Concerns raised about pandemic’s impact on children’s social skills

Children should use social media to keep in touch with friends but in a healthy and supervised way, counsellor Claudine Knox says
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By Carlena Knight

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The impact of the Covid pandemic on the social skills of young people in Antigua and Barbuda is a cause of great concern for one counsellor.

Claudine Knox, a counsellor at the Crossroads Centre, told Hitz FM yesterday of her worries over the effect on youths’ social skills due to reduced face-to-face interaction.

Since the first case of Covid was detected in Antigua and Barbuda last year, normal life has been interrupted and Knox says that is already affecting children’s communicational development.

Presently, schoolchildren are taking lessons remotely because of the surge in Covid cases.

“Children learn their social skills in school. They learn through interaction and that’s the same for teens, even for adults.

“In order for us to maintain and continue to develop healthy communication skills it’s important that we are challenged in that way and when your primary way of connecting is through text we lose those social skills,” Knox said.

“Our teenagers in particular, they are not developing good social skills. What happens when there are difficult discussions that need to happen and your primary mode is doing that via text? You end up with stunted communication skills because that’s not an ideal way to communicate.

“So, we end up with people who are more on the phone and more online than ever and actually less connected and more isolated than ever,” she added.

It is because of that lack of interaction, alongside the financial, emotional and even physical impacts caused by Covid, that, according to Knox, are causing an increased rate of suicides.

“All of that takes a significant toll on mental health because while we are good as human beings in persevering through a stressor for a period of time, what happens when that period of time seems indefinite?

“What happens when your emotional resources become depleted? Financial resources have a lot to do with that.

Claudine Knox

“Look at what’s going on right now for us in Antigua; there’s no gyms, the economic situation, no beaches. What do people do to take care of themselves?

“We are seeing higher rates of suicide on the island which is certainly reflective of what’s going on. There are less ways for people to connect and, at the end of the day, as human beings we are social creatures. We are not designed to be locked up in our house and not connect with others,” Knox explained.

Knox went on to say that because many parents are unable to deal with their own emotional issues, and with schools currently closed for on-premises learning, children are left with few options in how to remain resilient.

“It’s difficult for kids to get all their needs met and that is particularly true when their parents are stressed out.

“There’re so many things that persons have lost during this time and for the kids, it’s connection with their friends.

“For kids, their friends are the most important thing in the world and they don’t really have that so, for parents, it’s kind of difficult to say to a child ‘well you know what, you need less time online’, when really that is the only way they can connect with their friends,” Knox added.

She is suggesting that children use social media platforms to connect with each other but in a healthy and supervised way.

Even when school reopens, Knox is advising parents to be aware of heightened levels of anxiety for their children.

“For many of them … it’s going to be anxiety provoking and sometimes children, especially younger ones, are not good at saying ‘I feel nervous, I feel scared’. What they will say is, ‘I have a tummy ache, I have a headache, I don’t feel well, I don’t want to go to school today’.

“Even for us as adults, it’s difficult sometimes for us to identify what we are feeling, so if we struggle with it, it goes to show that definitely kids and teenagers are going to struggle to identify what they are feeling.

“So, when you do see that pop up, it’s really about giving them the space to share about it,” Knox concluded.

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