Researchers are set to glean valuable new insights into how thousands of pre-teens have coped with the pandemic, in what will be one of the most comprehensive studies of its kind ever carried out.
New surveys being carried out from this month will quiz more than 6000 12-year-old children, who've been tracked by the University of Auckland-based Growing Up in New Zealand (GUINZ) since 2009.
GUINZ research director Professor Boyd Swinburn said his colleagues had already collected insights about how the children fared during last year's national lockdown – and an initial part of the survey will cover impacts of the latest episode.
"These young people are living through extraordinary times and it will be enlightening to understand how much of an impact Covid-19 has had on them and in what ways," he said.
"What we've seen so far in kids is a little bit like adults, there's a pretty wide spectrum: some kids have really struggled while others have enjoyed it.
"What determines that is more the question, and hopefully we'll be able to pick out some of that."
Given the study was longitudinal – the researchers planned to follow the participants right through until age 21 – Swinburn said it would be interesting to see, years from now, the full impact of the pandemic's disruption.
"I guess the working hypothesis is, for advantaged kids, it won't have been much of a road bump but for other kids who live in more difficult home or economic circumstances, it may have been quite a challenge," he said.
"In future years, we may even be able to see whether it's had long-term effects."
Some of these concerns have been echoed in results of a newly released Youthline-commissioned Colmar Brunton survey, which found impacts on schooling, depression and anxiety were the largest effects of the pandemic among early teens.
Those concerns were also echoed in results of a newly released Youthline-commissioned Colmar Brunton survey, which found impacts on schooling, depression and anxiety were the largest effects of the pandemic among early teens.
More generally, Swinburn said the data gathered by his fellow researchers would offer a "unique insight" into the world of today's Kiwi tweens, while building on the information that GUINZ has amassed since its inception more than a decade ago.
"This period, at the start of adolescence, is a crucial juncture in the life course during which the body and the brain go through massive changes," he said.
"It is a time of rapid physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development and Growing Up in New Zealand hopes to capture insights into the important aspects of this critical transition period.
"The information we gather from our tweens will be enormously valuable in providing a better understanding of what life is like for pre-teens so that decision-makers can tailor policies and services to best meet the needs of our young people to allow them all to flourish."
The researchers' interviews will initially be carried out online, due to Auckland's ongoing lockdown, and also involve 6000 children and their caregivers and teachers filling out more than 15,000 digital questionnaires.
Later, the team planned to collect around 18,000 separate measurements and skin, nose and throat swabs, along with more than 6000 te reo Māori language assessments.
Growing Up in New Zealand Foundation director Professor Susan Morton said the GUINZ has so far pulled together more than 80 million separate pieces of data, providing a detailed and complex picture of children's lives over the past 10 years.
"We're excited to move into this next phase of the study and amplify children's voices," she said.
"We're particularly interested to build on the information we have already gathered and learn more about our pre-teens' mental wellbeing, experiences online, and their growing independence."
Kanoa keeps connected amid 'boring' lockdown
While the pandemic might have been a bizarre and gripping time for many of us, it's made life somewhat dull for one Auckland 12-year-old.
Kanoa MacFie has been spending lockdown at home with his family in Mt Eden, and admits he's been finding it boring.
"I really miss seeing my friends and doing my activities, but it's also been nice to relax and hang out with the family and my dog," he said.
He's been keeping busy with a demanding waka ama training regime that sees him run every morning and do a 55-minute session on a rowing machine.
He relaxes by spending time playing video games and has been creating a YouTube channel to show off his gaming prowess.
"It's hard not seeing my friends, but I catch up with them when we are gaming and we call and text."
While the work for online school is easier than what he usually has to do, he said it's not as engaging or interactive.
He's looking forward to lockdown being over so that he can get back to the ocean and his waka ama.
"It's the only sport I have really connected to. I've tried rugby and boxing, but I love anything to do with the ocean. I have slowly got more and more competitive and now I'm competing on a national level."
Kanoa, a fluent te reo speaker, is one of 6000 young Kiwis participating in the Growing Up in New Zealand study.
"I think it's a cool thing to be part of and it's good for adults to listen to kids so they can understand more about children's lives. All kids are different and everyone is unique in their own way."
Kanoa's mum and dad, Jada and Pat MacFie, joined the study when Jada was pregnant with Kanoa in the hope that his life story could contribute to a larger picture about what helps children to have good lives.
As a small business owner, Pat said he recognised the value of gathering data to provide insights to inform decision-making about policies and services to improve children's lives.
"We were really keen for Kanoa's story to contribute to this longitudinal picture of New Zealand children and we're really hopeful that the study can offer genuine insight into the reality of the challenges that many young people face, particularly Māori and Pasifika young people."
• Participants in the GUINZ study were asked to get in touch to update their contact details so that the study can organise a home visit, by emailing email@example.com or phoning 0508 GROWINGUP (0508 476 946).