Saturday 1 October 2016

Busy parents risk children's health by 'not being there'

New report reveals pressures felt by youngsters at home and in school

Published 05/09/2016 | 02:30

The results of a unique study of Irish children is set to reveal that many feel their parents are too often absent, and that the lack of quality time is also having a negative impact on their health. GETTY
The results of a unique study of Irish children is set to reveal that many feel their parents are too often absent, and that the lack of quality time is also having a negative impact on their health. GETTY

Busy parents risk damaging their children's health by "not being there" and not getting to know them as well as they should.

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The results of a unique study of Irish children is set to reveal that many feel their parents are too often absent, and that the lack of quality time is also having a negative impact on their health.

Report: Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Tom Burke
Report: Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Tom Burke

As families return to the familiar routine following the summer break, the report will concern busy parents struggling to juggle work and family life.

But the study, which will feed into the National Obesity Policy, also raises a series of points about how schools could do more to improve children's health. It identifies a series of factors which are key to the well-being of children in modern-day Ireland: from body image to bullying.

A team from University College Cork has been working on the project with the Citizens Participation Unit of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

Extracts from their final report, seen by the Irish Independent, state that primary and secondary pupils feel "no one is listening to children's opinions".

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone is expected to publish the report later this month as part of a fresh drive to tackle childhood obesity.

One in four children is overweight or obese in Ireland. But the minister will present the document as a "breakthrough" in putting the "voice of children" at the heart of policy.

"She believes that children and young people can influence their own health to a huge degree and therefore policy makers, as well as parents and teachers, need to seriously take on board their views," said a source.

While young people are "well informed" on general factors affecting their health, they feel topics such as eating disorders and nutrition are not discussed in school.

The report will say that the stigma of eating disorders makes them difficult for young people to discuss.

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The report notes that Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) classes in secondary schools do not teach healthy living.

The young people who took part in the consultation were critical of how the subject is taught, and feel that teachers of SPHE are not adequately trained. "They want nutrition, healthy living and eating disorders included in the classes," a source said.

And while young people understand that health "is not limited to physical health, they are very concerned with issues relating to mental health and emotional well-being".

Meanwhile, there are concerns that the PE curriculum "forces" youngsters to comply with a certain type of physical activity.

"They were generally critical of current offerings, and several participants clearly objected to being 'forced' to do PE in school and felt that it should not be a compulsory subject within the school curriculum.

"Some felt self-conscious or embarrassed about their appearance while changing and participating.

"They noted the lack of choice, with few alternatives to team sports, and failure to cater for different interests," a source said.

Sales methods employed by shops are also likely to come in for scrutiny, on the basis that "skinny mannequins are used in shop displays and clothes that are described as large can be very small".

Interestingly, primary school children identified getting sufficient sleep as one of the most important elements of a healthy lifestyle.

Young people want more funding for youth groups such as Foroige and the No Name Club which were identified as a positive factor in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

The UCC team observed separate consultations with young people aged 13 to 17 and between eight and 12.

Irish Independent

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