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Can smartphones passively help to check and detect children’s mental health issues?

Studies are being conducted across the United States to investigate how to use Smartphones as early detectors of mental illness in teens. One of the goals for these studies is to detect the signs of mental illness at a much earlier stage, particularly among young people. The thinking behind it is that as users scroll through social media or watch YouTube videos, they leave digital footprints that might offer clues to their psychological well-being. These signs can be picked up through typing speeds, vocabulary, tone of voice and how these change over time. According to Dr. Thomas Insel, there might be over 1,000 ‘biomarkers’ for illnesses such as depression. Work is still being conducted to discern which parts of the data collected can act as significant predictors of mental health problems. Read more here.

Australian study suggests second children worsen parents’ mental health

Data from an Australian national household survey has been used to analyse adults’ mental health after having children. The survey followed 20,000 Australians for up to 16 years. The results show that having a first child increases adults’ time pressure as they are introduced to the role of parenting. However, having more children further increases the demands on parents. Having a second child doubles the time pressure on parents. The effects of which were found to be larger for mothers, therefore widening the gap between mothers and fathers. The study suggests mothers’ mental health improves with their first child, immediately after the birth, and this remains stable for the next few years. However, mothers’ mental health sees a sharp decline, and remains low, after having a second child. Fathers’ also experience a decline, but this plateaus over time.

Sleep research backs use of ‘sleep hygiene’ to promote healthy sleep for children.

A review by The UBC found good-to-strong endorsement of certain sleep hygiene practices for younger kids and school-age kids. These practices include regular bedtimes, reading before bed, having a quiet bedroom, and self-soothing. The focus was on four age groups in particular: infants and toddlers, pre-schoolers, school-age children and adolescents, involving close to 300,000 kids in North America, Europe and Asia. “Research tells us that kids who don’t get enough sleep on a consistent basis are more likely to have problems at school and develop more slowly than their peers who are getting enough sleep.” Says University of British Columbia sleep expert and nursing professor Wendy Hall.

Study of children’s emoji usage

A corpus study has been carried out of children’s emoji usage by Internet Linguist, Gretchen McCulloch. Parents with young children were asked to submit examples of children’s electronic communication for the analysis. Many preliterate children send emoji-only text messages with ages 3 to 5 said to be the peak time for this. Examples of the children’s messages showed strings of emojis with some of them showing preferences for certain themes such as animals or hearts. Children appear to work through the emoji keyboard systematically with several putting the blue heart before the green heart, which is how they are ordered on many emoji keyboard apps. Children were found to use object emojis far more than adults or teens, and they prefer to use faces with the tongue stuck out or blowing a kiss. The seemingly random use of emojis at an early age is likened to babbling in spoken or signed languages. Read more here

Schools turn to mindfulness for relieving stress among students

Children attending school in deprived areas of Britain are being taught mindfulness in order to ease tension and anxiety – and it’s working. The technique has been adapted in areas such as Litherland, Merseyside, where students are continuously exposed to violence and gang activity. Methods of relaxation such as controlled breathing have been helpful to children who internalise feelings, and who may slip beneath a teacher’s radar when in need of support. “If I concentrate on my breathing, the worrying thoughts just go ‘pop’ and disappear” One nine-year-old-boy confided. He also said it helped him to forget about “all the scary stuff”. The popularity of such programmes has created a 40% increase in the amount of teachers taking the training in 2018, with 2,000 educators signing up for guidance with the Mindfulness in Schools Project. Much of the interest has come from schools with higher than average proportions of vulnerable children.

What can be done about bullying?

The disturbing news footage that emerged yesterday surrounding the Syrian child in Huddersfield being bullied in the school playground highlights once again the need to address all forms of bullying, including cyberbullying.

A growing concern about cyberbullying led The Duke of Cambridge to set up the Cyberbullying Taskforce in 2016, an initiative that included leading tech companies and experts in the field of children, the internet and mental health. The Taskforce has since launched several programmes to tackle bullying, including the Code of Conduct ‘Stop Seek Support’. Summarising the Taskforce’s achievements earlier this month (during Anti-Bullying Week), the Duke believes that more can be done, “Social media companies have done more to connect the world than has ever been achieved in human history. Surely you can connect with each other about smart ways to deal with the unintended consequences of these connections?”. The Taskforce has worked with the BBC to develop a new internet safety app called ‘Own It’ which will be launched next year.

Family Kids & Youth’s qualitative and quantitative research on behalf of The Cyberbullying Taskforce found that young people are reluctant to admit to bullying and that there is a fine line between ‘banter’ and  ‘bullying’. The research found:

  • It is clear that the personal nature of cyberbullying is particularly hurtful.
  • It is especially bad if the perpetrator is not known to the victim.
  • Many young people believe that there is a general reluctance to admit incidents of cyberbullying to their family or teachers – for fear of escalation.
  • Embarrassment about the nature of the bullying (e.g. sexting, inappropriate pictures, language used etc.) compound the problem, and add to the sense that they are somehow to blame.
  • Young people find it difficult to define bullying – phrases or words such as ‘picked on’ or ‘banter’ are frequently used in place of ‘bullying’.
  • Often what might be described as cyberbullying therefore is not called that by young people.
  • There is a strong feeling that young people bully online because they think they can ‘get away with it’.
  • There is consensus however that the issue is out of control and needs tackling, although young people recognise it is a difficult issue to tackle.
  • There is particular concern about the current issue of ‘Bait-Out’ accounts – i.e. local gossip which is anonymous and can frequently become personally abusive to named individuals but viewed by many. All young people in our workshops appeared to follow them but were often shocked by their abusive nature. Teachers know of them but feel helpless to prevent their use.

Family Kids & Youth’s current research is focusing on Children’s Mental Health and the Internet; we are finding that many of the issues identified above are still a concern for young people. Our findings from this research will be published in January 2019.

Schools will be asked to track pupils’ happiness

UK schools are being asked to monitor children’s happiness and mental health as part of lessons in relationships, sex and health education. The information will be used to create a ‘happiness index’ which will track young people’s well-being. An annual ‘State of the Nation’ report will be published highlighting mental health trends among the UK’s youth. This will be the first time that mental health will be given the same level of focus as physical health and academic attainment. These plans are part of the government’s wider mental health strategy which also intends to send thousands of therapists into classrooms across the country. The strategy hopes to tackle growing concerns around reports of increased levels of anxiety among young people. The UK’s first minister for suicide prevention was also appointed earlier this month.

Ofsted reports to become more accessible for parents

The head of strategic development for Ofsted, Amy Finch, has announced that Ofsted’s new framework will make their reports more accessible for parents. From September 2019, Ofsted’s revised framework will aim to improve parental communication by using clearer language and removing any technical jargon in reports. According to Amy Finch, parents have also requested that reports should include the “experience of going to school, and how the school that they send their child to is different from others”. This shift acknowledges and promotes parents as important stakeholders in education. The director of campaign group Parents and Teachers for Excellence, Mark Lehain, said this would be welcomed if Ofsted “can find a consistent way to share useful insights on schools, that doesn’t place a burden on staff during inspection.”

Young people at risk of online fraud due to “sharenting”

Barclays Bank has forecast that “sharenting” will account for two-thirds of identity fraud among young people by the end of the decade, costing £667m per year. According to the bank’s security specialists, identity fraud has “never been easier” as a result of social media and parents sharing too much information about their children online. Parents often reveal names, ages, date of birth, home addresses, place of birth, mother’s maiden name, schools, the name of pets, sports teams supported and photographs online, all of which can compromise young people’s financial security. Barclays warns that details shared by parents will still be available and could be used for fraudulent loans, credit card transactions or online shopping scams when young people become adults.

Young people have never been unhappier

Young people’s happiness across every single area of their lives has never been lower, research by the Prince’s Trust has found. The national survey shows young people’s wellbeing has fallen over the last 12 months and is at its lowest level since the study was first commissioned in 2009. The survey was conducted with over 2,000 respondents aged 16 to 25 and revealed that three out of five young people regularly feel stressed amid concerns over jobs and money, while one in four felt “hopeless”, and half had experienced a mental health problem.

Chief Executive of the Prince’s Trust, Nick Stace, says the results show that the government and employers need to invest more in developing young people’s skills and promoting positive mental wellbeing. He said: “It should ring alarm bells for us all that young people are feeling more despondent about their emotional health than ever before.” Read more here.

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