New study finds Dutch youth were more likely to adhere to COVID-19 measures if they had a natural mentor

Koning, N., Hagedoorn, N., Stams, G.-J. J. M., Assink, M., & van Dam, L. (2021). What makes Dutch youth comply with preventive COVID-19 measures? An explorative study. Journal of Community Psychology.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Taking preventative measures is necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19.
  • This explorative study explores which factors affect whether or not Dutch youths comply with preventive COVID-19 measures.
  • Findings show that youth who have fewer depressive symptoms comply with social distance measures better.
  • Youths who are resilient, have an active coping approach, are less suspicious, and/or have a natural mentor are more likely to comply with preventive COVID-19 measures.
  • It’s recommended for Dutch youth to receive ample, clear information about COVID-19, considering the fact that mistrust can impede governmental efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19.
  • It’s recommended for the Dutch government to encourage natural mentors to keep providing support for their mentees during these hard times.
  • Longitudinal studies on this subject are needed in order to get a better understanding of the long-term effects these preventative measures have on mental health.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

The measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 are challenging for youth, especially the social isolation measures. These measures are antagonistic to healthy youth development, which requires sufficient social contact with peers and adults. This explorative study examined what factors are associated with adherence to COVID-19 measures in a sample of Dutch youth (N = 263; 79.8% female) with ages ranging between 16 and 24 years (M = 21.1 years; SD = 2.44 years), who completed an online questionnaire about their compliance to measures, resilience, coping strategies, mental health, and availability of a natural mentor. Results showed that youth with fewer depressive symptoms adhered better to measures of social distance. Youth who were less suspicious, more resilient, and those with an active coping strategy or a natural mentor more often complied with COVID-19 measures. These results can be used to help youth comply with the COVID-19 measures.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The purpose of this study was to examine factors that contribute to adherence to the COVID-19 measures in youth. Youth who comply with the social distance measures have fewer depressive symptoms, are less suspicious of others, are more resilient, more often have a natural mentor, and deal with their problems in a more active way. These factors were not moderated by age and gender. In total, 84.8% of the respondents did adhere to the measures and 85.9% followed the rules pertaining to social isolation. These high percentages may point to a ceiling effect, which may partly explain why the identified associations were relatively weak.

The weak associations found in this study do not make the results less important, as the success of policies to contain the virus outbreak depends on the degree to which everyone adheres to the measures. After all, with a high reproduction number (R, i.e., the number of people that one infected person will pass on a virus to, on average), specific small groups of people who ignore the measures can cause major problems. The reproduction number depends not only on the characteristics of the virus but also on the characteristics of the population, including factors that determine whether or not people adhere to the preventive measures (van Loon, 2020).

On The basis of the results of this study, some recommendations can be made for the government’s prevention policy for reducing the spread of COVID-19. First, it is important to offer youth sufficient and understandable information about COVID-19, taking into account that mistrust may interfere with governmental campaigns aimed at guiding a population towards the desired behavior (Liao et al., 2010; Nivettete et al. 2021). This effect may be related to epistemic trust, that is, the willingness to consider information as trustworthy and relevant. Epistemic trust increases when the informant is an acquaintance or someone relatively close to the children and adolescents (Eaves & Shafto, 2016). In this case, information provided by the government may only be considered relevant when important persons in the lives of the young people, such as their parents or natural mentors, encourage adherence to the COVID-19 measures (Liao et al., 2010). Besides providing sufficient and understandable information, governments should take into account the messenger: Who delivers the information and how can governments collaborate with people trusted by youth? We recommend that the government encourages natural mentors to keep in touch with youth during a pandemic and supports them in coping with the challenges of a pandemic. When youth experience mental health problems that make them unable to get their lives on track during a pandemic, which may also make it difficult to adhere to preventive measures, they can be encouraged to actively select a natural mentor from their social environment through youth-initiated mentoring program, showing promising results in a recent meta-analysis (van Dam et al., 2021). Research by Zhong et al. (2020) shows that more knowledge about COVID-19 is associated with a lower chance of negative attitudes and inappropriate behavior. This suggests that health education programs aimed at improving COVID-19 knowledge may be useful in fostering and maintaining safe practices. Our study results indicate that a precondition is that youth have the coping skills and resilience to deal with the COVID-19 problems and adhere to the measures.

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