Schools Close Today: UK’s young people set to suffer MOST from social separation
Education & Parenting125
Shropshire Mums on Fri Mar 20 16:15 2020
Today, thousands of pupils across the UK are sitting in their classrooms for what may be the final time of this academic year, as the majority of schools in Britain will be closed to all pupils from today, besides those with special educational needs and the children of essential workers.
The decision to close schools is one amidst a raft of wider measures implemented in the UK in an effort to contain the further spread of the novel Coronavirus, but there are grave concerns that the resulting lack of social exposure for young people will likely have a severe impact on the mental wellbeing of thousands of children in Britain.
The implementation of strict social distancing means that children everywhere will be no longer be able to spend time with their friends and classmates on a regular basis. Young people are exceptionally social creatures and regular social interaction is absolutely vital for the development of their social skills and mental health, but a long-term policy of social distancing and potential lockdown will see their exposure to real-life social interactions drastically affected.
This news comes amidst rising rates of depression and severe anxiety amongst children and young adults across the UK; as the number of children and young people saying they have a mental health condition has grown six fold in England in the past 20 years, and higher levels of loneliness increases the risk of developing depression by 12% and social anxiety by 10%.
In an effort to help maintain the mental wellbeing of young people during this period, mental health treatment specialists Smart TMS provide the following tips for parents looking to help their kids maintain their social interactions and feel less lonely during this period of isolation:
Encourage them to use social media in a healthy way
Social media often receives a lot of criticism in today’s society and is regularly cited as being one of the causes of mental health problems in young people. However, in times such as these, using social media in a healthy way could actually be incredibly beneficial for children and young adults, by allowing young people to maintain good communication with their friends and classmates and share their concerns.
Encouraging your kids to get involved in group chats with close friends and use video calling services such as FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat or Skype can help them to remain close with their peers and engage in regular, healthy social interaction. You could also introduce them to other apps, such as HouseParty, which enable larger groups of people to enjoy group video chats with added functions – this will help your children to interact with more of their peers at one time, rather than limiting their communication to one-on-one conversations.
Play games with your kids
As the majority of children will now be spending a lot more time at home for the foreseeable future, now is the best time to dust off those board games or break out the pack of playing cards. While nothing can truly replace real-life social interaction with peers, playing games with your kids is a fantastic way to maintain their social development and will help them to improve useful social skills such as negotiation, explanation and strategizing.
Ask your kids for help and give them projects
As they spend more time away from school, many kids will become frustrated at their lack of progress and will become lazy and demotivated due to the lack of structure. Enlisting your kids’ help with household tasks and giving them projects to complete, such as cooking, painting, basic DIY (supervised of course!) will provide them with vital structure and goals to achieve. This will also translate over into keeping them productive and helping them stay on track with their academic work.
Give them some space
While it may be very counterintuitive, sometimes kids need to spend time alone to develop vital tools and coping mechanisms which will allow them to cope with solitary moments and difficult periods in the future. While long term loneliness is detrimental, giving your children some space and resisting the urge to constantly check in and be present during this time may in fact help them to come to terms with the situation and build resilience. Ensuring you are available to answer any questions or discuss any concerns they have, while not forcing them to talk about the situation, will go a long way to helping them negotiate this tricky period.
Gerard Barnes, is the CEO of Smart TMS, the UK’s leading provider of TMS therapy to treat a range of mental health conditions in teenagers and adults. Now, Gerard comments on the impact of isolation on young people and discusses how their mental wellbeing may be affected:
“Spending long periods of time away from their peer group could likely have some considerable consequences for the development of young people’s social skills and their general mental wellbeing, as loneliness and isolation is one of the key drivers behind the development of depression and social anxiety.”
“Young people in the UK are already dealing with high levels of stress from various sources, but now they are facing a completely different reality amidst the school closures and exam cancellations, one which is extremely uncertain and has never been experienced by young people before. At Smart TMS, we strongly encourage parents everywhere to look into ways of helping your children cope with this period of social separation, and to also use this as a time to connect with your kids and spend more quality time with them.”
“We hope that the tips we provide serve as a good indicator of ways that you can support your children, but long-term separation from their peer group will be detrimental to their mental wellbeing and social development. Therefore, it is vital that the government provides more information on the school closures and exam cancellations as soon as possible, and more mental health provisions must be made available to young people to cope with the severe impact that COVID-19 has had on their way of life.”