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Head's Blog - Children's Mental Health

Izzy Barnes (1)By Paul Dwyer, Head

During the course of Children’s Mental Health Week this week, we have focused on the idea of ‘connection’. This is a concept we often take for granted, given the ‘hyper-connectivity’ of the online world, as well as the more day-to-day connections we experience as part of our school or working lives. In both of these spheres, it can be too easy to allow ourselves, or our students to go through each day without having a meaningful connection or feeling part of something bigger than ourselves. The feelings of isolation this can lead to are worth taking time to consider deeply, particularly given the implications for mental health.

Our aspiration as parents and as teachers is always to create a space where meaningful conversations can take place with our children and students. This is not always easy to establish; we have all been in conversations with young people where answers are less forthcoming or mono-syllabic (“How was school today?”, “Fine”), and the onus for greater effort falls on our shoulders.

And yet. Creating this space, allowing for the expression of difference of opinion or ideas, and providing scope for debate, discussion, or thoughtful dialogue, will remain our most potent weapon in addressing mental health concerns at an early stage.

Our young people are not immune to the headlines that they see, or the conversations that go on around them. They are worried about climate change, about peace, about individual economic challenges, and feel that their opportunities to make a difference or to be heard are not always apparent.Samindee Dharmarathna 1 (1)

We label too quickly those who want to bring change or offer a vision of greater inclusivity as ‘woke’ or misguided, naïve or uninformed. This is incredibly unfair and forgets the lessons of history. Our young people have always led calls for change and shown courage when they see injustice. John Lewis was 21 when he participated in the Freedom Rides in protest of segregation, as was Alexander Hamilton when the Declaration of Independence was signed. Emmeline Pankhurst was 14 when she started to participate in the Women’s Suffrage Movement, while the protest against the Vietnam War in the 1960s owed so much to the students of the day.

If we do not give our students the space to express their views of the world as they see it, or engage in meaningful conversations with them, the vacuum that is created will only be filled by those who are all too willing to offer engagement. An example of this can be seen in the rise of Andrew Tate; his loud message of misogyny has filled a space for those who do not feel heard or listened to, or feel anxious about the part that they want to play in the world. 

We must work with and listen to our young people to bridge the divides that exists, and it is not only about educating them about the dangers we see about being online, or simply talking at them about safe online behaviour. It is about providing opportunities for them to express their hopes and fears about where they find themselves or what lies ahead. No one willingly looks to isolate a child, but we must be aware of what we model when it comes to our own online lives (I, for one, spend far too many hours scrolling on my phone at home!), where we provide sanctuary and, most importantly, where we listen and engage meaningfully.

 

The photographs attached to this post are the work of art students Izzy in Year 7 (top left) and Samindee in Year 13 (bottom right). The students created their artwork to be entered for the 'Schools and Community Brain Art' competition as part of the Bristol Neuroscience Festival to be held next month. Entries will be judged on originality and creativity, with judges looking for an imaginative response to the theme of 'Connections'.

 

 

Date Posted: 8 February, 2023

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