When we think of children we tend to envisage an effervescent youth enjoying a carefree lifestyle with little to worry about. It can be heart-warming to see children interacting with their friends, enjoying playing with their toys, and the sound of laughter or the sight of a smile often symbolises what childhood should be about. Sadly, there exists another side to childhood, one which is becoming more prominent and one which is deeply saddening and alarming.
According to some research it is estimated around 13% of young people may try to hurt themselves on purpose at some point between the ages of 11 and 16. Staggeringly, according to research in 2014, figures were published suggesting a 70% increase in 10-14 year olds attending A&E for self-harm related reasons over the preceding 2 years (www.selfharm.co.uk). More recently, the Association of Lecturers and Teachers were asked to complete a survey and alarmingly 20% disclosed they were aware of students attempting to take their own lives to combat stress. I think the most pertinent question we should be asking is ‘what strain is being put on children to make them feel such despair and desperation’? With undoubtedly the follow up question of ‘What can we do to eliminate this problem’?
Unquestionably the main focus point has to be tackling the cause and working towards prevention, but to do this we need to understand the rationale behind this behaviour. We know cyber bullying is having a significant impact on people and with the ever increasing online presence within youths it’s certainly an easy method. At the click of a button we can circulate pictures and stories of ourselves, and social media highlights just how easy it is for these to be distributed to a wider and perhaps unintended audience. In addition, we also have societal pressure to fit in, wear the right clothes, have the right vocabulary, operate in the right circles and have a certain aesthetical appearance. We also have the strain of exams and tests and the pressures to achieve in education, which in itself can be a very daunting time as these can have a bearing on our entire future.
As a society we have a responsibility to the next generation and as parents, teachers, support workers or even just friends, here are a few signs to look out for:
* No longer wanting to socialise
* Wearing baggy or long sleeved clothes, even in hot weather
* Sudden unexplained cuts or bruises
* Sudden change in character
* Negativity towards the self
* Spending long periods of time behind locked doors
* Excessive trips to the toilet
This list is by no means exhaustive, but by being vigilant and not being afraid to ask questions, we can make strides towards prevention.