just hold strong and it’ll be over soon, when, as a group, we will be one of the last to be vaccinated. We see no end to this.”

“I miss my friends and family. I’m worried about never seeing them again”
LEAH

Ireland
“I’m a 15-year-old third-year student. This lockdown has been so incredibly hard for me. I miss my friends and family. I’m worried about never seeing them again. I’m worried this will never end. The thing I’m most worried about is whether or not my Junior Cert exams will take place. I feel like this pandemic is making it hard to enjoy my teenage years.”