Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I am anti-social…

The COVID bubble begins to burst!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-social or anything, but perversely I am sad that the restrictions for COVID19 are being lifted. I have been enjoying my State-sanctioned semi-solitude. I had a perfect mix of interactions with others and being allowed to retreat all worked out.

It’s a selfish stand, I know because I wasn’t all that disadvantaged by them.   I kept working through the whole time, was able to get out and exercise and had a steady stream of activities to keep me occupied. I was not affected by the great toilet paper shortage or scarcity of other items due to some uncanny coincidental forward planning. I didn’t have kids to home school.  I didn’t get sick. I had already planned a low key year. I did miss seeing my grandson and daughter, and that’s about it. One other big regret was not being able to attend my good friend’s funeral at the end of April.

At work, I was able to be proactive and not reactive. Every item on my daily to-do list was crossed off, and I left at a reasonable time. I didn’t have students to discipline. The parents I did talk to were appreciative and not berating me for dealing with their children.

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Plenty of iso-baking happened at my place!

Don’t get me wrong I’m not anti-social but with most of the teachers working from home, the constant stream of interruptions to solve other peoples’ problems dwindled to next to nothing. They return en masse this Monday, bringing their problems with them. (11/5/20)

A  rumbling low-level of anxiety is beginning to penetrate my calm as the invitations to “catch up now that we can” are starting. It’s not that I went out partying every weekend anyway but having to stay at home, HAVING to be cocooned because I was told to, gave me a legitimate reason to stay quiet and at peace.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I don’t want to see people, but this time to be slow, deliberate and self-sufficient was tantalisingly comforting. The bluer than blue skies have already started to brown over as more and more people are going about their business.

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Bluer than blue!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-social, but I have discovered that I am also not pro-social either. When I am with people, I feel on guard. Will I say something stupid? Will I accidentally offend someone? Does my hair look alright? What will they think of me? The internal monologue never ends. Sometimes it’s so noisy I forget to listen to the person in front of me. That voice has been so quiet these last two months. I guess it proves that even though I am friendly, loud, bossy, speak in front of a large crowd etc I am in essence a socially awkward introvert.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-social, but I could live in this bubble forever… I think…  As long as the bubble had a door. It might be different if I didn’t have the option to leave when I wanted.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I am antisocial, but I might re-gig my world a little so I can keep the calm for longer. Please don’t be offended.

 

….and Mum! Don’t worry, I am OK!! 🙂

 

Is childhood anxiety on the rise?

A closeup shot of a leaf with dark and light green stripes

Childhood in the 1960s

Growing up in the 60s, I would describe my childhood as free range. By this I mean that while I was well cared for, I did not have much close supervision. This was not unusual for the times.  Provided we told our parents where we were going and what we were doing they just let us go and do it. We would stay outside all day, in all seasons. In wet weather, we would play inside and dress up our dolls and build whole new worlds.  We played under the house building mud pies in the dirt with little regard for the spiders that hung from the joists above our heads. We were happy and active.

I don’t remember our parents organising any of our activities. We worked it out for ourselves, although we had to ask for permission to watch TV or when we wanted a sleepover.

Water fall shot with a slow shutter.

We’d play on the street with all the neighbourhood kids. Someone would yell out “CAR” and we’d scamper aside and let the traffic pass and then continue with the game of cricket or soccer. Once again, I don’t remember any parents around to tell us to be careful or to watch out. There was a mix of ages from Will and Micky who were the oldest right down to pipsqueaks like me who were five years younger.

I obviously survived, although I did have a few near misses[1]. Once when my brother and I were playing at the beach and I got caught in a rip. Some fellow scooped me out of the surf and took me back to my mother who was sleeping on the sand. In her defence, we weren’t supposed to be swimming!

I remember slicing my foot from toe to heel on a  rusty water tank we were using as a slippery dip. The most vivid part of this memory being the bloody little foot prints I left on the road as I limped home.

In kindergarten, I was walking home from school on a rainy day splashing in puddles when I got stuck in a big open drain with the water rising around me. And the nearest miss, when I was at my best friend’s cousins’ place swimming in their pool and one of the older kids bombed me. I had to be dragged to the surface after someone realised I hadn’t come up yet.

A bee forages for pollen on a bright yellow aloe flower

Modern parents are more involved but at what price?

More recently, parents and carers are more involved in directing the activities of their children. Dance lessons, after school tutoring, training for sports, pre-organised play dates. All structured time. I guess this is mostly because many parents and particularly, mums, work away of home and scheduling is necessary. You can no longer pop next door and know that someone will be home.

Is adolescent anxiety on the rise?

If you ask me if anxiety and depression and other mental illnesses have increased in the 26 years years I have been teaching I would give an emphatic YES.   Is my perception backed by evidence?  I notice it more and more but is that because as a school leader, I am more involved in that aspect of schooling? Today alone I spoke to three families about their anxious and school-refusing children.  The quick research I did in preparation for this post, indicates my perception can not be supported evidence.

Some articles say there has been no increase in the prevalence of anxiety disorders, while others refer to an “epidemic” and crisis of mental health issues. The problem is that data collection relating to childhood anxiety has only started in the last 10 – 15 years. We don’t have a clear picture on the anxiety levels of past generations because it wasn’t measured or reported  so we cannot accurately compare. We simply don’t know. We have no good base line data. Anxiety levels might be higher or they could even be lower.

Round ball like seeds pods against a bright blue sky

 

While my hunch is not supported by hard evidence, I have first hand observational data – even if the sample size is very small –  that some kids, especially girls around 14 – 16 can not be separated from their phones. I have had girls crying and begging to be suspended from school rather than hand in their phone after using it inappropriately in class time. Their fear of losing that point of contact is palpable. They quiver and become faint.

Is there a link between the use of smart phones and the apparent increase in anxiety?

Probably?

Has the shift in care practices made a difference to childhood happiness and health?

Maybe…

The practices of 50 years ago may be seen as neglectful these days.  At school we often discuss helicopter parents – those who hover constantly over their children and the more notorious lawn mower parents who sweep ahead and mow down any obstacles in their children’s path. Of course, all parents want their children to be safe and not be hurt, teased or bullied but has the pendulum swung too far? Are today’s parents stopping their children learning valuable lessons and denying them opportunities to  be resilient and self reliant? Are they creating anxious kids by accident?

I think so.

The Australian Government report into childhood anxiety does state the following:

It might be tempting to blame increased screen time [for anxiety] and access to information via the internet that didn’t exist in previous generations….

The presence of screens is not necessarily something that’s going to create anxiety. Social media, unfortunately, is a huge factor. Particularly in primary school.[2]

Further, parents of anxious children can exacerbate the issue by protecting their children too much. When I am dealing with anxious kids I usually find an anxious parent not too far behind.

If a child is worried about going on a school camp, for example, it can be tempting for parents to accommodate their wishes….[and let them stay at home]

‘What keeps anxiety going is avoidance,’ … ‘If you stay away from situations you’re nervous about, the child will never learn that she can handle it, and that actually camp can be fun.[3]

Once again it would seem like the middle ground is the place to be. We have to keep children safe, but not so safe they are scared to stretch their wings.

More information on childhood anxiety

There are some good articles available on the topic if you’d care to read more.

This one about teens and social media from Harvard is an easy and informative read.

https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/17/12/social-media-and-teen-anxiety

For a very in-depth look at the situation in Australia – have a look at this 2015 Australian Government report. (You will need to click on the link that is on that page to download the PDF)

http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/mental-pubs-m-child2

And the Young Minds Matter website – in particular, have a look at the Snapshot of Findings Video.

https://youngmindsmatter.telethonkids.org.au/


 

The images are meant to be calming, natural scenes to help keep you rested!

[1] My mum will kill me when she reads this! Of course, it’s from my stand point and with my version of events! Artistic licence DLT!

[2] http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lifematters/childhood-anxiety-australia-report/7214886

[3] http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lifematters/childhood-anxiety-australia-report/7214886