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What’s Your Desert Island?

Desert Island

Image: www.blirk.net

You’re no doubt familiar with the whole ‘desert island’ concept. Some people love the idea of being alone on a desert island – others find the idea abhorrent.

When were you last really ‘alone’? No person to keep you company. No technology to keep you company. No pets. No connections.

That’s a pretty difficult place to find in the 21st century!

Now consider the deeper and more emotive concept of loneliness: when did you last feel lonely? Last month? Last week? Yesterday? Today…?

According to a BBC Poll, conducted in 2013, almost half of all adults in England say they experience feelings of loneliness – and London, a densely-populated city of 8 million people is said to be the loneliest place in the country. More worryingly, one in five people say they are more lonely now than they were 10 years ago.

According to Age UK, around one million older people regularly go an entire month without speaking to anyone.

In October of 2013, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, described it as a “national shame” that as many as 800,000 people in England are “chronically lonely”.

Esther Rantzen is quoted in a Telegraph article in early 2014 as saying that children were now also facing an “epidemic of loneliness”.

Opting for a desert island existence is one thing; having no choice is quite another.

In my experience as a teacher and head teacher, I came across many lonely children. However, what troubles me more than the fact that we have lonely children in our schools is that many of them remain lonely. We either do not recognise their loneliness or we do not have the wherewithal to deal with it.

Lonely children are not necessarily poorly behaved; often, they are the quiet ones that sit under the radar, not causing a problem. The ones we are inclined to give our attention to are the ones clamouring for attention – causing a nuisance, making others feel small, disturbing normality. But, hey, aren’t they lonely, too?

Do we have a system for recognising and assisting lonely children in our schools? And not just children? Adults who work within the school and parents who bring their children to our school?

However, so many people would rather choose to sit on their ‘desert island’ than admit to being lonely. Have we made loneliness a stigma – even given the national statistics quoted above? Are we enforcing a desert island existence on to our lonely citizens because we perceive bigger problems under our noses?

Perhaps we need to start mapping our lonely people and creating spaces for them to develop the confidence to a) admit their loneliness and b) form relationships that bring them out of loneliness.

Consider the lonely children in your setting. What little thing can you do – what gesture can you make – to show the child that he or she is noticed – that his or her loneliness is recognised?

And, next time you find yourself feeling that you’re on a desert island that is not of your own choice, don’t blame yourself: find a soulmate to confide in and talk to them about it.

Don’t become a national statistic.