COVID-19 means disruption, change for new set of 'boomerang kids'
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many young people to move back in with their parents. Their lives have been turned upside down, and they've had to come to grips with feelings of failure and guilt.
Not much had changed in the room where Faissal Sharif spent his childhood, in a small village in a remote part of the central German state of Hesse. Various posters, his old bed, a desk covered by a thin layer of dust — it was all still there.
He set out to explore the world at the age of 18, moving away from home to study, travel and begin his career. But at 24, just six years later, he was back — against his will. "There were times when I thought I had failed," he said.
That was in mid-2020. If not for the pandemic, the neuroscience student would have been working in a lab at Imperial College London, surrounded by 40 classmates from all over the world. They would have enjoyed the nightlife in the trendy Shoreditch district, partying the night away at concerts by rappers Skepta, Stormzy and Dave.
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"I'd been looking forward, in addition to my studies, to a wide range of cool activities," said Sharif. "But London was practically dead." Thanks to COVID-19, life had come to a standstill. And that meant no research internship, no parties, no fun.
Young hit particularly hard by COVID
Most of his fellow students moved back home— so-called "boomerang kids" who have had to move back in with their parents . They could no longer justify London's high rents without a job, without studies, without leisure activities in a locked down London. Sharif, too, had no other choice.
"We don't have figures for all of Europe," said Meral Nur, of the European Students Union. "But we found that, before the coronavirus outbreak in Croatia, 44% [of young people] were living with their parents, as opposed to 78% during the pandemic. It can be assumed that there was similar movement in other countries."
Manon Deshayes is a policy officer at the European Youth Forum, a transnational association of youth organizations and agencies based in Brussels. She told DW that young people were hit particularly hard by the pandemic — especially those who had to move back in with their parents. For them, she said, the pandemic has meant a hit to their studies, more stress and a total loss of autonomy.
Differences across Europe
The situation varies across Europe, when it comes to young adults choosing to live with their parents. That was the state of affairs before the pandemic as well: whereas early independence is the norm for Scandinavians, EU statistics show that a different culture exists in southern and southeastern Europe. According to Nur, "every region has its own financial and cultural conditions."
Various factors can have an impact on when and how young adults choose to set out on their own, from the job market, the familiar comforts of home and even tradition. But regardless of the circumstances, it's clear that one group has suffered disproportionately during the pandemic.
"Marginalized people, for instance those belonging to the LGBTIQ+ community, find it more difficult than others to cope with the situation at home," said Nur. Similarly, lower income families living in small quarters have had to come to grips with the increased potential for conflict.
Bad for mental health
For Giulia, a young woman from Italy, living with her family during the lockdown was hard, but moving out wasn't possible, either. The job market was tough, and she also had to care for her mother, an at-risk patient. "I didn't have the courage to move out. It just would have felt like I was letting my mother down," she said.
She said it's normal in Italian families for children to live with their parents for a long time. "My brother is 30 and had to financially support all of us. Moving out wasn't much of an option," she told DW. She finally made the break at the end of 2020, a turning point in her life that was postponed by COVID for many months.
Jennifer Caputo, a sociologist at the University of Chicago who has surveyed "boomerang kids" in the United States, found that those who were forced to return due to COVID, in particular, more frequently showed symptoms of depression.
Economic and social independence, as well as the simple fact of living in one's own space, she told DW, are seen as important steps for a successful transition to adulthood. If those goals aren't achieved, she said, those affected may suffer from feelings of failure.
'You'll always be their child, no matter how old you are'
For Sharif, too, being back home wasn't easy. "It certainly was a stressful situation," he said. The biggest challenge "was the simple fact that they're my parents. In their eyes, you'll always be their child, no matter how old you are."
In the meantime, he has finished his studies — not with a huge graduation ceremony in London, but quietly in front of the computer screen in his childhood room. Today, he's living and working in Berlin, and heads back home to visit his parents every few months.
"To be sure, it was a culture shock when I had to move back from London into my parents' place in the country, but somehow it was lovely as well," he said. "It showed me that there will always be a place I can return to."