The Children’s Society published a report this week stating that 1 in 10 children aged 10 to 15 report often feeling lonely. The report highlights some of the issues which might contribute to this such as punishment practices involving isolation and exclusion, decrease in support in the classroom, bullying, social media, working parents and cuts to youth services. They suggest talking encouraging children to talk about the issue but this seems to me to be shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.
There are many organisations working tirelessly to address social issues around children and also their access to the outdoors. Two of my favourites are Playing Out and Junior Park Run. Parenting is the digital age is a minefield and it’s hard to even begin to consider the ramifications of the loss of nuance in communication and relationships in general with the decrease in real life human interactions and the increase in virtual ones.
Enter story, stage right. As a (sort of) only child who moved house a lot I spent a fair chunk of time on my own. Far from being lonely or bored, I led several dazzling imaginary lives with all manner of intrigue and adventure. When I played with friends, family or neighbours they merrily entered this world and when I didn’t I wiled away many an hour rescuing, fighting, dancing or whatever the current theme might be. These storylines were many and varied and drew from stories I was told or read about or real life experiences.
It seems nigh on impossible to imagine now that children would have that much free time, not taken up with school, clubs or screens. The human mind, when faced with boredom, will gravitate towards creativity, given the right circumstances. I remember many times taking too long to get the kids out of the house on a weekend and then finding they’d given up on the trip and made a fantastic den. Creating space for boredom and imagination facilitates a space which, while possible solitary, is rarely lonely.
As the parent of teenagers I find myself finding ruses for them to be with me, creating space for them to talk. While teenagers resist stories, seeing them as childish, they love them as much as younger children. I try to watch really interesting films with them so we can chat about them. We talk about the real life stories behind the news – what it might be like to be those refugees or even politicians! We play a game when we imagine their future selves – what would 27 year old them be doing right now? 45 year old them? Old man them? They are partial to a precised Greek myth or too and they love a philosophical thought experiment like The Ship of Theseus which can be presented in story form.
Stories unite us, they fire our imaginations, they connect us with all that came before. With them, we will never be lonely!