Has the pandemic robbed our kids of their happy-go-lucky demeanour?

We all know that the impact and the fallout from the pandemic has disrupted the lives of every single one of us. However, it seems that young children may have bore the brunt of its consequences.

According to The Psychological Society of Ireland, it seems there has been an increase in children presenting with eating disorders, with ‘some as young as five years old’ being diagnosed with this health condition.

I don’t know about you readers, but personally, I find those revelations to be highly worrying – for the simple reason an eating disorder is a serious mental illness associated with the affected individual’s relationship with food, and indeed, with eating that food. While I’m no expert, from what I understand, this condition could best be described as being a maladaptive coping mechanism which serves to help the sufferer – in this case, the small child – to cope with, and to feel safe and secure during what would be a difficult or traumatic time for them.

I do of course know that, due to the pandemic and the restrictions around it, life has not been easy for young kids. However, I’d have thought that most (if not all) five/six-year-olds would, due to their age, have been at one of the happiest stages of their lives given they should have had no concerns about the coronavirus, thus having the ability to live in the moment.

However, taking these disturbing revelations into account, it’s clear that young kids – i.e. Generation Alpha – are, due to the state of the world and its acute public health events, more likely to plough through those early years feeling weighed down by life’s burdens; robbed of some of their innocence, positivity and happy-go-lucky attitude. Is it any wonder that, in order to relieve the distress they’re experiencing, some are actually developing an emotionally devastating eating disorder?

I’d like to make it clear that the vast majority of young kids, pre-teens and teens in this country don’t have an eating disorder, and they probably never will, so I wouldn’t want any parent reading this to get anxious if their child suddenly decides not to finish their dinner.   It may be the case that they just don’t fancy the food you’ve put in front of them. However, I would, as a parent myself, look closer at any child whose eating patterns become disordered, and, if they begin counting and restricting calories I’d see this as being a red flag; especially if that child is also a perfectionist, or is always anxious about how they look, etc.

I do believe – and I could be wrong – that the likes of social media and some TV advertisements, as well as some TV programmes, are inadvertently exposing kids to a heck of a lot more ‘stuff’ about body weight and body shape than we were at their age. In addition, activities like some dance classes, gymnastics, or some sports, many of which require tight-fitting costumes, etc., could, in theory, render kids to become more conscious of their physical appearance. These activities, while enjoyable, can potentially serve up a lot of body judgements which may lead an anxious child to believe their body and its shape is under scrutiny. Add in an off-the-cuff and innocent and unintentional remark by a parent, another child, a competition judge, or a teacher, etc., and you’ve got a recipe for major self-consciousness on the part of some kids.

Perhaps it’s time we, as parents, as the people tasked with shaping our kids’ minds, redouble our efforts to watch our words from the moment our babies begin to understand sounds and put sentences together. To put it bluntly, it’s not only necessary, it’s absolutely crucial we help our kids to cultivate a positive body image.

We could begin doing this by showing our little ones, from an early age, how we have a level of confidence in ourselves by avoiding saying things like, ‘I look fat in this dress’, or ‘I can’t eat this, it’s fattening’ within earshot. Who knows, perhaps by focusing more on our own talents, our own abilities and our own positive contributions to our families and to society, our kids might just learn to love themselves more.

Seachtain na Gaeilge shona daoibh go léir!

We’re in the middle of Seachtain na Gaeilge 2023 which runs from 1st-17th March, or, to be precise, ó 1-17th Márta, and I have to agree with the lovely Des Cahill when he recently dubbed our lack of Irish speaking skills a ‘national scandal’.

The RTE sports presenter’s comments come following Irish actor Paul Mescal’s BAFTA interview last month which he participated in as Gaeilge, delighting not just fans, but I’d imagine every Gaeilgeoir across the country. Well done, an-mhaith Pól!

I love my native language. I do admit, through lack of use, I’m ashamed to say it’s gone very rusty. I’d now be in Paul Mescal’s league – however, this wasn’t always the case.

When I was at school, I was one of the few annoying kids who really enjoyed speaking as Gaeilge. I don’t wish to boast – well I kind of do – but when I worked in TV, I was booking celebrities for a reality show which aired during Seachtain na Gaeilge; it was based in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and the commissioning editors asked me to script it as Gaeilge…that’s how proficient I used to be!

However, as nobody I know and nobody in my family speaks Irish – my kids hate it – the only time I get to use my cúpla focail is when I talk to my dogs, giving them little commands like suígí síos, and isteach sa leaba and dinnéar.

Irish is not only a beautiful and very unique language, it’s also, very importantly in my opinion, an essential part of our identity, of who we are – and I cannot understand why more people don’t speak it on a daily basis.

I’m sure some highly proficient Gaeilgeoir will pick lumps out of my grammar and my plurals but here goes…an féidir liom ceist a chur ar léitheoirí? – can I ask readers a question? – during Seachtain na Gaeilge, would you make an effort to labhair libh cúpla focail gach lá le do thoil? Please speak a few words of Irish each day. Go raibh maith agaibh.