This turbulent time has had a profound impact on children’s physical, mental and social wellbeing and has highlighted, and magnified, pre-existing inequalities.
Physical activity during lockdown
The closure of facilities, from schools to leisure centres, has significantly impacted young people with the places where they’re normally active no longer being an option. Over a third (36%) of children said that they’ve had fewer opportunities to be active as they are not at school.
The situation has further highlighted pre-existing inequalities with children from less affluent backgrounds more than twice as likely to have done no exercise than their more affluent peers (13% compared to 6%). However, some positive change has become apparent, children from BAME backgrounds are more likely to have increased their activity levels in lockdown compared to their White peers. This same pattern of increasing activity levels can also be seen amongst girls.
Whilst overall, activity levels have gone down, many children have come to appreciate the importance of sport and physical activity. One in four children and young people felt that physical activity made them feel better during restrictions. Furthermore, half of those who responded plan to do more sport and exercise in the future.
More information on the impact of lockdown on physical activity can be found here.
Young people’s mental health & concerns
It is particularly concerning to see that primary school children are reporting that they feel lonely 50% more compared to normal levels accelerate long term mental health problems amongst young people. In addition to this, previous research has found that those it is possible that the duration of loneliness is more important that the intensity in increasing the risk of depression.
Children and young people, aged 8-24, have missed many things during this time with three quarters, 74%, reporting that they missed going to school or college, the same number reported finding it hard to maintain friendships during lockdown.
Amongst girls, 24% of those aged 11-14 and 50% of those aged 15-18 reported that Covid-19 and lockdown has had a negative impact on their mental health.
What’s helped during lockdown
Whilst research has found that young people are looking forward to resuming ‘normal activities as restrictions are eased they have, during this time, valued the time they have spent with family, interacting with friends online and volunteering.
Young people with existing mental health conditions have highlighted a number of things that have been beneficial to their mental health; seven in ten (72%) found face-to-face calls with friends helpful and six in ten (60%) benefitted from exercise. However, two thirds (66%) found watching or reading the news detrimental and over a third (36%) found social media unhelpful.
The challenges of home learning
The first week of June saw 65% of parents reporting that their children had been learning from home. However, this method of learning is presenting its own set of problems; 7% of children don’t have access to a computer, this rises to 20% of pupils on free school meals. Furthermore, 40% of primary school children from the least affluent families have access to a dedicated learning space, in comparison 65% children from the most affluent families had access to this.
It is not just the environment that is impacting children and young people; almost 60% of primary school parents and half of secondary parents are finding it ‘quite’ or ‘very hard’ to support learning. This is in part due to the lack of additional resources such as printers and craft materials which limits children’s engagement with learning.
Returning to school
Despite the key role schools play in young people’s lives many parents remain reluctant for their children to return to school. When surveyed on 15th May 2020, 39% of primary parents and 45% of secondary parents said that they would send their children back to school. However there were noticeable discrepancies by income, with over half of the richest fifth of families willing to send their children back compared to a third of parents from the poorest fifth of families.
Amongst children themselves, four in five are expressing some level of worry as they come out of lockdown:
Concerns also exist around school with four in ten concerned about the pressures of getting back into a school routine and 40% concerned about catching up on lessons. Concerns around catching up are particularly common amongst 13-14 year olds, this is potentially a result of a reduced focus by schools as they look to support 15 year olds who will be undertaking GCSEs next year. There are also pressure around transitions, in particular for year 6s.
Positives from the Covid experience
Whilst the current situation has caused significant disruption it has enabled new and innovative approaches to be utilised when working with young people. Technology and screen time which has historically been a contentious area between young people adults has started to be viewed in a more positive light. This has been driven by the key role it has played in education, entertainment and keeping children active.
It is clear that the restrictions brought in to tackle Covid-19 have had a profound impact on children’s physical, mental and social wellbeing. There is a clear need to address the educational gaps that have developed, as well as focussed support with mental health and finding appropriate ways to reassure parents. However, other issues will take time to emerge and as such pre-emptive work should be explored to minimise future problems and their severity.