I fear for the sanity of our youth in lockdown.
Recently published research from the Education Policy Institute and The Prince’s Trust concluded that teenagers’ mental health is on the decline.
Significant contributors to the problem are social media (especially for girls) and a lack of physical activity (especially for boys). I fear for the sanity of our youth in lockdown.
Unremarkably, the report recommends that prevention is better than cure and resources should be directed to supporting child and adolescent mental health in schools and the wider community before their plight becomes chronic. Laudable endeavours, but inevitably a sticking plaster to respond to the emergency created by a global pandemic.
So what’s the long-term solution for preventing a new epidemic of child and adolescent mental illness? I believe the preventative measures must be applied at an earlier stage by tackling the pernicious influence of social media.
- Develop real relationships
Young people must be encouraged to connect with real people in real time and space. In school, we ban the use of mobile phones and pack the day with learning, physical activity, and social time. Clearly in lockdown it is up to families to find ways to connect and engage in activities together. It can be hard and may generate conflict at times, but strengthening the familial bonds is an investment worth making.
- Build resilience
Our children must develop attributes that give them the confidence to protect themselves from social media influences. We are only looking after our children until they are able to look after themselves. Let us teach them values of respect for one another and themselves, the courage to speak up when in need, and the resilience to carry on when times are tough.
- Regulate the tech giants
Most importantly, let’s not blame our children for struggling to resist the grip of social media. My generation had no such foe to battle against in our youth – we were not manipulated by apps to engage with their content. We regulate the consumption of other harmful products, especially to protect children, so why not social media?
Whilst world governments continue to tip toe around Facebook and Google et al, let’s work together on helping our youngsters connect with the real world in the context of values that promote self-efficacy and confidence.