Encouraging young people to find hope during the pandemic
We are surrounded with information on the progress of Covid-19, growing hospital admissions and death rates. Every form of media offers a stream of information and reminders of the challenging situation we are in.
Life as we know it is far from “normal”, and in many ways that is especially true for children and adolescents. There is a growing mental health crisis developing in our young people and children with increasing feelings of isolation, demotivation, and a lack of hope for the future.
Our human brains are wired to alert us to stress and danger - real and imagined - and our bodies respond with a rapid stress response we call 'fight or flight'. This triggers our nervous system to release a flood of stress hormones preparing us for action – either to fight or flee from the threat. At present it can appear that we can do neither, which only adds additional stress.
Our brains also have what neuroscientists refer to as a “negative bias”: negative events have a greater impact on our brains than positive ones. Our brains register negative stimuli and tend to dwell on negative events and we pay attention to those more than positive ones. This leads us to perceiving that negative news is likely to be more truthful.
However, we also know that our thinking can be rewired to notice the positive and refocus our attention. It is important that we start to change the narrative that we are hearing and telling each other. Of course we need to remain aware of the dangers of Covid-19; however the danger of a generation of young people without hope also needs addressing.
Changing the narrative begins in small ways, making choices to fill each day with positive news i.e., the many opportunities that have arisen that have enabled entrepreneurs to build new ways of doing business and creating new businesses, giving adolescents hope about the opportunities their futures will hold.
We can all play a part in encouraging children and adolescents to take up new activities and hobbies, discover hidden talents and interests however small and insignificant they might seem. This will happen with more enthusiasm if the adults in their lives also take up a new challenge/hobby.
Practising gratitude by making the “everyday” special - indeed, appreciating the small things in life that we usually rush by. Spending time away from screens as a family. Getting outside, walking, running, cycling, playing and exploring the natural world. There is a myriad of life to find even in a window planter. And the research is also showing us how beneficial it is for our well-being to spend time in nature.
Furthermore, taking time to explore what the future will look like, creating vision boards/collages/drawings of things you are looking forward to doing will help to instil feelings of hope. When negative comments arise such as “I don’t see that there is anything to look forward to,” explore that thought, ask if it is 100% true and discuss it. Look at the positive things that there are to look forward to and make this a daily habit.
Human beings need human contact and interaction, so make many times in the day to hug your child/teen and spend time with them. Even when they claim not to want to, at least give them the opportunity to do so.
Overwhelming fear and anxiety have pervaded nearly every area of our lives. To give the next generation foundations to step into this new and uncertain future - whatever it may look like - we need to sow seeds of hope.
Written by Emma Tyer. Edited by Ella Dane-Liebesny.