Putting children in isolation in school risks causing them unnecessary trauma, according to a report by a mental health charity.
The use of isolation as a disciplinary measure risks damaging children’s mental health and can end up making behavioral problems worse as students become more disaffected from school, according to the study.
Instead, the charity urges schools to become more aware of the impact of trauma on their students, and to switch from punitive to positive behavior strategies.
The report comes as a campaign to end the use of isolation booths—where children are confined to booths with no contact with other students or adults—as a behavior management tool gathers pace. The Ban the Booths campaign has garnered support from MPs and is holding its first national conference later this month.
The use of isolation rooms is widespread in U.K. schools, as a way of removing disruptive children from the classroom.
But a report by the Centre for Mental Health today argues that the use of isolation is potentially damaging to children.
Children who have already had traumatic experiences are particularly vulnerable, according to the study, and may find such punishments “disporportionately distressing.”
While schools must record the use of exclusion, there are no such requirements over the use of isolation, with the result that there are no figures on how prevalent it is, although a BBC investigation in 2018 found that more than 200 children spent at least five straight days in isolation in the previous year.
And last year one mother revealed she is taking legal action after her daughter, who has autism spectrum disorder, attempted suicide after spending more than a month in isolation.
Tom Bennett, a former teacher and now the Government’s adviser on behavior in schools, defended the use of isolation in an interview with the BBC this morning, saying that students were typically removed for “extreme disruption, violence or rudeness to teachers,” rather than for trivial offences.
He said removing students from the classroom gave them an opportunity to calm down, without disrupting the learning of other children. The children who had been removed were supervised and given work to do, he added.
But one mother who spoke to the same program told how her son had been put in isolation from the age of 11 for relatively trivial offences, such as wearing a hoodie in the dining hall. Now 15, he has spent a third of his education in isolation, she added.
She said her son was not given work to do, and instead spent his time doodling.
The experience has transformed him from a outgoing child who enjoyed going to school, to one who has no confidence in authority and “sees adults as enemies,” she said.
Niamh Sweeney, a member of the executive of the National Education Union, told the BBC that children were often isolated for “small incidents,” such as having incorrect school uniform.
“Children describe sitting in isolation, having to look forward, not being able to have eye contact or contact with other people, and that does not deal with the cause or address, in any shape or form, the behaviour that the school is trying to change,” she said.
Sarah Hughes, chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, said attempting to improve behavior by isolating children will not work.
“For some of the most vulnerable and marginalised children they will entrench behavioural problems with lifelong consequences for them and their families,” she said.
I’m a freelance journalist specializing in education. My career so far has taken in regional and national newspapers and magazines, including Forbes, The Daily Telegraph and the Guardian. A lot has changed since I started covering education as a wide-eyed junior reporter in the early 1990s, not least the role of technology in the classroom, but as long as perfection remains just out of reach there will be plenty to discuss. I’ve been hooked on news since setting up a school magazine at 15, but these days I stick to reporting and let someone else sell the adverts, set the crossword and staple the pages together.
No one wants to hang out with me. I’m a failure at school. All my other friends seem happy. What’s wrong with me?
These kinds of negative thoughts are becoming more common in our homes and schools. Teens are experiencing increased anxiety, and studies indicate that college students in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States are becoming more perfectionistic over time, measuring themselves against unrealistic standards.
Why is this happening? We can’t say for sure—but we do know there are steps teens can take to improve their mental health.
A 2018 study of early adolescents suggests that self-concept (your perception of self) plays a central role in emotional well-being. According to the study, a supportive classroom environment and positive social relationships also affect teen well-being—but the impact is indirect. Positive self-concept seems to be the key variable in the well-being equation. If a student feels good about herself, then she may be more likely to connect with others and benefit from the supports provided at school.
So, how can we influence how students think about themselves? This may feel like a very tall order; yet there is a lot of research out there that provides some clues for supporting the teens in your life. Here are five ways to help tweens and teens move toward a more positive self-concept.
1. Get physical
Although you may have heard this before, kids really can benefit from regular exercise (especially when their tendency is to sit in front of a screen). A recent review of 38 international studies indicates that physical activity alone can improve self-esteem and self-concept in children and adolescents.
Apparently, the exercise setting also matters. Students who participated in supervised activities in schools or gymnasiums reported more significant growth in self-esteem than those who exercised at home and in other settings.
Adolescents’ self-concept is most strongly linked to their sense of physical attractiveness and body image, an area where many people struggle. So, encourage more regular exercise programs during and after school, and support team sports, strength training, running, yoga, and swimming—not just for their effects on the body but on the mind, as well. Getting out and engaging in some form of exercise can make us feel stronger, healthier, and more empowered.
2. Focus on self-compassion (not self-esteem)
Because self-esteem is a global evaluation of your overall worth, it has its dangers. What am I achieving? Am I good enough? How do I compare with my peers?
What would happen if we could stop judging ourselves? Researcher Kristen Neff claims that self-compassion—treating yourself with kindness, openness, and acceptance—is a healthy alternative to the incessant striving and performance orientation often tied up with self-esteem.
In her study of adolescents and young adults, she found that participants with higher self-compassion demonstrated greater well-being. Why? They were okay with their flaws, acknowledged that they struggled just like those around them (“Everybody makes mistakes; you are not alone”), and treated themselves with the same kindness they would extend to a friend (“It’s okay; you did your best”).
Participants with higher self-compassion demonstrated greater well-being. Why? They were okay with their flaws, acknowledged that they struggled just like those around them (“Everybody makes mistakes; you are not alone”), and treated themselves with the same kindness they would extend to a friend
If you are interested in specific techniques and strategies for enhancing self-compassion in teens, take a look at the work of psychologist Karen Bluth. She recently developed a program called Making Friends with Yourself. Youth participating in this eight-week program reported greater resilience, less depression, and less stress at the end of it. However, if there isn’t a program near you, consider sharing this self-compassion workbook with the teens in your life.
3. Avoid social comparison
When we focus on self-esteem, we tend to get caught up in comparing ourselves to others. Teens, in particular, often sense an “imaginary audience” (i.e., “Everyone is looking at me!”) and can become highly sensitized to who they are relative to everyone around them.
Instagram and other social media platforms don’t necessarily help. Some research suggests an association between social media and depression, anxiety, loneliness, and FoMO (fear of missing out) among teens. Their posts may not rack up the number of “likes” that their friends’ posts do, or they may feel excluded when they see pictures of classmates happily spending time together without them.
A new app for teen girls called Maverick may be a healthier option than Snapchat or Instagram. On this social media platform, teens can connect with role models (called “Catalysts”) and explore their creativity (such as designing their own superhero or choosing a personal mantra). Of course, there is always the option of taking a break from social media, as well.
Regardless of what teens choose to do online, many of our schools are also structured for social comparison. Grading, labeling, and tracking practices (grouping students based on their academic performance) don’t necessarily honor the stops, starts, and inevitable mistakes that are a natural part of the learning process.
Provide opportunities to revise and redo assignments.
Avoid ability grouping as much as possible.
Focus on individual growth and improvement.
Acknowledge students’ small successes.
4. Capitalize on specific skills
If you keep your eye out for teens’ talents and interests, you can support them in cultivating their strengths. Your son may think he is a terrible athlete, but he lights up when he works on school science projects. Then there’s that quiet, disheveled ninth-grade girl who sits in the back of your class. She may feel socially awkward, but she wows you with her poetry.
Researcher Susan Harter has studied adolescent self-esteem and self-concept for years. She claims that self-concept is domain-specific. Our overall self-esteem or sense of worth tends to be rooted in eight distinct areas: athletic competence, scholastic competence, behavioral conduct, social acceptance, close friendship, romantic appeal, job satisfaction, and physical attractiveness.
Talk to the teens in your life. What are their personal values and priorities? Share surveys with them like the VIA (which identifies character strengths like bravery, honesty, and leadership) or have them take a multiple intelligences quiz. Celebrate their talents and tailor activities and instruction around their abilities as much as possible.
It may not be easy to shift teens’ global sense of self-worth, but we can certainly highlight and encourage areas of interest and particular skill sets so that they feel more confident, capable, and inspired.
5. Help others (especially strangers)
Finally, when teens reach out to others, they are more likely to feel better about themselves. A 2017 study of 681 U.S. adolescents (ages 11-14) examined their kind and helpful behavior over a four-year period. Researchers found that adolescents who were kind and helpful in general had higher self-esteem, but those who directed their generosity toward strangers (not friends and family) tended to grow in self-esteem.
Last Friday, I joined my daughter and her peers during the “action” phase of their “Change the World” project. Their social studies teacher, Tim Owens, tasked the eighth graders with choosing a sustainability issue, researching the problem and possible solutions, planning action, and implementing the action.
These middle schoolers spent a full day canvasing their neighborhoods to advocate for policies that protected people they don’t know, like local refugees and homeless youth—as well as animals used for product testing. I’ve never seen my daughter and her friends more energized, confident, and engaged with their community.
As adults, we can actively support service learning projects in our schools and our teens’ interests in advocacy and civil engagement. Adolescents around the world can also work remotely with non-profit organizations like DoSomething, “a digital platform promoting offline action” in 131 countries. On this site, young people can choose a cause, the amount of time they want to commit to it, and the type of help they would like to provide (e.g., face-to-face, improving a space, making something, sharing something, etc.)
When teens regularly contribute to a larger cause, they learn to think beyond themselves, which may ultimately help them to be more positive, empowered, and purposeful.
As many teens struggle with anxiety and perfectionism, our urge may be to jump in and fix their problems, whatever we perceive them to be. But a better approach, one that will hopefully help reverse these worrying trends, is to cheer them on as they develop the mental habits and strengths that will support them throughout their lives.
Love can make us do crazy things. It often prompts us to behave in counterintuitive ways, like, for example, placing the wellbeing of our loved ones above our own. But why? Such altruism has perplexed and intrigued scientists for centuries. A new study out of UC Santa Barbara explores how an individual’s genetics and brain activity correlate with altruistic behaviors directed toward romantic partners.
Why do people stay in unsatisfying romantic relationships? A new study suggests it may be because they view leaving as bad for their partner. The study, being published in the November 2018 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, explored the possibility that people deciding whether to end a relationship consider not only their own desires but also how much they think their partner wants and needs the relationship to continue……