Next month marks Children’s Mental Health week. The theme is Healthy Inside and Out. With so many working parents, the health and wellbeing of children, can have a huge impact on the way parents are feeling at work. We talk to expert Fiona Pienaar on her thoughts on technology and mental health.
- Has there been an increase in mental health issues in young people in the last decade? If so, what do you feel are contributing factors? The official statistics published in the recent (Nov 2018) Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2017reveal the latest trends in children’s mental health, the first major survey since 2004. I’ll go into this in more detail in my webinar but the report highlights that emotional disorders, including anxiety and depressive disorders, have become more common in 5 to 15 year olds. In particular, young women, aged between 17 and 19 have been identified as particularly vulnerable with 1 in 4 (or 23.9%) having a mental health disorder. In addition, data from other sources has demonstrated an increase over the past decade in demands for access to specialised mental health support. There are likely many contributing factors to mental disorder but the recent survey highlights the potential impact, for some children and young people, of non-heterosexual identity, lower income households, poor parental mental health, adverse life events, family functioning, and hours on social media, amongst others.
- Is social media dangerous for our kids? Social media can have both positive and negative impacts and I think it’s important that we don’t only focus on the potentially ‘dangerous’ aspects. A recent report exploring the impact of social media use, which I will touch on, while making some thoughtful observations, primarily highlights the lack of research in this area. I would suggest, that the biggest ‘danger’ is when parents and carers lack awareness, have no involvement or control over their children’s social media use, don’t see it as an opportunity to approach social media use as a family issue (more of this later – there are increasingly great resources out there) and, critically, model unhealthy social media involvement themselves.
- In your opinion what does the future hold for the mental health of our children as technology continues to impact our lives more deeply each year? Well, technology and social media are not going away. It’s likely that we will be interacting increasingly with technology as developments become ever more sophisticated. However, like anything in life that has the potential to become addictive and ultimately lead to poor mental and physical health, it’s about balance. Balancing the use of technology and social media with involvement in sports, music, cultural pursuits, the outdoors, the arts, etc. gives children the opportunity to socialise, be part of a team, develop additional skills, even use technology in these alternative pursuits. It’s about balance, and these opportunities ideally should be introduced as early as possible. They should involve family or at least one attentive adult interested in supporting the child; being present to encourage them, celebrating their engagement and their achievements. Better still, adults modelling a balanced approach to life themselves.