On the way home from work one day, I sat behind a tired looking mother and her three children, one was around 18 months in the pram. They were eating chicken and chips, and then, to my surprise mum gave the child in the pram a can of apple tango that was gulped back quickly.
This led me to question, 'what are we pouring into each other and our children?" Metaphorically are we giving them quick fixes, temporary and pointless in the long term, or pure with good intention?
The statistic that 1 in 10 children have some form of anxiety or depression is disturbing but comes as no surprise. According to childrens mental health organisation Place2Be, 3 children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health problem, half of those with lifetime mental health issues first experience symptoms by the age of 14 and depression and anxiety amongst teenagers have increased by 75% in the past 25 years.
I work as teaching assistant in a primary school in Peckham, south London and every day I see first hand experience of children who display extremes in their emotions, often distracted and drained. Just the other day a year four student had a panic attack in the middle of a maths lesson, and although its true exam pressure has increased, the stress that these children feel can often include their situations at home. Parents are increasingly overworked and can experience difficulties finding a balance between being a parent and carer, and taking care of their other responsibilities.
Recently a year two child was seemingly upset and when I asked why he explained it was because he can't play with his parents when they get home from work because they're tired and need their rest. With the changes and shift in family dynamics, a stressed society of people are getting sicker leaving children having to deal with grief and trauma from a young age with no coping mechanisms offered we cant be surprised when we see a generation of children that are emotionally and spiritually malnourished. When there is such an emphasis on achieving, regular assessments, bigger class sizes at school with lessons led by overworked teachers dealing with classes of children with increased varying educational needs and staff without adequate support or training, these statistics support my experience of children that are stressed and unable to articulate their feelings.
This isn't just a London problem, though. The Australian national telegraph states that national figures suggesting one in 10 adolescents have self-harmed at some point in the past year - three children in every classroom. Wellbeing and mental health challenges are increasingly becoming a serious issue that needs to be addressed with a sense of urgency.
Children are less likely to suffer from serious mental health difficulties later in life if they receive support at an early age. Embedding happiness lessons into the curriculum is one way we can support the health and wellbeing of young people but essentially we need a holistic approach of how we can empower children and nurture their health and wellness. Last weeks episode of the biggest primary school in Britain, a year five child who we saw display aggressive behaviour sought refuge in poetry, after which we saw a marked improvement in his behaviour, due to this creative outlet. Art and play are proven methods to help children open up, especially those with limited verbal skills to communicate and a childs mood, attitude and wellbeing influences their ability to concentrate, lean and excel. It is worrying when a recent article suggests that creativity, culture and the arts are being systematically removed from the education system.
With the added pressures of social media, coupled with the usual peer pressures of growing up it's important that we seek to find alternative ways to support our future generations.
Yoga, meditation and mindful techniques are used widely in the states as a revolutionary way to help to improve self esteem, concentration, reduce anxiety and improve wellbeing. Having more trained staff in the field of mental health and therapy to meet the growing needs for young people and the use of the arts and creativity to encourage their development are a few ways we can help to alleviate this growing issue. Children are literally our future, and I feel it is all of our jobs to be conscious of their changing needs and demand the best for them.