‘How the pandemic has affected my nine-year old’

By Our Reporter
Representational image. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Today is World Mental Health Day. The pandemic has taken a toll on mental health of many people. Around every corner, the language of mental health is growing irrespective of age or backgrounds. According to HealthDirect, about 1 in 7 children and adolescents aged 4-17 have recently experienced a mental disorder in Australia. The most common disorder is ADHD, followed by anxiety, depression and conduct disorder. Here is an account of one young Melbourne mother expressing her apprehension about the new lifestyle enforced by the pandemic. The views and opinions expressed are solely hers.

“I have a nine-year old son and I feel the lockdowns and the pandemic have affected him a lot. His life revolves around the internet. His online classes or home schooling starts from 9 am and goes on till 3:30 pm. The teacher will be there for half and hour at the most and give the children homework and assignments with no one to monitor them the rest of the time.

My child is before the screen and locked up from Monday to Friday for that many hours every week. Sometimes he is able to complete the assignments, at other times he does not. That means the homework will keep piling up. As the homework adds up, the longer he is going to spend his hours before the computer. Experts say children aged 5-18 years should have no more than two hours a day of screen-time.

Next comes the question of life after school hours. Because of the ban on socialising, children can’t go out and meet friends. So, the only social activity that a child has is online gaming. That means a child is having screen-time for more than 10 hours in a day, which means it is definitely going to impact his/her life. They are living in an illusory world, which is hampering their emotional development.

I talk to other mothers and we are realising that some of our children are having mental issues. For one, they are becoming very aggressive, which is not normal. They have become so addicted to the screen that when we try to pull them away, there is a lot of negative environment in the house. We don’t have the option to regulate their activities all the time. Sometimes, you will find everyone in the same house is locked to their own screens, which is not family time at all. I don’t believe the lockdown has given families quality time.

I have suffered postnatal depression and find myself in a fragile situation again. My son is home, I am taking the responsibility of monitoring his activities each and every day and I feel I am becoming a dictator. I look at what he is browsing and I find he is doing quite a lot of it, he asks me what are the different types of sex, for instance. If I don’t answer, he is going to Google it, which is more scary for me. This affects my mental health in turn as I worry and am anxious about his activities. Online learning is a very dangerous thing. You cannot leave the child alone.

Monitoring is so important. I am fortunate I have left my job which enables to do that as my husband works. I am trying to give my best time to my child, add a bit of fun to his learning experience such as reading together. But there are parents who can’t afford time or childcare, who have to work and the children are left without any supervision.

I try to take my son out for a walk every day, but his only focus is on the screen time and that’s all he talks about it because that is the only thing he has right now.

I know COVID-19 is a very serious illness but the media has created so much fear and panic. My child has become so scared to even touch the swing in the park. He does not want to play or even sit on the bench because of paranoia. He wants me to stand exactly 1.5 metre away from anyone. If somebody even comes outside the door, he asks ‘have you been to Tier I or Tier 2? Are you vaccinated or not?’ He is even scared to touch the pedestrian crossing button. The fear psychosis is huge.

While my conversation with other parents is ongoing and we are discussing how to make the lives of our children better, I realise even immediate neighbours are hesitant to even come out and say hello from a distance.

I do agree we have to maintain social distancing and do the right thing but more than the virus, what we are seeing now is going to affect children more in terms of the long run. Children will not be able to behave in social environments, they will not be able to focus on other things and they will not understand relationship values. Children are totally isolated from people right now and they are not children anymore, they are like robots.

Covid will come and go and we as adults will learn how to survive but the deep impacts that it is going to leave on some children is something we really need to reflect upon.”

As told to Indira Laisram // (Names withheld for reasons of privacy. The views expressed are personal)

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