Almost half of children were emotionally damaged by pandemic lockdowns, a new British study shows.
According to the research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and UCL Institute of Education, just under half of parents stated that they believed their child's social and emotional skills worsened during the first year of the pandemic.
The study surveyed 6,095 parents in England with children ages four to 16. Parents answered questions regarding their child's behaviour, including how often they seemed worried, how often they had tantrums, and how easily they lost confidence.
47% of parents believed their child's social and emotional skills had gotten worse during the first year of the pandemic, compared to one in six who believed they had improved. Children aged four to seven were 10% more likely than 12- to 15-year-olds to have worsening social and emotional development, at 52% and 42%, respectively. Parents of girls were also more likely to report worsening skills.
Children from all types of economic backgrounds were affected, according to the Guardian, though children whose parents' employment status changed as a result of the pandemic, including those furloughed, were significantly more likely to see a negative trend in their emotional wellbeing.
Andrew McKendrick, a research economist at the IFS and an author of the report, said, “There’s been some discourse suggesting that children will bounce back and this has not been long-lasting. Wider evidence outside our study has shown that this kind of disruption to children can have long-lasting consequences. We are seeing these impacts at present in children and mental health referrals are higher than before the pandemic.”
Separate research also published on Tuesday showed that the rate of eating disorders among British children has doubled in the last six years, according to the Telegraph. Dame Rachel de Souza, the Children’s Commissioner for England, told the paper that the drastic increase may have been fuelled by children being exposed to harmful content while spending more time online during lockdowns. The number of people under 18 who began treatment for eating disorders in 2022-23 was 11,800, up from 5,240 in 2016-17.
“As we come out of the shadow of the pandemic, the extent of the crisis in children’s mental health is becoming more and more evident," Dame Rachel said.
“I worry that the isolation many children faced during the lockdowns not only led to children being cut off from support networks and vital health services, but also to spending more time online.”
Canadian research has also shown severe negative impacts of the pandemic on children. Earlier this year, a study found that pediatric emergency visits for suicide attempts by minors rose 22% compared to rates before the pandemic. Emergency department visits also rose 8% for minors experiencing suicidal ideation. The study was based on more than 11 million pediatric emergency department visits across 18 countries.
A July report by the British parents' advocacy group UsForThem found that the British government was warned that more children would die by suicide than from COVID-19 before they ordered schools to be closed.