The harms of lockdown for young people

Psychologists are providing evidence summaries to highlight the risks and harms of lockdown for children and adolescents.

A group of academics concerned with the lack of policy focused on children and adolescents during the pandemic are providing scientific evidence of the possible harms of social distance measures. REACHwell – Researchers in Education and Adolescent Child Health and Wellbeing – is Chaired by Professor Ellen Townsend of the Self-Harm Research Group in the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham. Townsend told us about how the group came about.

‘Frustrated at the neglect of children and adolescents in government decision making in the pandemic we created REACHwell. The idea came about from discussions with Professor Ian Goodyer (University of Cambridge) when I was leading an Open Letter to Gavin Williamson about the plight of children and adolescents in this crisis. We were worried that young people (from tots to teens) were being ignored in decision making relating to school closures, social distancing and lockdown, so we felt that a group of academic experts focusing solely on the needs of children and adolescents in this crisis was a gap that needed to be filled. We provide scientific evidence that might help to fill this gap. Hence, we are using our joint expertise to point to research that shows potential risks and harms of lockdowns and social distancing explained in a simple way.

We are providing succinct summaries of scientific evidence relating to the impact of lockdowns and social distancing on development, social interaction, learning/education, play, domestic and gang violence, safeguarding, mental health and wellbeing (and associated risk factors), self-harm and suicide. Reports will also highlight inequalities experienced in these areas.

We hope this evidence will be taken into account when making decisions about lockdowns and social distancing, and will highlight the need to prioritize children and adolescents.’

Three research summaries have been published on the REACHwell website so far. Professor Helen Dodd (University of Reading) wrote about the importance of play for children’s social and emotional wellbeing. Dodd said: ‘When children do return to school, they will need time and space to reconnect with their peers through play… Only when children’s social and emotional needs are met will they be ready to resume their formal education effectively.’

Professor Uta Frith (University College London) looked at the consequences of children missing out on six months of school. Frith said that there would be negative consequences on the ‘hidden benefits’ of school – the development of executive functions and social relations to peers and adults outside the family. Frith concluded: ‘Children and young people need to know that the state cares about them. This obvious need has been shockingly neglected.’

The most recent summary is from Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore (University of Cambridge), on the impact of the pandemic on social development in adolescents. Blakemore highlighted that adolescence is ‘a period of vulnerability to mental health problems and there is a real risk that the lack of structure, support, social-emotional learning and face-to-face peer interaction due to ongoing school closures will exacerbate this vulnerability, resulting in a mental health crisis amongst the younger generation’.

Find out more about Townsend’s open letter, endorsed by more than 130 psychologists here.

See our Deputy Editor Dr Annie Brookman-Byrne’s blog posts on this topic on the Jacobs Foundation Blog on Learning and Development (BOLD).
Consequences of exam cancellations – Will inequalities between students increase?
The pandemic widens the attainment gap – How can disadvantaged students be supported?

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