Mental health problems affect about 1 in 10 children and young people. They include depression, anxiety and conduct disorder, and are often a direct response to what is happening in their lives.
70% of children and young people who experience a mental health problem have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.
The emotional wellbeing of children is just as important as their physical health. Good mental health allows children and young people to develop the resilience to cope with whatever life throws at them and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults.
Things that can help keep children and young people mentally well include:
Changes often act as triggers: moving home or school or the birth of a new brother or sister, for example. Some children who start school feel excited about making new friends and doing new activities, but there may also be some who feel anxious about entering a new environment.
Teenagers often experience emotional turmoil as their minds and bodies develop. An important part of growing up is working out and accepting who you are.
Risk factors that make some children and young people more likely to experience problems than other children:
Common mental health problems in children and young people:
Organisations that can help (UK):
Information from mentalhealth.org.uk
Loneliness in Young People
Loneliness is a significant problem that can predispose young children to immediate and long-term negative consequences. Early childhood experiences that contribute to loneliness may predict loneliness during adulthood.
Many young children understand the concept of loneliness and report feeling lonely. For example, kindergarten and first-grade children responded appropriately to a series of questions regarding what loneliness is ("being sad and alone"), where it comes from ("nobody to play with"), and what one might do to overcome feelings of loneliness ("find a friend") (Cassidy & Asher, 1992). In a more recent study (Ladd, Kochenderfer, & Coleman, 1996), kindergarten children's loneliness in school was reliably measured with a series of questions such as, "Are you lonely in school?"; "Is school a lonely place for you?"; and "Are you sad and alone in school?" These studies suggest that young children's concepts of loneliness have meaning to them and are similar to those shared by older children and adults.
Consequences of Loneliness:
Contributing Factors of Loneliness:
Although research in support of specific practices assisting lonely children in the classroom is weak, teachers might consider several approaches that may be adapted to individual children. Children who are aggressive report the greatest degrees of loneliness and social dissatisfaction (Asher, Parkhurst, Hymel, & Williams, 1990). Children are rejected for many reasons, and teachers will need to assess the circumstances that seem to lead to the rejection. Is the child acting aggressively toward others? Does the child have difficulty entering ongoing play and adapting to the situation? Does the child have difficulty communicating needs and desires? Once the problem is identified, teachers can assist the child in changing the situation. The teacher can point out the effects of the child?s behavior on others, show the child how to adapt to the ongoing play, or help the child to clearly communicate feelings and desires. Children who are supported, nurtured, and cherished are less likely to be rejected and more likely to interact positively with peers (Honig & Wittmer, 1996).
Children who are neglected or withdrawn also report feelings of loneliness, although to a lesser extent than do aggressive-rejected children. Because these children often lack social skills, they have difficulty interacting with their peers. These children may also be extremely shy, inhibited, and anxious, and they may lack self-confidence (Rubin, LeMare, & Lollis, 1990). If children lack certain skills, the teacher can focus on giving feedback, suggestions, and ideas that the child can implement. Children who possess adequate social skills but are reluctant to use them can be given opportunities for doing so by being paired with younger children. This experience gives the older child an opportunity to practice skills and boost self-confidence.
Children who are victimized by others believe that school is an unsafe and threatening place and often express a dislike for school. Furthermore, these children report lingering feelings of loneliness and a desire to avoid school even when victimization ceases (Kochenderfer & Ladd, 1996). These findings point to the importance of implementing immediate intervention strategies to reduce victimization. Teachers can provide firm but supportive suggestions to the aggressor. For example, teachers might guide and assist children in developing the life skills they need, such as respecting others and self, engaging in problem solving, working together on skills and tasks that require cooperation, and expressing feelings and emotions in appropriate ways (Gartrell, 1997).
Teachers can think about how the curricula might be helpful to a child who is feeling lonely. Some children may benefit by being given opportunities to express their feelings of sadness or loneliness through manipulation, drawing, movement, music, or creative activities (Edwards, Gandini, & Forman, 1993). Arranging the dramatic play area with props may help some children act out or express their feelings and feel a sense of control. Use of crisis-oriented books with children, referred to as bibliotherapy, may assist a child in coping with a personal crisis. Sharing carefully selected literature with children may assist in facilitating emotional health. Children who are able to express and articulate their concerns may want to talk about their unhappiness.
Information from mentalhelp.net
United States, 2020 (Above)
Hours children spent gaming weekly in the United Kingdom (UK) from 2013 to 2019, by age group.
United Kingdom, 2013 - 2019 (released March 2020) (Above)
American Children and Video Games, 2019:
University of Oxford (Oxford Internet Institute) Study
"Groundbreaking new study says time spent playing video games can be good for your wellbeing."
The study: https://psyarxiv.com/qrjza/
"Video game play is positively correlated with well-being"
Study Authors: Niklas Johannes, Matti Vuorre, Andrew Przybylski
The abstract is thoroughly supportive of my project's motive:
"People have never played more video games and many stakeholders are worried that this activity might be bad for players. So far, research has not had adequate data to test whether these worries are justified and if policymakers should act to regulate video game play time. We attempt to provide much-needed evidence with adequate data. Whereas previous research had to rely on self-reported play behaviour, we collaborated with two games companies, Electronic Arts and Nintendo of America, to obtain players’ actual play behaviour. We surveyed players of Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville and Animal Crossing: New Horizons for their well-being, motivations, and need satisfaction during play and merged their responses with telemetry data (i.e., logged game play). Contrary to many fears that excessive play time will lead to addiction and poor mental health, we found a small positive relation between game play and affective well-being. Need satisfaction and motivations during play did not interact with play time but were instead independently related to well-being. Our results advance the field in two important ways. First, we show that collaborations with industry partners can be done to high academic standards in an ethical and transparent fashion. Second, we deliver much-needed evidence to policymakers on the link between play and mental health."
"Video games are an immensely popular and profitable leisure activity. Last year, the revenues of the games industry were larger than the film industry’s and the number of people who report playing games has never been higher" (Page 2)
"Billions of people play video games, and if this activity has positive or negative effects on well-being, playing games might have world-wide health impacts. Therefore, empirically understanding how games might help or harm players is a top priority" (Page 2)
."..Nearly three decades of research exploring the possible links between video games and negative outcomes including aggression, addiction, well-being, and cognitive functioning have brought us nowhere near a consensus or evidence-based policy because reliable, reproducible, and ecologically valid studies are few and far between. In recent years, researchers and policymakers have shifted focus from concerns about violent video games and aggression to concerns about the association between the amount, or nature, of the time people spent playing video games and well-being. In other words, they are interested in the effect of game play behaviours on subjective well-being and by extension mental health. Yet, instead of measuring such behaviour directly, research has relied on self-reported engagement.
...As time has gone on, it has become 3 increasingly clear that defaulting to self-report is not tenable. Recent evidence suggests selfreports of digital behaviours are notoriously imprecise and biased, which limits the conclusions we can draw from research on time spent on video games and well-being." (Pages 2-3)
"Mental health comprises both negative mental health (e.g., depression) and positive mental health. Positive mental health can be further divided into emotional well-being (i.e., the affective component) and evaluative well-being (i.e., the cognitive component)." (Page 4)
"Nearly all non-experimental studies examining the links between video games and mental health rely on subjective, self-reported estimates of video play time, either by players themselves or by parents.
...The focus of research is often on excessive or problematic video game use, routinely reporting positive correlations between problematic video games and mental health problems in both cross-sectional and longitudinal designs. Because self-reported technology use has shown to be a poor proxy of actual behaviour, such associations will necessarily be biased." (Page 4)
"According to selfdetermination theory, any activity whose affordances align with the motivations of people will contribute to their well-being. Motivations can be intrinsic, driven by people’s interests and values which result in enjoyment, or extrinsic, inspired by rewards or a feeling of being pressured to do an activity. If an activity also satisfies basic psychological needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy, people will find the activity more motivating, enjoyable, and immersive - ultimately leading to higher well-being." (Page 5)
"If a game satisfies basic needs people will experience more enjoyment and higher well-being. Conversely, if those needs are not met, frustrated, or play is externally motivated, it is associated with lower psychological functioning. In other words, how play time relates to well-being likely depends on players’ motivations and how the game satisfies basic needs. Player experience would thus moderate the association between play time and well-being: If players are intrinsically motivated and experience enjoyment during play, play time will most likely be positively associated with well-being.
In contrast, when players only feel extrinsic motivation and feel pressured to play, play time might have negative effects on well-being. Such a mechanism aligns well with a recent review that concludes that motivations behind play are likely a crucial moderator of the potential effect of play time on well-being. However, it is unclear whether such a mechanism only holds true for self-reported play time and perceptions, or whether self-reported perceptions interact with directly measured play time." (Page 5)
"We also explored whether the relation between play time and well-being varies with players’ need satisfaction and motivations. We found a small positive relation between play time and well-being for both games. We did not find evidence that this relation was moderated by need satisfactions and motivations, but that need satisfaction and motivations were related to well-being in their own right. Overall, our findings suggest that regulating video games, on the basis of time, might not bring the benefits many might expect, though the correlational nature of the data limits that conclusion." (Page 14)
"Players who objectively played more in the past two weeks also reported to experience higher well-being. This association aligns well with literature that emphasizes the benefits of video games as a leisure activity that contributes to people’s mental health." (Page 14)
"Because our study was cross-sectional, there might also be a self-selection effect: People who feel good might be more inclined to pick up their controller. Such a view aligns well with research that shows reciprocal relations between media use and well-being. Equally plausible, there might be factors that affect both game play time and wellbeing. For example, people with high incomes are likely healthier and more likely to be able to afford a console/PC and the game." (Page 14)
"From a clinical perspective, it is likely the effect is too small to be relevant for clinical treatments. Our effect size estimates were below the smallest effect size of interest for media effects research that Ferguson proposes.
...However, even small relations might accumulate to larger effects over time..." (Pages 14-15)
"Although our data do not allow causal claims, they do speak to the broader conversation surrounding the idea of video game addiction. The discussion about video games has focused on fears about a large part of players becoming addicted. Given their widespread popularity, many policymakers are concerned about negative effects of play time on well-being. Our results challenge that view. The relation between play time and well-being was positive in two large samples. Therefore, our study speaks against an immediate need to regulate video games as a preventive measure to limit video game addiction. If anything, our results suggest that play can be an activity that relates positively to people’s mental health - and regulating games could withhold those benefits from players." (Page 15)
"Previous work has shown that gamers’ experience likely influences how playing affects mental health. We explored such a possible moderation through the lens of self-determination theory: We investigated whether changes in need satisfaction, enjoyment, and motivation during play changed the association between play time and well-being. We found no evidence for moderation. Neither need satisfaction, nor enjoyment, nor extrinsic motivation significantly interacted with play time in predicting well-being. However, conditional on play time, satisfaction of the autonomy and relatedness need, as well as enjoyment were positively associated with well-being. Extrinsic motivation, by contrast, was negatively associated with well-being. These associations line up with research demonstrating that experiencing need satisfaction and enjoyment during play can be a contributing factor to user well-being, whereas an extrinsic motivation for playing likely does the opposite.
...Conditional on those needs and motivations, play time was not significantly related to well-being anymore." (Page 15)
"Selecting two titles out of a wide range of games puts further limitations on how generalizable our results are. Especially Animal Crossing: New Horizons is considered a casual game with little competition. Therefore, although those two titles were drawn from different genres, we cannot generalize to players across all types of games. The results might be different for more competitive games. Different games have different affordances and, therefore, likely different associations with well-being." (Page 16)
Children and Gaming
The study: www.unicef-irc.org/files/upload/documents/UNICEF_CRBDigitalWorldSeriesOnline_Gaming.pdf
"CHILD RIGHTS AND ONLINE GAMING: OPPORTUNITIES & CHALLENGES FOR CHILDREN AND THE INDUSTRY"
Study Authors: UNICEF colleagues (listed on page 2)
"As children spend more of their free time playing online games, there are concerns over how this activity might have negative impacts on physical exercise, real-life social interaction or other activities important to children’s health and well-being. Research to date, however, does not suggest that gaming time causes negative health outcomes or ‘addiction’. Having said that, any activity taken to extremes will eventually cause some negative outcomes, including gaming." (Page 12)
"Although time spent playing games can crowd out other activities children may benefit from or be expected to participate in, this is not different from any other hobby they might engage in. Whether gaming is accepted as a ‘good’ hobby or not is often based on cultural norms and expectations. In some contexts, for example, children are expected to spend most of their time in school or on extra-curricular activities and girls, in particular, may be restricted from having access to devices connected to the Internet." (Page 12)
"For many children, playing online games with friends after school does not pose issues from a health perspective. However, due to the immersive qualities of online games and the incipient expansion of virtual reality games, children may need additional support to find a healthy balance between gaming and other activities. A small percentage of players do engage in gaming in an unhealthy fashion, just like other children (or adults) sometimes overdo things they enjoy, neglecting other important parts of life to a significant degree. While little research has been conducted directly with those gamers who clearly play excessively, early observations seem to indicate that problem gaming is more likely to be driven by underlying social or emotional problems than by gaming." (Page 12)
Page 13 addresses the condition officially known as Gaming Disorder and states that it differenciates from normailty, but in it's acknowledgement as a disorder it has, by effect, negatively reinforced a stigma around children who participate in gaming. It is however a strict enough classification to avoid over-diagnosis and it is an important disorder to recognise for the people that need help and professional treatment. But as noted above, this problem gaming is more likely to have underlying causes.
"As with all forms of screen time, care should be taken in the use of clinical terms such as ‘addiction’ when discussing concerns around gaming. Blurring the line between destructive and commonplace behaviour may make it harder to support young people in developing their digital literacy skills, healthy screen-time habits and exercising their rights when using technology." (Page 14)
"Games and the communities built around them can offer friendships, positive role models and messages, but may also present content and conduct that are unsuitable for children in general, or for children of certain age groups. Preventing such environments and building communities that make everyone feel welcome are key success factors for gaming companies - and for upholding children’s rights.
Social interaction is one of the main reasons people play online games. This type of community participation can take place entirely within the game while playing, or outside the game via forums or public streaming channels through which people can watch games and talk about them.
Research in the United States shows that online gameplay is second only to social media as the most common digital venue for adolescents to meet new friends, which suggests that online games may fulfil part of the need for social contact and support. Studies of online social interaction indicate that gaming can enhance a child’s social relationships, as those who play together are sharing experiences that can lead to strong connections and contribute to developing teamwork skills. In this sense, games can be seen as a digital space where children can pass time, develop relationships, learn, and participate in many important aspects of life. Online gaming can also offer new ways for children with disabilities to join a social activity with their peers." (Page 16)
"Children will seek to identify with characters for the enjoyment of the gaming experience. To draw positive experiences and learning from games, it is important that they can find diverse characters in diverse roles. Despite the tremendous diversity of the gaming population, lead characters in games are still predominantly white males. Diversity in the representation of characters, choices for building avatars or choosing a character, or stereotyping in casting are issues for the gaming industry, as they are for the entertainment industry in general. Game characters frequently adopt unrealistic or cartoonish features: some male characters are exceedingly muscular, and female characters have enhanced curves. Although little research exists on this topic, there is a concern that these representations may exacerbate the body image issues that are increasingly prevalent among young girls and boys." (Pages 16-17)
I quote the above mainly in reference to considerations of the design process for my children's book - the importance of diversity in characters.
"Some games, for example, notably offer a wide range of customization options that can help children explore gender roles in a more fluid manner." (Page 17)
While the body image and stereotypes of characters in games still needs significant improvement and attention, in related areas, progress is being made. More games are defying gender stereotypes, such as Animal Crossing: New Horizons allowing the player to dress up in whatever they want, with little mention to gender at all. In Stardew Valley, Rune Factory and Story of Seasons (all also slice of life games), there is no limitation on romance options - so no matter your sexuality or how you identify, you may 'romance' whoever you like. We are also starting to see more protagonists of colour and varied ethnicity, and female leads too, but it is true that more protagnists are still white males. Social media is helping to challenge and change these issues through voices being heard about equality, feminism, and the lack of females working in both the games and animation industries.
Good explanation of life-gamification and video game analogy.
I afore mentioned this playlist of resources on this blog, but they're just so informative and relevant that I can't help but make notes.
I am finding with this game in particular how strong little reminders like the above can be. A simple message can be so powerful and yet so gently articulated. These are the kinds of sentences that stick with you in the long term, and may be really helpful to remember going forward into writing for children.
This YouTube channel, 'Screen Therapy,' has a budding playlist of content dedicated to how video games can benefit mental health. I've found it incredibly informative in explaining behaviours related to this topic and why things benefit us the way they do.
This article by Healthline explains thoroughly how and why Animal Crossing is so great for mental health and well-being. Key points:
"...When our collective mental health is languishing, it’s even more important that we still have goals - even if those goals involve building a pretend bridge. Putting a stake in the ground gives us momentum that we might otherwise lack. It can be as simple as mastering a new craft or hobby, as silly as renovating our virtual homes on “Animal Crossing,” or as ambitious as a promotion at work.
These goal-driven behaviors help contribute to our sense of purpose, fortifying our mental health even in lockdown. I believe that’s why a game like “Animal Crossing” can be a source of comfort - especially when the world seems to have come to a screeching halt. It gives us goals without overwhelming us; it offers a sense of connection and novelty that our brains thrive on."