‘five-a-day’ rule to boost mental health

Pupils must follow ‘five-a-day’ rule to boost mental health

The headmaster of Highgate School in London says that children need to be given more structure to their life – including a ban on computers in the bedroom – to improve their mental health

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Adam Pettitt, the headmaster of Highgate School, said clearer guidance was needed to improve standards of mental health among children. Photo: ALAMY

By Graeme Paton, Education Editor 06 Sep 2014

TVs, computers and smart phones should be banned from children’s bedrooms as part of a “five-a-day”-style approach to mental health, according to a leading private school headmaster.

Clear routines – similar to those designed to boost consumption of fruit and vegetables – are needed to insulate pupils from the pressures of modern life, said Adam Pettitt, head of Highgate School, north London.

He said pupils needed more sleep, free of distractions such as Facebook and Instagram, to combat a rise in the number of children with low self-esteem, depression and anxiety.

Pupils and parents were aware how to fight obesity and physical ill-health but remained largely ignorant of the “building blocks of good mental health”, it was claimed.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Mr Pettitt suggested all pupils should follow a basic five-point plan including no more than half an hour a day on the internet, a ban on all distractions in the bedroom and the importance of daily exercise.

He also recommended doing homework in a communal area – with limits on the length of tasks – and undertaking daily recreational reading to give children’s minds a “real break”.

Mr Pettitt said bright children in particular needed to be told about the importance of clear structures in the evening because many spent too long on school work, missing out on vital “downtime”. Highgate usually limits homework for younger pupils to no more than three 30 minute exercises each night, he said.

The comments were made as Highgate, a day school, which charges up to £18,000 a year, prepared to stage an inaugural mental health conference next weekend. It will be chaired by the actress Emma Thompson – a parent at the school – who has spoken publicly of her own battles with depression in the past.

It comes amid growing concerns over the state of children’s mental health, with an estimated 850,000 young people in the UK thought to be suffering from conditions such as eating disorders and depression.

A study by American scientists last year found that children from wealthy backgrounds were actually suffering anxiety and depression at twice the normal rate of relatively less well-off peers because of the extra pressure piled on them by parents and schools.

Mr Pettitt said: “It’s great that clinical and educational discussion is turning to some of the symptoms of mental ill-health among the young – self-harm, or worse still, suicide – and holding schools, families and society to account, looking for the reasons, sniffing out the triggers.

“But the debate should also take in the building blocks of good mental health; the ‘five-a-day’ we need to keep healthy in mind as well as body.”

He added: “Strong self-esteem doesn’t come about by chance. Some of this is so obvious that it smacks of motherhood and apple pie, but faced with constantly changing paradigms of socialising and family life, we owe it to our children to mug up our mental five-a-day.”

Mr Pettitt insisted pressures were fuelled by the rise of social media and the decline of traditional family meals, with hardworking-parents and children failing to find enough time to talk to each other and share problems.

He also said pupils had to be told to stop working the evening, particularly girls, to give them some proper time for relaxation.

“Children have to be trained that, if the teacher says 30 minutes for a piece of homework, it should be 30 minutes; don’t turn it into an hour and a half,” he said.

“There is a gender difference here. Girls tend to be very conscientious and worry about going to school unless a piece of work is complete.”


1)    Structure. Know how much work there is to do and when you’re going to do it. Plan your non-school time in term (evenings and weekends) so you create guilt-free down-time and do resentment-free work. Do spend the time your teacher tells you – and no Instagram or Facebook while you work. Programme in clubs, after-school practices and the time you want to spend on-line (time limit games and social media – neither more than half an hour).

2)    Exercise and play. Get your heart-rate up so you sweat every day – kicking a football, running around, getting a skipping rope out, in the garden or back yard. If you have siblings, do play together, whatever your ages: card games, board games too: they help you switch off and keep your siblings as friends.

3)    Try working at home in communal area: if the house goes quiet while everyone works, it’s good for everyone, and your parents can see what you’re doing without prying. Only the computer when it’s needed: if you have wifi, again use the laptop/tablet where you can be seen.

4)    Recreational reading. Reading is a brilliant release where you step into an imagined world. It cuts through your worries and preoccupations, and gives you a real break. It also does wonders for your reading speed and comprehension. If you haven’t time to read every day you may just be too busy.

5)    Sleep: good quality sleep (enough hours, and regular patterns) means undisturbed peace. No smart phones, no tablets, nothing that beeps other than an old-fashioned alarm clock in your bedroom. Tell your parents to do the same. Don’t have a television or a computer in your bedroom.

Credit : The Telegraph Link :


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