Education news

Anxiety levels soaring among school children

Celine McStravick from the NCB appeared at the education committee on Wednesday

SOCIAL media and pressure to perform well in exams are causing anxiety levels among young children to soar, research has found.

A study by the National Children's Bureau (NCB) revealed an alarming number of primary-age pupils with emotional wellbeing concerns.

It presented its findings to the assembly education committee yesterday.

The body was commissioned by the Department of Education and Public Health Agency to undertake a scoping report to establish what level of support for emotional health and wellbeing was being provided for children through schools and youth services, and the issues faced.

The findings, along with emerging research, aims to inform the development of an emotional health and wellbeing framework for young people.

Almost 300 schools were asked about the mental health challenges that beset pupils.

It found rising levels of anxiety and stress, with the pressure to do well in exams and from social media being important factors.

There was a rise in incidence and severity of anxiety, particularly in younger children.

From the school survey, 89 per cent of post-primary and 71 per cent of primary schools reported anxiety levels as the most pressing concern.

Parents and teachers expressed concern at the impact this high level of anxiety was having on young people, including an inability to participate in school, take part in social activities, or even attend therapeutic sessions.

Low self-esteem was the greatest concern identified by 76 per cent of primary schools. While less of an issue for post-primary schools, 43 per cent still listed it high on their priorities.

In terms of stressors, the pressure for high academic achievement came out on top.

The academic selection process was singled out by many as a significant cause of anxiety. Many primary school staff reflected on the "palpable tension" in children from P5 onwards.

The online world, while having benefits for children, could also be a contributing factor in mental ill-health.

It often created unrealistic expectations and the associated `FoMo' (fear of missing out), which had been shown to decrease self-esteem and increase anxiety and risk of depression.

NCB said there was a need to highlight the critical role that school staff played in supporting emotional wellbeing and in early identification of concerns.

It recommended continued professional development for those dedicated staff within schools who lead on emotional wellbeing.

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Education news