1 in 7 young Australians experience a mental health disorder. This alarming statistic is derived from a government report that surveyed the mental health of 6300 Australian families. Rates for depression, self-harm and anxiety are a major cause for concern with almost one in four girls aged between 16-17 years meeting the criteria for clinical depression, based on their own admissions. If mental health was contagious or a physical ailment, this would be deemed an epidemic.
Researchers have identified that sleep deprivation in youth is also on the rise with an estimated 25% of adolescents affected by some form of sleep disturbance. There is a strong correlation between sleep problems and poor mental health; the difficulty can be in determining cause and effect. In either case, technology and its biproducts certainly play a major role in creating sleep disturbance with the increased stimulus causing arousal when the mind and body should be winding down.
Technology and social media get a pretty bad wrap when it comes to its effect on our mental health, but in particular during the turbulent teenage years. With so many reasons to point the finger, it might be time to take a good hard look at the link and how parents can best manage it.
There is no denying that technology has changed us as humans with every generation becoming more tech savvy and some would say tech dependant. Some would argue technology has made us smarter and provides a positive level of human connection, whilst others would claim it has increased stress and rendered parts of our brain redundant. Whatever your stance, technology has undeniably increased the pace of the world and blatantly blurred the lines between work/school and home life. It has changed communication expectations and makes escaping almost impossible.
Managing technology dependence and in particular social media activity is a first-world predicament that many parents face. The need to feel connected and a sense of belonging is paramount during the teenager years and social media and online communication offers this at the click of a finger. However, when it begins to distort your child’s perspective or become an obsession, parents need to trust their intuition by creating healthy boundaries around the use of devices. A teenager’s frontal lobe, the part of the brain that controls decision-making and judgement, does not fully develop until early adulthood, making it difficult to define their own boundaries. Choosing appropriate time slots, like dinner time, where all devices go on charge for a set time, will do wonders for real-time communication whilst allowing the family to be more present. Of course, phone rules must be abided by all household members including parents. You never know, your teen might silently thank you for the down time and the opportunity to talk.
Social media is the very opposite of mindfulness for youth and adults alike and feelings of personal inadequacy, particularly amongst young girls can result. Mindfulness has been defined as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the moment and non-judgmentally” (Jon Kabat Zinn). The human brain has great capacity to reflect on the past and think about the future but during this we forget about the present. Children are excellent mimics and will respond to the behaviour of those around them. Creating a more mindful and present home life, whereby you purposely focus on the ‘now’, will reduce stress and anxiety levels and help your child keep things in perspective.
Mindfulness is a practice that has been shown to be effective with clinical disorders including anxiety, depression, chronic pain and substance misuse. It is also an effective strategy to manage stress. Although technology comes with a myriad of negative bi-products, it also offers many positive ones and is not to blame for all mental health cases. Depression is more likely in certain personality types and may also be more likely if you have a family history of the disorder.
The teenage years are difficult ones for both parent and child and it’s important to trust your parental intuition when assessing your teenager’s behaviour. You may know if something is just “not right” and be able to recognise that its more than just teenager moodiness. If this is the case, or you are unsure, it is crucial to seek professional help from your local GP who will make an assessment and put a mental healthcare plan in place if needed.