Category

Mental health

Are children being over-protected in the digital age?

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Heavy-handed approaches to issues around social media and digital communication such as ‘sexting’, may be damaging to children’s emotional development, according to research on childhood in the digital age, by academics at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) and Plymouth University.

 

 

The researchers interviewed children who told them most of their online activities were relatively harmless. The children said they were aware of explicit images being passed around but had rarely been personally involved – however, parents and teachers were often unnecessarily anxious.

Some children described how their parents would monitor their phones and emails, doing regular spot-checks or even receiving copies of all their texts or online messages. In some cases, the youngsters were even tracked using GPS. Teachers, too, would examine the contents of pupils’ phones.

“There is a serious risk that the next generation of our society develops in a way that makes them think they have no right to privacy,” said Dr Leaton-Gray and Professor Phippen in their book ‘Invisibly Blighted: The digital erosion of childhood’.

The researchers argue such heavy-handed approaches can often be counterproductive, and that teenagers who do transgress online are behaving rather like those who, in the past, might have made rude gestures from the back seat of a school coach on the motorway.

Dr Leaton-Gray said: “Something that was a 10 second thing on the school bus now becomes a permanent feature of your life. We need to be a bit more laid back about the fact that it’s happening, and spend more time and energy on educating children about their privacy rights instead. To put it simply, it’s almost always
wrong to pass on images and personal data without permission, and victim blaming is not the answer.”

Punitive approaches can be unnecessary and even damaging. For example, the response to incidents of ‘sexting’ has often been to threaten to involve the police. This contradicts police guidance, which suggests those who send offensive ‘sexts’ rarely pose an ongoing threat, and that prosecution is therefore not usually the best approach. The authors argue that laws, which were designed to protect vulnerable young people from abusive adults, are actually being used against them.

Similarly, schools have often misused the Data Protection Act in defence of decisions not to allow parents to take photographs events such as plays – which are not covered by the Act – while breaching it themselves by using pupil photographs without explicit consent in their own prospectuses and on their own websites.

The authors say that schools need to face the demands of living in a digital world and that we need policy, practice and national coordination, which acknowledge, rather than shies away from, the challenges that arise from growing up in the 21st century.

Invisibly Blighted: The digital erosion of childhood’ by Sandra Leaton-Gray and Andy Phippen is published by UCL IOE Press.

Understanding childhood and separation anxiety as a parent

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by Stacey Turner
author of I’m Going To Nursery

As a professional I have helped many children to overcome separation fears and settle at nursery and during the early years of primary school. It’s much more common than people think, and even in those children who don’t usually suffer; all children have the wobbles at some time! I have undertaken a lot of research and I’ve been through an extreme situation of separation anxiety that was borderline separation anxiety disorder, experiencing first-hand what it is like with my eldest daughter. Having experienced the situation on both sides, as a parent and a teacher, I can offer you the reassurance that we can support our little ones through this difficult time.
I can promise you, it’s not naughty behaviour! Anxiety is an emotion. It’s anxious thoughts creeping in – usually in the expectation that something bad is going to happen – and the anxiety takes over. They manifest in how your child’s body reacts to these anxious thoughts in a fight or flight way. While every child and family are different, the basic patterns of anxious thinking, physical and behavioural symptoms appear in a similar way.

The crux of it is, we want to alleviate and overcome anxiety. It’s not only traumatic for the child, it is for the parent/s and can be for the whole family. It’s like a domino effect that impacts people along a chain, as the family group tries to handle the distress. If we don’t try and overcome anxiety, it can end up having greater effects on children and their families as they get older.

How do we tackle anxiety and stop it becoming all encompassing or a problem in the future?
• By acknowledging this emotion and working to break the thought pattern and/or learning to manage thoughts.
• By offering lots and lots of reassurance and showing our little ones that it’s okay to feel this way, but it doesn’t have to be like this!
• By facing fears and becoming ‘brave’, we teach our children confidence, resilience and to be problem solvers, which is an incredible achievement.

What is separation anxiety?
Anxiety is provoked in a young child by separation, or the threat of separation, from the child’s mother, father, or primary carer. Separation anxiety is often a normal stage of childhood development from approximately eight months (sometimes younger, as was our case for little Molly) to five years, sometimes older. It can reappear at times of change
and stress.

Separation anxiety disorder:
Children with separation anxiety disorder feel constantly worried or fearful about separation. You may be dealing with a child who is constantly refusing to be separated from you, displaying panicked reactions and complaining of physical symptoms that can’t
be soothed.

How do I know if my child has anxiety issues?
Crying, screaming, shouting, throwing a tantrum and clinging to the main carer are healthy and normal reactions and vary in length and intensity between each child. You can ease your child’s separation anxiety by staying patient and consistent, and by gently but firmly setting limits. With the right support, children can usually overcome separation in time. Each child is different and this needs to be taken into consideration.

If your child has separation anxiety they may:
• Be very clingy.
• Retreat to a corner or hide under furniture.
• Have difficulty settling back to a calm state.
• Be reluctant to go to sleep. When a child closes their eyes, you disappear and this can stimulate nightmares, sometimes they are very scary.
• Wetting or soiling the bed.
• Experience lots of toileting accidents.
• Refuse to go to nursery, preschool or school, even if your child likes it there usually and enjoys being with their friends.
• Complain of physical sickness such as a headache or stomach ache just before/at the time of separation.

• Fear something will happen to a loved one.
• Worry that they may be permanently separated from you.
• Have little appetite or pick at and complain about food.

If your child’s separation anxiety seems to appear overnight, there is the possibility it could stem from a traumatic experience and is not separation anxiety. The symptoms may appear the same, but are treated differently.

According to the website
www.mentalhealth.org.uk, anxiety disorders are estimated to affect 3.3% of children and young adults in the UK. Other websites indicate this percentage to be higher.

To stop anxiety manifesting, it is important we face and overcome it together.

Stacey Turner, is a mum, teacher and author of ‘I’m Going To Nursery’ and other books in the My Tiny Book series.
For further information go to
www.mytinybook.com.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

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A way of life for nearly three million people

by Leila Stayton-Dyke (BSc, PGCert, MSc, BCBA)
Early Action for Autism

Autism affects more than 700,000 people in the UK – that’s over 1% of the population. If you include family members, autism is part of daily life for 2.8 million people throughout the country.

Early recognition is important in order to allow children to reach their full potential
Each person with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has different strengths. There is not a fixed set of behaviours which result in a diagnosis of autism. There are a range of traits including difficulty with communication and social skills, and ritualistic behaviours. Diagnosis is far from simple.

Parents of a young child are likely to be given conflicting advice about when developmental milestones should occur. They may be told that ‘children are different, they learn at different rates and in different ways’, so how do we know when developmental delays are part of an underlying condition?

Autism in the early stages of development
It may be difficult to see the early signs of autism as they can be subtle or attributed to a baby simply being laid back.

The initial signs are often related to the baby’s gaze, hearing and play. A young child with autism may appear not to see people, and may look out of the corner of their eye. The child may initially appear to be deaf, but rarely actually has any loss of hearing. Children with autism may also appear to have a general lack of interest in their surroundings.

As children get older the differences in development may become more apparent. Parents may notice a lack of empathy, different reactions to sensory stimuli – for example, finding noises, textures or sensations dramatically over or under stimulating. Refusal to try unfamiliar foods or to eat in unfamiliar settings, remaining in nappies, repetitive play activities and difficulties with the world not being exactly the way they would like, may also be seen.

What should I do if I see these early signs?
Health professionals should listen to all parental concerns. Take a family member or friend to visit your GP or Health Visitor. Go with a list of concerns, no matter how small, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. What you have observed might not be a sign of autism but you know your child best.

Getting a diagnosis of autism will allow children and their families to receive the education, support and services they require as they grow older. Due to the complex nature of autism the process is time consuming. However, there are specialist services and support groups immediately available; take time to talk to other families in a similar situation and join online groups.

Early recognition means that interventions can start. Research has shown that early intervention – programmes such Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), Positive Behaviour Support (PBS), Speech and Language Therapy (SLT), and Occupational Therapy (OT) are highly effective in supporting a child with autism. These evidence-based practices allow children to maximise their potential and reduce the delay from the normal patterns of development.

Children with autism crave sameness and routine, and breaks from that can often cause them to become disruptive – so it’s important that interventions begin as early as possible before these patterns of behaviour become established.

Early intervention ABA programmes are fun, motivating and creative. They successfully develop areas such as communication and social skills. Teaching a child to communicate their immediate desires results in a reduction of difficult problem behaviours and is an essential and ongoing element of an ABA programme. In turn, social skills such as increased eye contact and early conversation skills are taught. When started early, teaching self-help skills enables the child to become as independent as possible, for example, getting themselves dressed in the morning. By targeting selective eating, ABA programmes ensure children have a balanced healthy diet, leading to future long-term health.

Early Action for Autism is a centre for children with autism and related developmental disorders.
We provide specialist 1:1 ABA therapy, programme consultation and individualised training.
www.earlyactionforautism.co.uk