‘You were lucky…..’

• T S Eliot described April as the cruellest month in his poem The Waste Land.
• The third Monday in January – Blue Monday – allegedly the most depressing day of the year.
• Winter solstice mid December is the shortest day of the year – least daylight – contributing to seasonal affective disorder.

Suggesting that the weather affects us so severely, though, is a matter of controversy. Some scientists say that the culprit is serotonin — the chemical that makes us happy — which is controlled by the amount of light we receive. When there’s a lack of light, serotonin converts into melatonin, which controls our sleep. Consequently, come winter, we become sadder and sleepier. TS Eliot was not referring to SAD however and Blue Monday is apparently a combination of social and financial factors that coincide post Christmas.

We all like to talk about the weather in Britain and this usually includes a lift in our spirits when the sun shines. Being outside, exercising, having fresh air and interacting with other people have proven health benefits. Research from Public Heath England (PHE) shows that British children unfortunately spend disproportionately large amounts of time in front of screens, compared to their counterparts in other Western European countries.

Professor Kevin Fenton of PHE has highlighted studies that identify a correlation between childhood depression and too much time in front of a screen or gaming…“The greater the time spent in front of the screen, the greater the negative impact on both behavioural and emotional issues relating to the child’s development,”….. “too much screen time limits a child’s opportunities for physical activity and face-to-face social interaction with friends and family, which are key factors in reducing childhood anxiety.”

As adults we are often prone to recall our childhood through rose coloured glasses where summers were longer, winters were shorter (but properly wintery) and we played outside with freedom and without inhibitions. ‘To all the kids who survived the 1930’s 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s’ is a satirical internet poem/blog that reflects on some of the meteoric changes and improvements that shape childhood now.

‘We did not have Playstations, Nintendo’s, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 99 channels on cable, no video tape movies, no surround sound, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet or Internet chat rooms……….we had friends and we went outside and found them! We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents. We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever…….

This generation has produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever! The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL!’

The key to all of this and especially for us in a school context is to ensure that children have a balance and are actively encouraged to direct their own mood and destiny and not be influenced by the statistical relevance of a date which shows that it is or isn’t a bad day. Their fate and decision to see the glass as half full or half empty is in their own hands. Our role is to encourage a positive approach and develop personal responsibility.

Equally it is just as important that we embrace the benefits and huge technological, social and digital advances to complement the halcyon days of our youth – complete with dirty knees, no health and safety and plenty of risk! ‘Everything in moderation’ seems to be a useful piece of advice and it is important that we all recognise the value and context of our experience….with or without rose coloured spectacles (or digitally enhanced colour contact lenses of course).

Lynne M Horner                                                                                                                                                              February 2016