WHEN we hear that hospital admissions for teenage self-harm have more than doubled in the past six years there is little doubt that Britain is facing a mental health crisis among our young.
It is perhaps understandable, then, that all of our focus has been on this secondary school age group, where their behaviour becomes worrying. But is it too late by that age? I think so.
Current-day teens are the first generation to grow up not knowing a world without 24-7 access to the internet and all its dangers[/caption]
The Government has this week announced plans to “teach” children as young as four about the effect communicating over such sites as Instagram or Facebook can have on their mental health.
Official data shows 3,988 youngsters aged nine to 17 were taken to hospital last year with self-harm injuries. The figure was up from 1,725 in 2011.
Girls were five times as likely to be admitted with injuries as boys. A shocking 400 cases involved children aged between nine and 12.
From September 2020, all state schools will encourage their youngest pupils to spend more time outdoors, rather than on their smart phones.
This is welcome and long overdue.
Most problems we are now seeing with our teenagers stem from very early childhood, and most parents have no idea about that.
ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT A CHILD?
If you have concerns about a child or just want some advice, you can contact the NSPCC and speak to one of its trained counsellors.
There’s someone available to help 24 hours a day to give help and support.
Telephone: 0808 800 5000
TOO EASY TO GIVE CHILDREN A TABLET TO KEEP THEM OCCUPIED
These teens are the first generation to grow up not knowing a world without 24-7 access to the internet and all its dangers.
But time on screen, such as social media and YouTube, has displaced active, outdoor, social play that children enjoyed in the past.
We have fragile kids because they have missed out on important experiences in the early years.
They need to have positive, interactive support from at least one adult carer, rather than being stuck in front of a device most of the day.
In Finland, children aged three to seven, who are in kindergarten, must by law spend at least two hours outdoors every day.
Sue Palmer, Former Head Teacher
It has become far too easy to give our children a tablet to keep them occupied.
My daughter was born in 1986, and is probably from the last generation that was free to go down the park to play with her friends while still at primary school. Some will argue that rules about screen time need to be set by parents, rather than schools.
As a former head teacher, who has studied the risks of the digital world, I have warned about the dangers of toddlers becoming addicted to iPads.
A couple of years ago, Ofcom revealed that pre-school children were spending four hours a day on these devices. But it is no good simply saying it is up to the parents, especially when they face so many pressures themselves.
GETTING BACK TO BASICS
The Government also has a duty to care for our children, especially in the most formative years — up to age seven. And that’s not by saying: “We’re going to have a lesson on relationships on Thursday.” It is by putting relationships and play at the heart of the curriculum in early years. That really is getting back to basics.
We shouldn’t be “teaching” four-year- olds how to use social media in a sterile classroom as if it is one of the three Rs. The fourth R — resilience — isn’t learned from lessons or tablets. It needs to be built up over time through real-life play.
In Finland, children aged three to seven, who are in kindergarten, must by law spend at least two hours outdoors every day. For many children, the early school years will be their first experience of large groups of other kids. In the playground they learn to deal with conflict, such as sharing, how to get involved in games, dealing with fall-outs and even avoiding bullying behaviour.
Human beings need to figure out how to sort their way through tough situations when they are little, because that is when they bounce better.
It has become far too easy to give our children a tablet to keep them occupied[/caption]
In the playground kids learn to deal with conflict, such as sharing, how to get involved in games, dealing with fall-outs and even avoiding bullying behaviour[/caption]
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LEARN ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS IN A NATURAL WAY
When they are four, an annoying situation such as being left out of a game can be overcome without it turning into a long-term meltdown.
This will be vital when they face exclusion on social media.
With the help of early years professionals, children can learn about relationships in this natural way.
These teens are the first generation to grow up not knowing a world without 24-7 access to the internet and all its dangers
Sue Palmer, Former Head Teacher
This issue has been with us since the Nineties, when other distractions were introduced into our homes in the form of a television in kids’ bedrooms.
Back then, teachers kept telling me kids couldn’t focus as well, listening skills were nosediving, they weren’t getting along with each other in the playground as well as they did and language was getting worse.
I believe there is a link between digital distraction and the rise of developmental problems such as ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia.
Obviously, parents need to play their part. I don’t think children should be using digital devices before the age of two, and they shouldn’t be on them for more than one hour a day before they are five.
THEY NEED REAL-LIFE SOCIAL SKILLS
What we need to do is gradually introduce children to social media, like we would a busy road. At first we keep them by our sides, holding their hands, and then, gradually, as they show they have learned the dangers they face, we allow them to go out by themselves.
They need to learn real-life social skills so they are able to resist the corrosive effects of social media.
Real play helps to make them resilient and adaptable.
By getting the early years right, we equip children to face challenges later in life.
Human beings need to figure out how to sort their way through tough situations when they are little, because that is when they bounce better[/caption]
The Government has this week announced plans to “teach” children as young as four about the effect communicating over such sites as Instagram or Facebook can have on their mental health[/caption]
- Sue Palmer is a former head teacher and the author of the books Toxic Childhood and Upstart.