The Importance of Your Child’s Middle Years

Dr Lisa Mundy is Project Manager, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. She is part of the first study in the world to take a detailed look at the middle years.

She helped start the CATS project, led by Professor George Patton. It’s a longitudinal study of the health and emotional development of 1200 Melbourne children through their middle years. They began collecting the data in 2012, now they’ve just finished their seventh phase for students aged 14 to 15 years old; their latest reports are The Effects on Schooling Outcomes of Early Developmental Vulnerabilities in Children and Student Wellbeing, and Student Wellbeing, Engagement and Learning across the Middle Years.

We need to better understand these years as children experience them. We also need to better understand the best points for the prevention of problems and intervention if they occur. The opportunities for prevention and mental health promotion may be greater during the middle years than at any other point in life, given that this is such a transformative phase.

Half of all mental health problems emerge by 14-years-old. But the symptoms are forming well before then. We really didn’t have a handle on why. There wasn’t any data in this age range to look at it. From my earlier work, I’m keen to study mid-childhood to better understand these issues.

Around 20 per cent of kids across Years Three to Five have persistent emotional problems. This isn’t necessarily a diagnosed disorder but elevated symptoms of emotional problems like worry, anxiety and feeling low.

Those children are around a year behind their peers in NAPLAN by the time they got to Year Seven. That’s a significant difference because they were already behind in Year Three. Children withbehavioural problems are also about a year behind.

It would be good to see a greater focus on the importance of the middle years in health and education. We’d like to see our results used in government and not-for-profit programs to help young people cope with the middle years and beyond. We need to improve funding, research and policies across the middle years…

Another huge change is the transition to secondary school. This brings a profound shift in a child’s learning environment, their engagement with peers, teachers and families. It is also a time of life when relationships with peers change and become much more important.

Read the full article here


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