What next for the COVID generation? The wellbeing challenge ahead

By Maria Malyshkina, ISCA

“Take a step back and think about what children have had to go through over the last few months,” Amanda Vernalls, Head of Research & Insight at Youth Sport Trust, asked the audience during her presentation in ISCA and the Hungarian School Sport Federation’s latest webinar for European School Sport Day (ESSD) National Coordinators.

Youth Sport Trust’s collection of new research on the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic-related restrictions on children and young people demonstrates that these limitations have had substantial and wide-ranging implications for young people’s mental health and wellbeing. As Amanda notes, “children feel social distancing more acutely than adults and they are three times more likely to develop depression.”

The restrictions forced children to stay at home (sometimes in difficult living situations), meaning reduced social interaction with their peers and restrictions on physical activity. Some groups have been affected more than others, especially children of black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) origin.

However, although levels of anxiety have gone up during crisis, this does not mean that the future will only see negative effects emerging. Schools will have a vital role to play in helping children return to the ‘new normal’, Amanda said.

Surveys conducted with young people in the UK have also shown that “those from a BAME background say that are enjoying being active more than usual which … suggests that a shift away from organised, non-competitive activity appears to be proving beneficial for traditionally less engaged groups of children”.

This finding, among others, prompts us to think about the question: “How can we continue the progress made with previously disengaged groups?”

The research further investigates the role of parents during the COVID-19 crisis, showing that parent/carer activity feelings towards sport and their own activity levels significantly influence their children.

Returning to school raises concerns among children, parents and teachers. Children are worried if they will be able to socialise, about safety and catching up on classes. Parents are reluctant to send children back to schools of safety concerns, but they also need the reassurance that their kids will get the required emotional support and extra help with learning.

Among issues that teachers are expecting children to display on return are low physical fitness and poor physical development, and schools are surely looking for advice on how to adapt and deliver activities and lessons within government guidance (social distancing, use of shared equipment, changing, hygiene etc.) and how to use PE to address wellbeing issues.

Altogether, Amanda points out that targeted support for children and schools and education should be ensured, also taking into account that there is still a chance to not go back to normal, which poses not only immediate challenges, but also the potential to identify potential positive developments.

“Increased family time and home learning may lead to parents and carers to become more engaged with schools and education and, potentially, to an increased importance being placed on all aspects of their child’s wellbeing,” she says.

Take action now to help raise awareness about children’s mental health and physical wellbeing and prepare for the 2020 ESSD with the help of Mental Health Toolkit and presentations. You can find these resources for free here:

European School Sport Day Mental Health Toolkit

What next for the COVID generation? The wellbeing challenge ahead, by Amanda Vernalls