As we learn to live with Covid-19 around, things have been particularly harsh for children who are finding themselves trapped and are struggling to get back to normal, writes Kaartik Gupta, as he suggests measures to ensure that our children remain healthy and emerge stronger from this crisis
Till now, the year 2020 has been a difficult one to say the least. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed everything around us. How we meet and greet others, type of clothes we wear, how we stand and even sit in public places, how often we go out; basically everything has changed. Months of uncertainty, lockdown, reports of chaos caused due to the pandemic all over media, restricted movements and forced isolations have taken a toll on the mental and emotional health of a large number of people.
As per recent reports, there has been a significant rise in people seeking psychological help over the past few months. Anxiety, Depression, increased incidents of domestic violence, substance abuse, stress due to loss of livelihood and financial crisis, escalation in the number of suicides were some of the grave issues for which people sought psychological help. People of all ages have been deeply impacted due to the changed world order.
As the nation is in a gradual phase of unlock at present, most of the workforce and economy has opened up. People have resumed work with varied work days and shifts. However, children are still stuck at homes. They are unable to go to their respective schools and colleges as Covid cases continue to rise and thus as a safety measure, educational institutions have not yet been given the nod to operate completely. Students, at different educational levels, are forced to continue with online classes. Some have even appeared for online exams, while few others wait for the technical glitches to be sorted. These have been challenging times especially for children as not just they had to adapt to a very different method of learning, they have also been deprived of the fun times they share with their friends in school and college. Those belonging to the lower socio-economic strata have found it even more difficult to keep up with the teaching due to lack of resources like smartphones, laptops and slower internet speed.
Problems faced by children due to the pandemic include:
l Online learning: Technological advancements made it possible for students to continue with their studies even from the space and safety of their own homes. Online classes, e-lectures, webinars replaced regular classrooms and lecture halls. However, it came with the side-effects of reduced attention span, virtual absenteeism as students would login for class but would be watching or playing something else rather than listening to their teachers, lack of writing skills as all the assignments or projects had to be virtually completed and submitted. Poor internet connectivity, concurrent online classes of sibling, lack of smartphone also affected the children’s ability to attend e-schools/colleges. In addition to this, time-bound assignment submissions and exams heightened the child’s anxiety if in case he/she is unable to upload the document for a reason beyond his/her control. Back-to-back classes also affected the children’s ability to pay attention to what is being taught.
l Restricted outdoor activity: Childhood is a period where an individual grows not just by learning things at school, but also by engaging in play activities with his/her peers. It is a treasured time of the day and almost all children look forward to going out and playing with their friends. But the pandemic forced them to stay indoors and thus restricted their ability to play with friends and siblings. This has been one of the most important factors for children having more psychological and behavioural issues during the past few months. Regular exercise and playing activities ensure adequate production and secretion of endorphins and growth hormones which are vital for a child’s overall health and well-being.
l Lack of privacy: With everyone being at home for most part of the day, one’s personal space has also been compromised to a certain extent. This is especially true for adolescents as more family time, less time with friends has been tough on some teenagers. Although, many have utilised this time well to bond with their family members, some found it difficult which often led to an increase in arguments and conflicts at home.
l Increased screen time: Ask any parent of a teenager or even a child and they will tell you how fed up they are due to their child’s excessive phone/laptop usage. Social media, OTT platforms, messaging apps, online games; this cocktail is any parents’ worst enemy and ironically their child’s go to thing. Excessive screen time has been an issue for a very long time now, but due to the pandemic when even studies started happening online things just went from bad to worse for children and adolescents. As per a recent pre-Covid times study, an adolescent on an average spends around 6-7 hours watching or using phone/laptop screen; much higher than the healthy usage. Children and adolescents are completely hooked onto the screen which has adverse effects on their psychological well-being.
l Restricted socialisation: Due to the pandemic, our social interactions and gatherings have been severely affected. Humans are social animals and we need to socialise for us to feel safe and secure. Adolescents and young adults, especially the ones in their last school or college year, are apprehensive if they would be able to meet their friends and teachers properly one final time before they pass out from the educational institutions. Children have reported feeling isolated and lonely during the past few months as they have not been able to go and meet their friends in person.
l Increased risk of child abuse: The pandemic has increased the prevalence of many common sources of family stress, placing children at risk of abuse and neglect. As per recent reports, the incidents of domestic violence and abuse had significantly gone up during the lockdown period placing children at a greater risk and adversely affecting their impressionable minds. A child who has been a victim or even a witness to abuse at home can experience a variety of psychological and emotional issues both as a child and even later on as an adult. Providing a safe and nurturing home environment for a child to grow in is each one’s responsibility and we need to take adequate steps to ensure the same. Any incident of abuse needs to be reported to the police and Child Welfare Committee so that the child can be immediately secured and the perpetrators be punished.
As the number of new cases has lessened over the past few weeks and we all learn to live with Covid-19 around, things are slowly getting back to normal; a new normal. As a child/adolescent going through any of the above mentioned issues, you can take the following measures to ensure that you remain healthy and emerge stronger from this crisis:
l Communication: Talk to your parents, siblings or friends about how you are feeling about the current scenario. Confide in the one you trust. Share whatever you are feeling or thinking about, no matter how trivial you might think it may sound to them. As a parent, be patient and a good listener to you child/adolescent. Hear them out and try to understand what he/she is going through. Encourage them to talk about their feelings, their thoughts, any apprehensions or anything they are worried about. Listen to understand, rather than to reply. Provide a caring, supportive and non-judgmental environment at home for him/her to feel safe and secure at home. Do not dismiss their fears or thoughts as illogical, even if they seem so to you.
l Get involved at home: Use the current situation to your benefit and try to get involved with some tasks at home. Learn new skills, take up responsibilities and help out at home in whatever way you can.
l Limit screen time: It might be difficult with online classes but reduce your screen time as much as possible. Attend classes sincerely rather than trying to multi-task or fool your teacher as you are the only one who’ll suffer because of it. Take short breaks between classes. Always sit on a chair or floor and do your work; use you bed only for sleeping. Be mindful of your posture, as long usage of phone/laptop can lead to problems like cervical spondylitis.
l Read books: Do not limit your learning only through phone/laptop. Put in the extra effort and prepare through books as well; reading thoroughly helps in concept clarity and thus can be better recalled during exams.
l Maintain a routine: Having a structured day will lessen the anxiety or boredom you may feel. Go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday, do some physical exercise for half an hour at least, eat healthy home cooked food. Fix a time for your studies and engage in your hobbies regularly.
l Socialise but responsibly: Gradual unlocking of the country has begun and thus it has become easier to meet your friends. Once in a while you can go out and meet your friends for lunch or dinner provided you are following the safety guidelines laid down by the government for prevention of spread of Covid-19. It will be a good change for you and you can catch up with your friends in person after many months. If not this, you always have the option of being in touch with them over video calls or normal phone calls. The important thing is to be in touch with your loved ones and not be withdrawn or isolated.
l Avoid substance use: Teenage is a time when the individual wants to explore and experiment different things in life. The new found sense of independence and an emotional roller-coaster driven by the hormonal changes can tempt one to seek thrill even at the expense of their well-being. Substance or drug use, which can rapidly develop into an abuse, is a major issue which plagues our children and adolescents. With the glorification of such activities in popular songs and movies, it poses a major threat as engaging in such things is wrongly considered to be cool and youngsters give into it just to be a part of a group. Please be advised to stay away from such stuff and use your intelligence and smartness wisely.
l Seek Professional Help: If you notice a significant change in your child’s behaviour which is affecting his/her personal, social, academic/occupational functioning please be advised to consult your nearest Mental Health Professional like Clinical Psychologist, Child Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Psychiatric Social Worker or Counsellor.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going! Let us all do our bit to ensure that we all emerge stronger and wiser from this pandemic.
The author is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist at AKGsOVIHAMS Medical Centres at Pitampura and Satya Niketan. He provides psychotherapy, counselling, psychological assessment, and de-addiction counselling to people of all age groups