Return to school 'vital' for mental wellbeing of young people

Return to school 'vital' for mental wellbeing of young people

Dr Pete Lunn, head of the behavioural research unit at the ESRI, said the prioritised return to in-person tuition was “vital” for the wellbeing of young people.

Older people are most medically affected by the Covid-19 crisis, but it has psychologically hit young people the hardest, a leading behavioural scientist has said.

Dr Pete Lunn, head of the behavioural research unit at the ESRI, said the prioritised return to in-person tuition was “vital” for the wellbeing of young people.

“It isn’t only we want the safe return to schools to work for educational reasons, we want it to work for the mental wellbeing of young people as well,” he added.

Speaking at the annual conference of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals on Wednesday, Dr Lunn said the pandemic has been “very, very rough” on teenagers.

“Likely the reason for that is what drives their wellbeing on a day-to-day basis. As people turn from children to adults, their happiness is very strongly connected with a socio-typical social life,” he said.

“How they’re getting on with their friends, how relationships are forming, how they’re getting on with that, how they’re engaging with the outside world and how that is developing and growing."

Restriction on social life

Dr Lynn said the restriction on teenagers’ social lives was a key reason their mental wellbeing has decreased.

However, he said the pandemic has also affected peoples’ ability to engage in “prospective thinking”, which is a psychological term for planning and imagining the future.

“The pandemic has absolutely hammered that prospective thinking because every time you think ahead of whatever distance, the first thing that happens is your brain thinks ‘oh hang on a minute, there’s this’,” he said.

“The pandemic has made it really hard for us to plan things, to think ahead, to imagine because we simply do not know.”

Dr Lunn said one of the "best ways" to mitigate these feelings in young people is to focus on what you can plan, such as organising online events.

Outdoor spaces

He also suggested maximising the use of outdoor spaces to allow teenagers to resume their social lives with a significantly decreased risk of contracting or spreading Covid-19.

Dr Lunn acknowledged teenagers and young people have a reduced awareness of personal space, and tend to hang out of one another, which is something he admits won't change.

However, he said there was a "very strong social sense that can be harnessed" as young people fear looks and social disapproval more than fines or other methods of discipline.

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