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Much like the economy, children cannot simply bounce back from the pandemic. Social-emotional recovery for children must begin immediately to avoid long-term consequences on their mental and social well-being. Putting them back in the pre-pandemic school and social framework may not be enough for their recovery after the trauma of social distancing.
Fortunately, parents enjoy an abundance of options when it comes to extracurricular opportunities to provide social and psychological enrichment for their children. The healing process can begin, but parents need to use discretion in their after-school choices to get the best for their children.
First, let’s discuss the overwhelming scientific consensus of mental health experts. Children, especially adolescents, have suffered a potentially devastating threat to their social and mental development. Perhaps most troubling is the fact that there is no equivalent historical parallel for assessing the consequences of children’s mass social withdrawal from social interactions. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Researchers looked at studies since the end of World War II and found none that assessed conditions like those experienced by children during the Covid-19 pandemic.
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What the data indicates is troubling. Children and adolescents withdrawn from school and other social activities have higher rates of mental disorders, including depression, anxiety and antisocial disorders. They are more likely to suffer from thoughts of suicide and a myriad of self-destructive behaviors, including drug addiction and juvenile delinquency. These children and adolescents are more likely to drop out of school, experience unemployment as adults and commit crimes.
These problems are predictable given the role of socialization in child development. In the mid-20th century, theorists such as Erik Eriksen, Jean Piaget, Albert Bandura, Lev Vygotsky, and BF Skinner conducted the theoretical research and development that constitutes the canon of childhood development. Most of our school programs and extracurricular activities are based on the premise that social adjustment means more than just placing children in the social environment. Remember the lesson of Lord of the Flies? Children need more than socialization. They require social enrichment, and it is an intentional construction of the social environment.
When children were removed from their school and social activities, their social development was brutally disrupted. But the evil can be fixed. This is where extracurricular activities can play a part. Already, schools, nonprofits and commercial providers design extracurricular activities for the pandemic generation. Supported by theory and research on childhood development, these activities are intentionally designed to address the specific types of harm that might have been caused by such a prolonged experience of social withdrawal. Many of these activities resemble those of the pre-pandemic era, but many are adapted to take into account the impacts of social withdrawal.
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Your school, local government (that is, the Parks and Recreation department), community groups or follow-up companies can provide more information on how they prepare for the unique challenges of children. post-pandemic. The consequences of social withdrawal could last a lifetime. But there is hope that social reintegration through extracurricular activities will do more than restore children – it will make them more resilient.