As we near the end of the fourth lockdown in the UK, many are asking how we understand the social and emotional impact of lockdown on our young people’s mental wellbeing and how the experience of growing up in a pandemic has affected their social skills and their emotional health. There have been a number of factors responsible for this and it’s important to not only acknowledge their existence, but to put in measures to deal with what could be aptly named ‘lockdown fallout.’
One of the main issues which has rattled on, since this all started last March, is the disruption of school life. Children need routine. Children need structure. Without this, children flail and wobble. And, although learning has continued online, in some cases more successfully than others, this type of learning has brought its own problems to the table. A glaring issue, from my own perspective of the situation, is the lack of support for the very students which require the most support. SEND students, those who tap into the experienced and professional help and support available in a school environment, have had to cope with trying to learn online with all its technical challenges as well as complete learning tasks without the support they usually have and desperately need. Whilst families are generally willing to step in and help, they don’t always have the skills or knowledge to do this. Not to mention the ‘dynamic’ between a parent and their child being entirely different from the role of an educator.
Of course, there is no one solution to this and it should perhaps be also acknowledged that some SEND students have, in fact, been affected in positive ways with increased time spent with supportive families and the inevitable distancing from the social, and often scary, life of a school.
Online learning has also demanded students to be in front of a screen for extended periods, resulting in ‘Zoom gloom‘, an apt description of the symptoms experienced from long periods sat at a PC or laptop. Eye strain, neck and back ache and issues focusing for long periods are just some of the problems students have had. Arguably, we try to encourage our young people to not always be ‘on their ‘phone’ due to the sedentary nature of this pastime, the incessant scrolling and the demand for keeping up of social media life. And has the increased use of social media whilst young people spend excessive time on their smartphones good for them? Don’t we already know that anxiety, depression and stress is dangerously heightened in teenagers because of this?
Then, we ask them to learn online! Mixed messages! Whilst they may be in isolation and not seeing and talking to their friends, some would advocate that interacting on their phone is just a substitute, but I would argue that this behaviour doesn’t even touch the sides of a bigger problem – the lack of emotional connection. Our young people’s lives have been changed forever by not forming those close, emotional relationships with others, something which cannot be done via an electronic device. Is there going to be a knock on impact of this? Studies already claim there has been an increase in anxiety and behavioural problems in all ages. What will we do as a society to deal with this in months, or years, to come?
This tidal wave of mental illness, stored up by young people during lockdown periods, is about to hit our shores with a ferocity never seen before. Are we equipped and ready to cope with this? Who is responsible in supporting our children? There’s no doubt that we all need to play a part. How will we deal with the social and emotional impact of lockdown on our young people? Our academic institutions, schools, colleges and universities need to recognise this now and put in schemes and support for those struggling, not wait until the pandemic has finally ebbed away.
Families and friends are our support network. They are there to help and keeping in touch with them, albeit digitally for now, but hopefully in person before too long, is a major factor in achieving a balance, to combat loneliness and to maintain those important, emotional relationships. We all have a responsibility to work on our own mental health and wellbeing and there are a wealth of resources out there in order to do that.
Having a routine, a structure, a time for learning, a time for exercising and achieving a more balanced lifestyle is key to coping in these unprecedented times. Children are often seen as fragile, but are surprisingly resilient and are certainly influenced by those around them. If we’re going to address the social and emotional impact of lockdown on young people, we need to show our young people how to do this. How to cope with the challenges life throws at us and, although we’re all struggling in some way now, demonstrate to our youngsters that we’ve got this. Spring is just around the corner, so let’s face it head on with renewed positivity, responsibility and enthusiasm!