As 2022 is the European Year of Youth, we found fit to dedicate this special issue to the problems of children and adolescents in the European space, including contributions from Western England to Near East Turkey and Israel along contributions of various Romanian authors. In this volume coordinated by Susan Kay‑Flowers and Cristina Faludi experienced academic professors and less experienced graduates deal with social themes that children are confronted with inside or outside the comfort zone of the familial nest, such as basic social skills developed in primary school, bullying or prejudice and disparities regarding ethnic minorities. The authors unveil some of the teenagers’ tormenting problems of early romance and sexual debut while they grow their adolescent wings and get ready to leave the family of origin’s nucleus, and bring to attention the abrupt maturisation of the youngsters as they confront with suffering and isolation during the worst seen yet pandemic of the 21st century.
An ongoing process starting in early childhood, socialization is of utmost importance in an individual’s development. It involves assimilating the values, behaviours and beliefs of certain groups making use of social skills critical in establishing strong relationships with peers and adults (Eron, 1990). A common language is essential in exerting social skills in the process of communication and interaction with others, and this aspect is of particular importance in multilingual and multicultural societies. With a Jewish majority and an Arab minority, the Israeli society is a good example of societies confronted with complex lingual issues, including in the education system. In their paper “The Progress of Social Skills among Israeli Primary School Pupils during their First Year of Study of English as a Foreign Language”, authors Mahmood Khalaila, Julia Sirota and Elena-Loreni Baciu assess the progress of third grade pupils in the development of social skills on three subgroups based on the main language used in school: Arab, Jewish and Bilingual. They argue for a bilingual system of education based on a recent study that found positive cognitive and academic outcomes generated through effective cooperative learning to be based largely on the pupils’ social skills (Buchs, Butera, 2015).
Extending the results of a 2021 study, the paper “What about the Children? Disparities in the Housing Conditions of Roma Children and Ethnic Romanian Children”, Nikki Khanna, Stephen J. Cutler and Roxanna-Andreea Marin examine whether the housing conditions of Roma children in Romania differ from the housing characteristics of ethnic Romanian children and why, using data publicly available from the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Social Research and Data Innovation. Roma ethnicity is the poisoned apple of social relationships in nowadays Romania. They are a discriminated population, for good reason some might say. They are “nests of contagion” (Matachi, Bhabha, 2020) spreading Covid-19 virus because they are “socially unadaptable people” unwilling to follow government-designed protection measures (Berescu, Alexandrescu, Anghel, 2021; Matache, Bhabha, 2020). Numerous methods have been tested with limited success for their social integration. A number of facilities have been offered in view of this goal, including a limited number of tax-free places in the learning programs of higher education institutions. Authors ask whether their living conditions are due to their ethnicity or not. A 2006 study found that they are likely to inhabit abandoned houses that are “structurally insecure, poorly built, insecure in legal terms of property, and characterized by a serious absence of minimal hygienic conditions”. On every housing variable examined, Roma children were found to be disadvantaged compared to ethnic Romanian children, independent of the area of residence (urban, rural). Roma children are presented with unfavorable odds of social success, but who is to blame? Are the Roma children’s living conditions the result of a deficient system of child protection or the doing of their parents, who should have secured them certain living standards? Questions requesting difficult to provide answers.
Discrimination is the subject of another paper, “Bullying among Roma children of a Cluj metropolitan area school” authored by Lida-Elena Zaharia and Cristina Faludi. Bullying is a form of persistent peer abuse or harassment in schools. Given its frequent occurrence and potentially long lasting effects, the subject is attracting increasing attention (Graham, 2016). WHO sources place Romania third among European nations in bullying rates, a practice often associated with older age students. Discrimination against Roma children in schools is an acute social, political and economic problem. The European Parliament and the European Commission have taken action for the social inclusion of Roma as an ethnic minority group and have highlighted the need to protect them from extreme poverty and social exclusion. Roma children are often linked to lack of birth registration and identity documents, low participation in early and higher education or school failure. Living in poor housing conditions, they are more susceptible to infectious disease. Further efforts are needed to address their problems. The paper proposed a mixed research design and a psycho-social intervention approach, with the students of a school in the Cluj metropolitan area as the target group. The research included a pre-intervention component, intended to justify and guide the intervention, and a post-intervention component among students, with an evaluative role. Taking guidance from Olweus’ work (Olweus et al., 2019), the intervention consisted in the implementation of an educational group program in a primary class of the school where the research was carried out and also included a series of didactic activities and the parents-students participating in the study. The purpose of the research was to investigate to what extent the children of a primary school class are exposed to bullying in the school environment, from the perspective of Romanian and Roma students, their parents and teachers. The main goal of the intervention was to inform students about the phenomenon of bullying and to identify and develop some strategies to deal with situations in which students become victims of aggression.
The paper “Educational Needs and Problems of Romanian Children and Teenagers in Foster Care” is dealing with quite a similar problem, although author Oana-Elena Rădăcină hesitates to mention that a great deal of the children in the foster care system are Roma children. Children in these foster care centers are faced with a number of educational problems: difficulties in understanding and processing various subjects, the large volume of information, the inclusion of “useless” subjects in the curricula, inefficient teaching techniques, a rigid educational climate, lack of adequate support for those experiencing delays in acquiring basic knowledge, as well as occasional negative attitudes of colleagues or teachers towards foster care children (Morton, 2015). Poor school results, high absenteeism, inappropriate class behaviours, and school dropout are the result. The educational problems of these teenagers as they leave the foster care centers by the age of 18-19 years lead to socio-economic problems with direct repercussions on society as a whole. Abuse, neglect, and non-involvement produce young adults unprepared for social and professional integration. In the absence of proper intervention measures, some of these teenagers resort to criminal or suicidal actions. Investing in their education and facilitating socio-educational programs to support children and youngsters in foster care may contribute to their economic independence and socio-professional integration.
Sexuality is a major theme of adolescence, with profound implications. A fundamental instinct mixed with needs for affection, understanding, compassion, tenderness, and love, sexuality concerns the whole human person: mind, body, and soul. In “The effects of substance abuse on teenagers’ sexual debut”, Noemi Ivette Vicsai and Cristina Faludi contemplate the environment in which the very early sexual debut occurs in today’s generation of teenagers, one exposed to adult content in movies and cartoons since kindergarten (Bețivu, 2016). Based on a web-administered questionnaire, the authors search to find whether alcohol and drugs consumption influence the moment of sexual debut, and what is the role of the family, friends and religion on this sensitive matter.
With a similar approach in “Risky sexual debut and its implications on pregnancy and abortion among adolescents in Cluj-Napoca”, authors Andreea-Elena Răscolean, Cristina Faludi and Alexandra Talpă investigate 1148 respondents aged 15 to 21 years to find that their mean age at sexual debut was 15.33 years and that boys were more likely to experience a risky sexual debut, having less knowledge about sexual and reproductive health. On the matter of early pregnancy, girls from professional and technical schools were more likely to experience it during adolescence, although they reported a higher self-perceived level of information about such issue than students in theoretical high schools. Respondents for whom religion had a higher importance started their sexual life later. Surprisingly, students of mothers with at most secondary education were more knowledgeable than those of mothers with higher education. Authors conclude that programs for sexual and reproductive health education should be designed based on research in order to be responsive to students’ needs and challenges.
Another major theme for nowadays adolescents is the influence of internet and social media exposure. Numerous studies report negative consequences of the resulting social isolation, including development of suicidal behaviors. Video games are a highly popular leisure activity that was found to improve concentration, multitasking and cognitive abilities. However, due to related behavioural addictive behaviors, gaming disorder has been included in the 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) and in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). In “Eyes on the Screen: Video Game Pathological Usage Symptoms and Time Spent Playing”, Cosmin Ghețău analyzes the answers of 140 respondents to find positive corelations between Time Spent Playing and Pathological Video-Game Use, as documented by Wood (2008) and Gentile (2009), for male subjects in particular.
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic was the major theme of the past two years. Despite serious efforts worldwide, its consequences are yet to be fully assessed and addressed.
In “The Impact of Perceived Social Support on Undergraduate Students’ Level of Anxiety during Covid-19 Pandemic”, Ömer Faruk Cantekin, İhsan Esen, Fatma Rumeysa Taşbaş and Fatma Arpaci provide us with the results of the first social support survey during COVID-19 pandemic in Turkey, as they investigate the effect of perceived social support on the levels of anxiety in undergraduate students. Of all the control variables, gender, level of income, chronic disease status and social support had statistically significant effects on anxiety. While chronic diseases and economical problems increased anxiety, social support acted as a protective factor against it.
Home and family are inextricably linked, never more so than during the Covid pandemic, when government restrictions controlled who we could see, when we could see them and for how long, argues Susan Kay-Flowers in «Understanding ‘Home’ in Covid Times – Exploring Children’s Experiences of Family Relationships in the Context of ‘Intensity of Togetherness’ and the ‘Isolation of Being Apart’». Lockdown restrictions brought fundamental changes to our lives. In England they meant children learned online rather than attending school, while their parents worked from home and juggled home-schooling. Children were unable to meet family members outside home, unless they had separated parents and were moving between their homes. Adapting theoretical findings from previous research on young adult's childhood experiences of parental separation and divorce as a basis for exploring children's experiences of family relationships and 'home' during the Covid pandemic (Kay-Flowers, 2019), the author identifies the concepts of the 'intensity of togetherness' and the 'isolation of being apart' as significant contexts for developing understandings of children's experiences during lockdowns in England.
All efforts aimed at deciphering the mechanics and consequences of the pandemic are commendable. We all should remember the message of Margaritis Schinas, Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, on the decision of making 2022 the “European Year of Youth”: “We owe it to the generations who suffered most in the pandemic and now need to take back their lives.”
Berescu, C., Alexandrescu, F., Anghel, I. (2021). Vulnerable Roma communities in times of the Covid-19 negative quarantine. Moravian Geographical Reports, 29, 125-136.
Bețivu, A. (2016). Implicațiile modelatoare ale mass-mediei în formarea stilului existențial al adolescenților [The modeling implications of mass-media in the formation of adolescents’ lifestyle]. Artă și Educație Artistică [Arts and Artistic Education], 28, 2, 32-37.
Buchs, C., Butera, F. (2015). Cooperative learning and social skills development. Collaborative learning: Developments in research and practice, 201-217.
Eron, L. D. (1990). Understanding aggression. Bulletin of the International Society for Research on Aggression, 12, 5-9.
Gentile, D. (2009). Pathological video-game use among youth ages 8 to 18: a national study. Psychological Science, 20, 5, 594-602. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02340.x.
Graham, S. (2016). Victims of bullying in schools. Theory into Practice, 55, 2, 136-144. DOI: 10.1080/00405841.2016.1148988.
Matache, M., Bhabha, J. (2020). Anti-Roma racism is spiraling during COVID-19 pandemic. Health and Human Rights, 22, 379-382.
Kay-Flowers, S. (2019). Childhood Experiences of Separation and Divorce: Reflections from Young Adults, Bristol: Policy Press. Available at: https://policy.bristoluniversitypress.co.uk/childhood-experiences-of-separation-and-divorce.
Morton, B. M. (2015). Barriers to academic achievement for foster youth: The story behind the statistics. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 29, 4, 476-491.
Olweus, D., Limber, S. P., Breivik, K. (2019). Addressing specific forms of bullying A large-scale evaluation of the Olweus bullying prevention program. International Journal of Bullying Prevention, 1, 1, 70-84. DOI: 10.1007/s42380-019-00009-7.
Wood, R. T. (2008). Problems with the concept of video game “addiction”: Some case study examples. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 6, 2, 169-178. doi:10.1007/s11469-007-9118-0.