By disrupting schooling, Covid 19 highlighted a surge in mental health issues among children and young people – but this has been growing for some time, before the pandemic began, for many different reasons. So I’ve been thinking about ways children interact with music, and how this could help – or hinder. Music is such a positive in most people’s lives at all ages, and has a strong impact on elderly people, particularly those with dementia. So what about the younger generation?
Twenty-first century life is rarely silent. Most children and young people grow up surrounded by sound, as they watch children’s TV and spend time online from a very young age. Many spend hours video gaming, to the constant backdrop of game soundtracks. As they grow up and stream music, it remains ever-present in their lives. It strikes me that children a generation or further ago experienced far more silence than they would today. It may well be that being exposed to so much sound is a great stimulus as their brains develop. But it may also be that they could benefit from learning to enjoy silence as well, as a space to think or to use imagination and creativity. An endless blizzard of sound can limit children’s need to entertain themselves.
However, when music is known to be so beneficial for wellbeing, it must be largely positive that it is so ubiquitous in children’s lives today. The vast array of music young people can stream on demand allows them to explore a wider range of music to see what makes them feel good. The use of classical music in video game soundtracks is introducing new generations to classical music, which they might have thought was not for them but which can calm them or lift their mood.
One irony is that children are so surrounded by music at a time when music education in schools is in many cases threatened or declining. So participatory music-making is less likely, when this is one of the most beneficial ways to experience music. Instead, many children’s enjoyment of music is passive rather than active.
Specific music therapy can be helpful to children and young people in particular situations. One such is selective mutism, an anxiety disorder mainly seen in children, who may talk to some people but not to others. It can be quite severe, and has different posible causes, such as anxiety over a change in the child’s life like starting a new school. Music therapy has been found to improve communication for many selectively mute children. It can help by easing the anxiety at the root of the mutism and by boosting confidence. Singing can help as an alternative way to communicate, so that communicating loses some of its negativity. And of course there are other situations where music therapy can also help, such as with children with SEN or learning disabilities, or wjo live with sight loss.
And away from specific therapy, it may be that music and song can and will help many of the children and young people who have developed anxiety during the pandemic or who have other mental health issues. Maybe listening to calming music at bedtime could reduce insomnia and fear, for example. With so much music in everyday life, there’s lots of scope to harness this for good.
Do you have any ideas to share? It would be great to hear any responses in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Thank you!