“ I don’t like holidays anymore.”, says Sahil, a class 10th student from Delhi NCR.
The romantic poets believed that it is in nature that childhood blooms as they are both the epitome of purity. But what happens when natural air itself becomes a collection of smoke?
After nearly 2 years, schools had only started to reopen when Delhi got surrounded by a cloud of smog. A new demon seems to have arrived in the societies, in the name of pollution. The AQI levels reached an all-time high. As a result, many schools in and around Delhi were closed because of this. The Commission for Air Quality Management has suggested that schools remain closed until further notice. Classes are suggested to take place online as they happened in lockdown.
They say childhood is the foundation of human life. The ideas, experiences and adventures that we engage in as a child form our personality as an adult. However, when the outside air itself becomes hostile, how can the children learn and how long will they be happy trapped in the four corners of the house?
Sahil says that he was happy as the schools were reopening as he finds holidays irritating now. Lockdown 3 or the lockdown initiated by pollution comes as a disappointment. “Again, we have been asked to stay at home.”
Almisha, class 5, was very happy to return to school, as it had been a while since she had seen her friends. “I am bored at home now.”
Arisha, from Noida class 5 says that “I miss being able to meet my friends and teachers and Physical education.”
The ensuing pollution meant that the children must remain indoors at all times to remain safe. This has resulted in utter boredom and restlessness among children.
Hina Hussain, a teacher and a mother of two from Greater Noida says that “We had to close their outdoor activity completely because of the pollution. It takes effort to keep them engaged. I keep trying new activities like craftwork, planting saplings or baking.”
The past two years have been life-changing for many of us. From social distancing to masking, it is a new world we are living in. As work and education came home, the distinction between personal and professional spaces dissolved. Studies reveal that multiple lockdowns have taken a toll on people’s mental health. When the elders, with all their experience, felt overwhelmed, one can only imagine how overwhelmed the children must feel.
A study reported by CNN suggests a direct relationship between air pollution and a child’s mental health. Air pollution can affect a child’s development mentally in addition to impacting his/her physical development. Children are already at risk due to air pollution, owing to the fact that they are shorter and inhale pollutants closer to the ground, including ground-level ozone.
CitySpidey also reached out to psychologist Shipra Lamba to talk about the impact of repeated lockdowns, pollutions on a child’s mental health. “Pollution and multiple lockdowns can trigger Mental health issues in children. Anxiety, depression, loneliness, low energy, addiction to screens, eating disorders, sleep disorders, stress, loss of interest in physical activities or meeting people, are some of the effects that can be experienced by children due to poor air quality outdoors. Simple things such as Vitamin D deficiency due to lack of exposure to sunlight can also impact mental health resulting in a low mood, energy. Moreover, it can worsen the condition of already ill children.
The change in environment and the world perhaps then calls for innovative pedagogical techniques at school and at home. Ms Lamba says that children, parents, and teachers need to work together to make this time productive. With the help of adults, children need to learn and understand that spending excessive time on games or social media can have harmful effects on their physical and mental health.
She suggests a few methods to ensure healthy mental health for children-
Learning new skills- The time on hand can be utilised to learn new skills like a music instrument, an indoor sport, art, this time can be used to spend time with and learn to help others in the house.
Open and constructive communication between parents and the child- The most important virtue to protect the children is compassion. Parents can help their children by simply talking to them, showing compassion and empathy for the kind of challenges the kid is going through, and keeping them motivated.
Fixing screen time and ensuring a healthy diet- With education and environment both restricted to the internet, screens have possessed a child’s mind. Teachers may incorporate novel and constructive ways to teach their subjects that involve conversations to keep students engaged and interested. Sometime before or after the class should be dedicated to peer interaction.
As Ms Lamba says, apart from learning to cope in an unhealthy environment, we as a community must strive to create one where our children can grow up in a happy and healthy way.