Kids aren't alright: Parental concern for child wellbeing grows

Kids aren't alright: Parental concern for child wellbeing grows
A young Standard supporter. Credit: Belga/ Bruno Fahy

The pandemic dealt a decisive blow to the wellbeing of both children and parents in Flanders, with many of the pressures people faced during successive lockdowns still persisting.

The bad news was highlighted in data gathered in the latest Flemish Family Survey of more than 3,000 parents (done in spring 2021), which has been published this week. The detailed analysis shows that most parents indicated that they find raising children enriching. But many also admitted that the journey is becoming increasingly difficult.

While there were still several Covid-19 measures in place when the survey was conducted, many of the issues remain. A survey of parents since the pandemic found that over 40% of parents believe their children's long-term welfare has fallen.

Tantrums, emotional problems and hyperactivity are the main sources of concern among preschool parents, followed by the fear of failure, insecurity and low self-esteem starting from primary school age onwards.

Young people under strain

One in five parents experience minor difficulties in their children when it comes to their ability to concentrate or control emotions, behaviour or interaction with others. 15% of parents say they see marked or severe difficulties in their child. In 10% of such cases, this has a significant impact on the child's life.

On Wednesday, the Flemish Youth Council already sounded the alarm on the mental wellbeing of children and young people. As of March 2021, as many as 23,749 children and young people were on the waiting list for help with mental health; more than two-thirds of young people with mental disorders must wait over a year for professional treatment.

The Youth Council called on policymakers for long-term and short-term solutions to provide better support.

Parents under pressure

Not only children are struggling, but their parents are too. One-third indicated that parenting is more difficult than they thought it would be and a quarter reported that parenting exhausts them emotionally or physically.

"Raising children requires a lot from parents, no one doubts that," Flemish Welfare and Family Minister Hilde Crevits. Many parents expressed regret about their own powerlessness when responding to tantrums and their teenager's bouts of anger.

Seven in ten parents said they have concerns or questions about raising their children, almost 10% more compared to 2016. Parents with children aged between 6 and 12 are the most frequently worried, mainly about their emotional well-being, behaviour and their school performances, but also about the use of the internet and social media.

One-third of parents responded that children give them less time to do what they love to do, while one-fifth of respondents said that their offspring limit the time they have with their partner.

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Crevits called attention to steps taken during the pandemic to support children and parents, including the development of a low-threshold and preventive offer for parents. The Family Survey's researchers argued for more low-threshold alternatives, such as meeting places for parents, where 'the ordinary of parenting' can be discussed.

She also pointed out that young people with emotional problems can always turn to the OverKophuizen, a safe place where young people up to the age of 25 can find help, and of which there are 30 spread across Flanders and Brussels.

"But we must remain vigilant for the well-being of our children and young people, even after the pandemic," Crevits concluded.

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