*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on ScienceDaily.
A new study finds that summer vacation school catch-up programs to address gaps in knowledge after school closures need to support children who are still struggling due to social isolation.
Findings from the study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, focused on the connections between loneliness, social contact, parental relationships, and the mental health of adolescents aged 11-16 during the first full UK lockdown from March to May 2020.
Their analysis drew on self-reported data from 894 young people who each completed a survey throughout to gauge their experiences of lockdown and its effects on their emotions, relationships, and feelings.
The team from the universities of Bath, Bristol, Oxford, Leicester, Reading, and UCL identified that it was the type of social contact with friends and family that most shaped young people’s mental health outcomes. For example, whereas regular voice and video calls with friends had positive impacts for individuals, more indirect communications, such as increased texting / messaging, including via social media, either made no difference or had a negative impact.
The study found a strong association between perceived closeness with parents and positive impacts on psychological distress. This, say the authors, is different from proximity with parents and instead is about emotional connection. For example, parents may have been working away from the home during lockdown but what mattered was the closeness of their connection with children when they returned. Unsurprising and consistent with previous findings, young people who were lonelier also had greater mental health difficulties at the outset of lockdown.
With their results, in the context of a further disrupted year and with the prospect of summer holiday catch-ups, the researchers suggest that schools and other community support organizations need to address the differential experiences of young people to ensure those who have struggled get appropriate support.
They argue that summer holiday programs must prioritize wellbeing support, including social interaction either in-person or digitally. This means making time for socializing is crucial. In addition, policymakers need to acknowledge the growing demand for mental health services that will be required and urgently increase funding in child and adolescent mental health services.
First author, Dr. Kate Cooper from the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath, explained: “Schools have been working incredibly hard to meet student needs throughout the pandemic, but it’s important that when we think about catch-up programs this summer these are not just orientated towards academic support. That is, of course, important, but it’s children’s wellbeing and mental health that provide the foundation for learning, and so it would be counterproductive to provide catch-up programs which do not prioritize mental health and social connections.”