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Friday, Oct 09, 2020 16:15 [IST]

Last Update: Friday, Oct 09, 2020 10:33 [IST]

Lost childhoods

In response to the pandemic of coronavirus disease, the Indian Government imposed nation-wide lockdowns in phased manner since the middle of March this year as an urgent measure to protect the health and safety of the citizens, contain the spread of disease and support the public health care system. Although these restrictive measures to contain the outbreak may or may not have impacted the rapid spread of the virus, there is concern regarding the potential deleterious impact in the physical and mental health of children of the prolonged closure of schools and social distancing.

Although there is evidence on the association of the duration of lockdowns and their negative impact on mental health in adults (increased risk of mood disorders, symptoms of depression, irritability, stress, etc), there is very little study or conclusive data on the impacts on children and young adults.

The impact of social distancing and lockdown on children’s development is the subject of a new study led by psychologists at Oxford Brookes University. The environment in which children grow up is key to their cognitive development including language and behaviour, and closely linked to their achievement later in life, health and wellbeing. But experts believe that quarantine measures during the COVID-19 pandemic might have a knock-on impact on parenting styles and children’s sleep, social interactions, screen use, and time spent outdoors.

Different surveys in the last 8 months have reported more agitation, increased screen-exposure and changed eating patterns among children during the nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease. Even though children have not been the face of this pandemic as they have largely been spared of the direct health effects of COVID-19 so far, findings of these studies indicate that they have been among its biggest victims with multiple side-effects on their physical and psycho-social well-being.

As a society, we owe a responsibility to create a safe world for our children but also a responsibility to let them enjoy their childhood. This entire shift to online school has been overwhelming for them where for long durations they are expected to pay attention to their teachers via screens. Children miss the ability to have random conversations with their classmates, their lunch break conversations and also the ability to freely run in the school playground or go to their favourite football or dance class. What deepens the problem for children is that constant exposure to news and information has added to their anxieties and fears. A lot of children are struggling with anticipatory grief already where they are worrying that they may lose a parent or a grandparent to Covid-19. This sense of heightened alertness has led to children becoming clingy, feeling restless and most importantly, unsafe.

The complexities of confinement pose a major challenge to policymakers and the authorities but also provide an opportunity to produce rapid reviews to summarise the existing evidence on the issue and help to plan, develop and implement appropriate and effective public health policies fitting the current circumstances. While we struggle to make sense of the pandemic, we must also be aware of children’s mental health as a priority.

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi