The Invisible Suffering of Young People during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Spain and the Collateral Impact of Social Harm
1.1. COVID-19 and Adolescents in Spain
A state of alarm shall be declared by the Government, by means of a decree decided upon by the Council of Ministers, for a maximum period of fifteen days. The Congress of Deputies shall be informed and must meet immediately for this purpose. Without their authorisation the said period my not be extended.
Such measures are part of the government’s resolute initiative to protect the health and safety of citizens, contain the spread of disease and strengthen health and social and care systems.
The partial unconstitutionality of Royal Decree 463/2020, of 14 March does not stem from the material content of the measures adopted, whose necessity, pertinence and proportionality we have accepted, but from the legal mechanisms through which certain fundamental rights were suspended.(p. 78)
- There was a 136% increase in households receiving no income during the pandemic.
- There was a 46% decrease in income earned by families from formal employment and a 70.08% decrease in income from informal employment (p. 8).
- Extreme poverty increased by 30%, in some cases resulting in the inability to afford medicines or follow a proper diet.
According to Mónica, a care worker in a public care home in Madrid, “we asked for face masks, but they told us that they scared the old people”. Flor, the receptionist at a publicly owned but privately managed public care home in Madrid, says the manager went so far as to tell one care worker that wearing a face mask “was clownish,” and that “the doctor at the care home had said they weren’t necessary because they would scare the old people”.(p. 26)
The coronavirus acts as a “total institution” of resocialisation at the sociocultural level surpassing the individual capacity to transform reality, and a cyclical spectre of “microbiopolitics” keeps reminding us that we are subjected to the fates where non-human entities, governmental apparatuses and human conduct overlap in the middle of a pandemic.(pp. 46–47)
1.2. On Social Harm
The principles established by Hillyard and Tombs (2004) specifically encourage the definition of harm to be an open-ended and ongoing process that moves back and forth between conceptualisation and empirical measurement to refine the definition of social harm.(chp. 2, para. 10)
2. Materials and Methods
3. Results and Discussion
3.1. The Digital Divide—A Twofold Inequality and a Manifestation of Negative Harm
The loss of face-to-face attendance implies a breach of the equal opportunities that the education system should guarantee, placing on families a task that the institution should be able to provide. It is not news that the existence of social inequalities negatively affects educational development. However, lockdown has exposed the flaws of a system incapable of providing a coordinated response to the specific needs of each family.(p. 65)
Then there is the frustration. I see it a lot with girls on Instagram, for example. In the old days, there was one popular, beautiful girl who was your role model, but now they have two hundred and fifty-three girls who are role models they want to be like, and that generates a brutal frustration in them, which is what I see in the consulting room. I said there used to be one pretty girl whereas now there are two hundred and fifty, but I could easily have said two thousand.[Man, 42, psychologist, F. G 1, Madrid 2021]
They entered an unknown world, one that we were unable to access. But they were born into it, forced into an unknown world. The question is, how much control can there be, what control can there be in that world, right? Sometimes there are no controls, the controls get out of hand. It’s difficult for us, because as parents sometimes we have to control some things... because I think our role as parents doesn’t... it doesn’t end there. I mean, our role is also in the home, but how do we get to...to that social world. In the past, we could control our children’s friends, now we don’t even know who their friends are, because there are so many friends out there on the networks. So, it’s like... like the other side is... how can we avoid the danger that they might face in that socialisation, and the other thing I see is, how they skip that process that needs to be completed, that... socialise by normal, adequate means, using appropriate language... like, like they are already involved in a vocabulary imposed by the networks themselves, in... in certain customs imposed by the networks, er... “If my friend has this, then why can’t I have it too?”.[Woman, 29, psychologist, F. G. 2, Madrid 2021]
3.2. Overexposure to Social Media, Hyperconnectivity and Relational Harm. Alternatives to Social Isolation with Grave Risks for Mental Health
Leto started by posting an average of 70–80 videos per month and then dropped to around 40; Vladimir started off posting 386 videos per month and then dropped to 90–100; Duncan came to post as many as 84 per month, then dropping to an average of 15; and Stilgar went from around 120 to 20. In the case of the girls, nearly all were more prolific than the boys. Although it is true that almost all of them started on this platform some years before, or even came from its predecessor (musica.ly). In any event, Irulan went from posting 40–50 videos a month to 90–110 and Chani from 90–100 to 250–290 a month.[Ethnographic note on frequencies. Antonio Silva’s field diary]
- Those who were creators of information and role models for their peer group (influencers).
- Those who were both creators and consumers of information.
- Those who were only consumers of information.
- Those who only used the internet to follow their classes.
The most significant cases of insecurities, anxiety and addiction would be Irulan and Chani. Their journey is a kind of excessively cruel emotional merry-go-round. First, they have a bad time because of a certain issue; then they let the community know how devastated they feel; and the more they communicate this, the more the community lashes out at them. There is a constant problem in not knowing whether the social network is really a social network, or a private environment, perhaps because of the number of hours spent on it. Sometimes they share very intimate things like WhatsApp chats, recordings of themselves crying during anxiety attacks, openly lamenting break-ups or pseudo-empowering reflections against criticism of their bodies. However, they then refuse to allow criticism that has anything to do with what they have shared, tell their followers that they do not know them, and that these people only see what they themselves want them to see.[Fragment from Antonio Silva’s field diary]
- Those who used the networks to continue their pre-pandemic life and decided not to comply with the rules imposed during the pandemic.
- Those who learned to filter the kind of relationships they wanted to have:
I discovered I didn’t need to have sex to hang out.[Woman, 22, heterosexual. Managing desire, 2020]
- Those who took advantage of the pandemic to meet new people through affective–sexual apps, asserting they did so because they wanted the company of others.
- And finally, those who demonstrated a paradigm shift in their understanding of affective–sexual relationships: the archetypal “fastlove”23 is discarded, and flirting, a type of love where romance has meaning in addition to the erotic and sexual dimensions, once again makes sense.
Meeting someone during lockdown (not via a hook-up app but through Instagram) transformed sexual desire and the desire to see each other into a bond of affection, as consummation wasn’t possible, and we couldn’t see each other. Up to then I’d never established such a deep relationship with someone as the one born out of lockdown.[Woman, 23, bisexual. Managing desire, 2020]
I lost interest in almost all the sex-affective bonds I had before lockdown and I started dating someone I hadn’t had sex with yet, which is something new for me because I’m creating a bond that’s based more on affection than on sex, and I wasn’t interested in that before.[Woman, 23, heterosexual. Managing desire, 2020]
Because of the suddenness of lockdown, I’ve learned not to waste time with people who don’t treat me properly in my sexual relationships.[Man, 21, homosexual. Managing desire, 2020]
3.3. The Validity of Anti-Normative Behaviour in the Absence of Any Points of Reference, and the Manifestation of Special Liberty
With his parents’ permission, and to the astonishment of a large part of the community, Paul has used his status as an influencer to violate local lockdowns on many occasions. He tells us that as he is working, at the age of 15 he can go to Mallorca, Madrid, Seville etc. as often as he likes. Leaving aside the anomaly of child labour exploitation, this could be an understandable alibi. However, Duncan published a video of Paul going out with more than 12 people at a party in the middle of lockdown, something that had no repercussions for his subsequent “work outings”.[Fragment from Antonio Silva’s field diary]
I won’t be mad enough to travel to meet a stranger again. The problem was, we established a very strong bond after talking 24/7 by wpp24/phone, and having made it clear that I didn’t want anything sporadic, when I spent a few days with him, he told me he wasn’t interested in a serious relationship.[Woman, 23, heterosexual. Managing desire, 2020]
- Paul, as mentioned above, not only made constant trips during lockdown, but even held parties.
- Leto eventually stopped wearing a face mask when he was in contact with groups of people. This led to him catching COVID-19.
- Alia even travelled to Latin America during local lockdown periods.
- Alia, Jessica and other friends appeared in a video of another famous influencer cheering for the pandemic; none of them were wearing a mask.
- Vladimir, Jessica, Irulan, and others defended themselves against accusations of travelling, or not wearing masks. They argued that the public could only see what they were shown, not what was really happening behind the camera.
- Botellones—large crowds drinking outdoors in the street.
- Attempts to transmit COVID-19.
- Group aggression.
- Confrontation with the police.
- Destruction of street furniture.
- Transfer of leisure activities to the home and noise pollution.
There needs to be a combination of the elements of caution, not fear, but caution, awareness and also intensifying the elements of trust between the family circles so that the children… in this regard… would be more transparent with parents so that they can sound the alarm; well parents, teachers…[Man, 50, lecturer, F.G.1, Madrid 2021]
- Foster ethical debate in relation to criminology, public policy, human rights, and policing.
- Understand the social impact of individualistic liberal idiosyncrasies.
- Build visions of communities and political subjects.
- Move beyond over-legalised constructions of crime.
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
Of note among the few research studies on mental health in Spain during lockdown is the one carried out by the Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas (CIS 2021).
This study included respondents aged 20–69.
State School Council.
At Risk of Poverty or Social Exclusion.
The spectrum of interpersonal relationships forged with a spiritual, emotional, romantic and/or sexual connection or attraction. Regardless of the depth of the feelings and of gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. It must be noted that these relationships do not only refer to penetrative sex.
In Spain, the intricate matrix of devolved constitutional competences (art. 148–149 Spanish Constitution) exacerbated the problems that young people suffered because of the pandemic and lockdown, with different approaches to health and education, measures and restrictions (including travelling restrictions and local lockdowns) that varied between Autonomous Communities after the national lockdown, along with tensions between the Central Government and the Autonomous Community Governments (BBC 2021b).
This project is registered at the European University of Madrid.
Anti-normative behaviour is a literal translation of the Spanish term “comportamiento anti-normativo” which is similar to the concept of anti-social behaviour used in the UK (Section 2 Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014), but which lacks a legal definition. The reason for using the term in this article is that it is closer to the original titles of the studies, categories and codes.
This project was funded by Banco Santander. Funding was obtained through a competitive call. It was managed and registered by the European University of Madrid.
We exclude early adolescents—under 13 years of age—from the analysis, as they are at the beginning of their maturation process, and attach more importance to family than to peer group.
Information we obtained through the research paper “Social networks and anti-normative behaviour among young people aged 13 to 18. Detecting new forms of domination, addiction and relations in digital society”, CONFIDOMINA2.NET(CIPI/20/171).
In this study, millennials were aged 18–35. It should be stressed that the study also included more than 30 in-depth interviews with young dating app users of all genders and sexual orientations.
The questionnaire measured socio-demographic variables such as gender, age, sexual orientation, marital status and home environment. Subsequently, other thematic blocks were explored in greater depth, such as the use of affective–sexual apps during lockdown and the use of contraceptive measures in affective–sexual relationships. The only criterion for inclusion in the survey was having used dating apps during lockdown, so a sample of respondents from a range of ages, genders, etc., was expected. As this is an exploratory and descriptive study, we did not aim to obtain a statistically representative sample and there is no official data on this subject. Non-probability snowball sampling was used for convenience, sharing it on all types of social networks (Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, etc.) and asking for collaboration in its dissemination. Strategies to try to correct possible bias or over-representation were used and we took into consideration the fact that it might be answered by Spanish speakers who are not necessarily Spanish nationals. In short, it was an online questionnaire that sought to obtain a general overview and lead respondents to reflect on issues such as love and sexuality, always in a warm, sensitive and human way, to obtain quality information based on the protagonists’ experiences.
We attribute this to the fact that the population is fed up with surveys, as the market is saturated with them (Pérez et al. forthcoming).
All the profiles analysed were public and we followed them using the Research Group’s neutral social media accounts (Instagram, TikTok and Twitch). The Research Group’s accounts are public, identifying the name of the Group and providing a link to the Research Group’s site (www.criminologia.hypotheses.org, accessed 25 July 2022). This is why we use the term open multisite digital ethnography.
One of the core strengths of the protocol is that it allows for a priori, simultaneous and a posteriori ethical reflection.
Without taking into account the more distanced analysis of other users, the structure of the applications, etc.
Parents were invited to the discussion because of their importance in the educational community, but also to understand the ways in which they negotiate the digital and generational divide between themselves and their children, in terms of their knowledge (or lack thereof) of the platforms their children use, their educational practices and their fears regarding the rapid development of technology and social networking sites. In this regard, parents are key stakeholders.
Many media outlets reported on the huge social inequalities in this regard during the pandemic (La Vanguardia 2021).
It should be pointed out that cyberbullying is not endemic to lockdown, or to the pandemic, but it has been driven and magnified by the digitalisation of processes.
Among the ethnographic sample, Leto, Paul and Siona in particular alluded to this.
“Fastlove” is the concept we use throughout the article to refer to those forms of online affective–sexual conquest. Our intention is to distinguish between “traditional love”, where analogue courtship predominates, and “digital love”, which is based on digital courtship. “Fastlove” is linked to Bauman’s (2003) theories of liquid love and Lipovetsky’s (2005) hypernarcissism and hypermodernity.
Abbreviation of WhatsApp.
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|Hillyard & Tombs||Pemberton||Hall & Winlow|
|Physical harms||Physical/mental health harms||Negative motivation for harm|
|Financial and economic harm||Autonomy harms||Positive motivation for harm—special liberty|
|Emotional and psychological harm||Relational harms: exclusion and misrecognition|
|Challenges Faced by the Spanish Population||Harms Suffered by Young People|
|Legal challenges||Overabundance of legislation, rapid and confusing changes in regulations, inconsistencies between State and Autonomous Community rules, unconstitutionality of lockdown, stringent social control.||Negative harm||Digital divide and digital precariat.|
|Political challenges||Lack of agreement among political parties, rabid opposition to Government, nurturing of social unrest by political parties, proliferation of alt-right discourse.||Relational harm||Absence of emotional regulation and training, refusal of social recognition, mental health problems, symbolic injuries.|
|Health challenges||High death toll, uncertainty as to how to control the spread of the virus, lack of scientific consensus, extremely sanitised social life.||Special liberty||Problematic subjectivities, rule-breaking, hyper-individualism.|
|Social challenges||Housing problems, vigilantism, radicalisation of public protest, work and family reconciliation, seclusion, deterioration of social bonds and rituals, proliferation of fake news.|
|Economic challenges||Unemployment, poverty, economic recession, business closures.|
|Emotional challenges||Uncertainty, fear, loneliness, mental health issues.|
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Cordero Verdugo, R.R.; Silva Esquinas, A.; Pérez Suárez, J.R. The Invisible Suffering of Young People during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Spain and the Collateral Impact of Social Harm. Soc. Sci. 2022, 11, 335. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11080335
Cordero Verdugo RR, Silva Esquinas A, Pérez Suárez JR. The Invisible Suffering of Young People during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Spain and the Collateral Impact of Social Harm. Social Sciences. 2022; 11(8):335. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11080335Chicago/Turabian Style
Cordero Verdugo, Raquel Rebeca, Antonio Silva Esquinas, and Jorge Ramiro Pérez Suárez. 2022. "The Invisible Suffering of Young People during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Spain and the Collateral Impact of Social Harm" Social Sciences 11, no. 8: 335. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11080335