‘I carried my favourite bag to my class in March 2020,
I played without fear with my friends’ long way back,
Hugging my friends, sharing our meals doesn’t happen anymore,
I have been seeing my friends, but on the other side of screen
We still attend the same class just the togetherness isn’t felt
We call it a class but it’s not the same anymore…
Our elders are calling it the new normal,
But how can I like it?
This new normal has detached me
From friends, from my school, from my space, from my development.
It’s not my fault, but I am supposed to grow in it.
And yet smile!
I am a Child with not so normal life to adjust with!
Still, I am Labelled as Too Sensitive,
Children having a healthy family environment, children with special needs, children in juvenile homes, children in orphanages, children engaged in child labour and children who are underprivileged – all have been affected by covid-19 pandemic.
With passing time, Covid-19 started transforming the lives of children. The pandemic and the associated policies like confinement and social distancing were put up as priorities and it touched every child’s world. Adults tried to find ways to handle the crisis and somewhere found ways of coping with the situation, creating social networks and lifting up spirits of each other in difficult times but children were imposed with a system of education where they missed out on their most important stage of development which means growing up with other children, learning from the togetherness, taking turns, learning from fights and accepting individual differences.
Mental health is as usual the last thing to think of that needs to be taken care of, considering the stigma and the stereotypical attitudes society holds for mental health that could have been hit in children. But in reality, mental health has been affected badly. Mental health is not simply the absence of a mental disorder. Mental health in childhood means reaching developmental and emotional milestones, and learning healthy social skills and how to cope when they face problems.
Children who don’t have a mental disorder might differ in how well they are doing, and children who have the same diagnosed mental disorder might differ in their strengths and weaknesses in how they are developing and coping, and in their quality of life. Mental health as a continuum and the identification of specific mental disorders are both ways to understand how well children are doing.
The trend of education and connectivity is changing with widespread digitalisation. The majority of children are spending majority of their time online. To deal with the crisis situation of not losing on the academics, digital tools were used to continue schooling. But it was just the academics. These digital tools did provide recreational activities but increased the digital savviness in children. Increased digitisation has exposed children to negative recreational facilities available online like gambling, excessive online gaming, spending more time in the virtual world, magnified risk for exploitation and bullying, if internet use is increasingly unsupervised.
With increased digitisation, the inequalities between children are also increasing as the poorest children are least likely to have a quiet place in their home to concentrate on their studies and/ or have the tools to access on-line education. The effects of this education gap may become long lasting.
The cocooning of children at home has also changed the pattern of family dynamics, where children had to spend more time with family members instead of children of their age, more authoritarian attitude was witnessed as the teaching system was partly being controlled by the parent, some children went through emotional, verbal and physical abuse by the elders and also were paying the brunt of changing family financials and dynamics of the family.
It also caused cultural changes which we are considering as the new norm, we are creating socially isolated environment for our children, they are becoming introverts, prefer to be alone, there is decline in social interactions and growing up in such a bubble will create individualised personalities which isn’t healthy for social development.
The whole scenario of covid-19 pandemic has caused decline in normal development, inculcation of bad habits and a sedentary lifestyle for children.
This all may look like a distant image – not happening around us, but the reality is – it’s happening with almost every child. What’s being witnessed in mental health clinical settings of Kashmir is that children are not able to concentrate well on academics, they are becoming more isolated, they spend a major chunk of their time online, behavioural addictions like online gaming, online gambling are increasing and are being accepted as a norm by the community, they are always glued to social media which exposes them globally and is causing self-esteem issues , they are having more mood and anxiety issues and are having decline in physical activities.
All these repercussions need a ‘compassionate fixing approach’ that has to be a collaborative as well as an individualised effort.
As every year Children’s Day is celebrated to promote togetherness, awareness among children and to improve children’s welfare, but this year, let’s celebrate it to ‘Unite and Reverse the impact of covid-19 pandemic on children’. Let’s not celebrate children’s day on social media but in our real lives. Be it your own children, your nephews/nieces, children in neighbourhood or underprivileged children. Give an effort to bring a smile on the innocent faces on Children’s Day. Acknowledge it to children, that it’s your day- celebrate it the way they want it to be. Create the excitement in you so that it flows in your children. We all celebrate birthdays of children- it marks this day as a child’s day to feel special, but celebrating children’s day for every child is a way to celebrate their day as being children and not as an individual. We may not be able to give them everything that covid-19 took away from them but this definitely can be a step towards road of recovery.
Let’s celebrate Children’s Day for every child!