Children and Mental Health: Is Childhood Disappearing?
A conversation I overheard recently:
Female A: “I’m fat.”
Female B: “No you’re not. I am.”
Nothing seems out of the ordinary about this conversation, does it? It’s a typical, albeit damaging, dialogue that many women have probably exchanged with each other countless times before. You’ve probably said it and I know I have before.
The thing about this particular conversation though was that Female A was SEVEN-years-old and Female B was NINE-years-old.
In the moment after hearing this, my heart broke and I became both saddened and angry. Saddened that these two beautiful, young girls had already began to body shame themselves, perceiving that their size, shape, and figure dictated their self-worth and self-esteem. And angry – angry at how potentially toxic society is – so toxic in fact that it seems young children are being burdened with so-called ‘adult’ ideologies before they’ve even learnt their times-table, or how to ride a bike.
Childhood is reserved as a sacred time in one’s life, full of harmless innocence and where the biggest worry should be what game you’re going to play in the playground that day, but the fear is that childhood is now disappearing.
Did you know that 1 in 10 children aged 5-16 suffer from a mental health disorder? Or that a quarter of children under 10 diet because they think they are overweight?
It’s hardly surprising though, in a time where social media and technology are prevalent, that kids are drowning in a sea of new and dangerous pressures. Where the number of likes on a selfie validates their self-worth or where being ‘de-friended’ on Facebook is the virtual equivalent of being punched in the face. These pressures and ideologies won’t go away, they will shape and influence these children throughout their whole life, only to be perpetuated through generation after generation.
So, it’s vital that we take responsibility for children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing, before it’s too late. Much more needs to be done in education, at home and in society in general.
Most importantly, to show children love and acceptance – that it is OK to feel sad or worried sometimes, but that they can always talk to someone and they will always be listened to.
YoungMinds is a charity that support the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people. Visit youngminds.org.uk or contact their parent helpline on 0808 802 5544.