The mental health of today's children is at crisis point. They are under enormous pressure and the temptation to spend too much time surfing the net, watching TV or playing computer games is difficult to resist.
So says Sir Anthony Seldon, the University of Buckingham’s vice chancellor and a leading campaigner on mental health.
What is also increasingly apparent is the effect that social media has on the wellbeing of our young people. The disturbing outcomes of cyber bullying are well reported, but there are other, less well known, outcomes that also have a negative effect - many children, for example, may be sharing messages in the small hours of the morning, all of which adds up to broken night’s sleep and a subsequent loss of school performance the next day.
Sir Anthony goes on to say:
Playing outdoors regularly with others helps with resilience, leadership skills, building confidence and self-esteem...The younger generation of today face different types of risk [to those taken by the children in the Swallows and Amazons stories] - but just as big - because of the amount of time they are spending in front of screens.
So what can we do about it? How do we change a culture that has seen young people want to spend more time inside because ‘that’s where the plug sockets are’? Many organisations are trying to redress the balance by providing opportunities for young people to access the outdoors, and there are numerous initiatives that are aimed at tackling obesity and getting people active. And yet if we are to increase the use of the outdoors we need to encourage families to engage together; our young people are less likely to go outside and take part in outdoor play, structured or otherwise, without family support.
At Brathay, we believe that by increasing young people’s awareness of just what is possible they will have a greater chance of making positive choices and taking action. Young people on a residential will often spend a focused period of time engaging in outdoor activities. Some of these will need them to develop new skills and will need specialised equipment, such as kayaks or climbing gear, but others require very little additional kit beyond a pair of wellies and a coat. Outcomes from residentials are often based around increasing self-awareness, personal confidence and the ability to work with others, but there is also an increase in knowledge about the environment and what they can do without expert instructors. By teaching the basics of independence while on a residential – risk awareness, navigation, looking after yourself outdoors – and facilitating enjoyable and memorable experiences in the outdoors, young people return home capable of taking their families out to do similar things. This process can also work the other way round; we work with families to increase their wellbeing and help them to ‘feel good and function well’ as a unit. Spending time outdoors is a key part of this.