We’ve never been more connected with social media platforms and contacts at the touch of a button, but masses of young people are depressed and isolated – so what’s gone wrong? Clinical psychologist Charlotte Keating joins Unprocessed hosts Clara and Grace to unpack into the bullying epidemic affecting 1 in 4 kids, along with addressing the soaring rates of anxiety and depression young Aussies are facing.
As a board member of anti-bullying organisation Dolly’s Dream and a clinical psychologist, Charlotte is passionate about combatting bullying and helping kids through difficult mental health periods. And these goals are more pressing than ever as she reveals just how severe and widespread these issues are for young children and teens.
“You can look at the NationalYouth Mental Health Survey published in May 2020 by headspace,” Charlotte says. “They did ask young people and they found that 57% so more than half considered that their mental health was getting worse and what they thought was contributing to that was social media.”
But what’s driving this incline of poor mental health? Charlotte says it’s not the fault of social media alone, but rather a combination of the stresses of adolescence combined with both personal and external issues – after all, these past few years have been unparalleled in terms of chaos and unpredictability. From the invasion of the Ukraine to COVID-19, inflation and soaring costs of living, there’s been no shortage of turmoil.
“It's not all about social media, and certainly evidence shows that spending too long on social media can contribute to mental health problems, anxiety, depression, psychological distress, other factors that came out of that particular research,” the psychologist tells Unprocessed. “I think COVID is an important one because here is a lag as a result of the effect of COVID on their development, that really long period that some of them experienced of social disconnection, I think led to the increase in loneliness that we're also seeing young people experience.”
So, where does social media come into it all? Though a tempting scapegoat, Charlotte says there are both advantages and disadvantages involved in the popular platforms used by millions of Aussie kids. The clinical psychologist tells Unprocessed that a few simple ground rules could be the key to preventing some of the negative effects of social media overuse.
“If you're struggling with technology and the use of devices in your house, depending on the age of your kids, you might sit down with, you know, something called the, the family technology plan.”
Charlotte says the following questions can help parents sort out a way to manage social media use with their kids:
- How often are we on our devices?
- When are we on them?
- What are we actually using them for?
- Are there changes that we as a family would like to make as well as, you know, as individuals?
These prompts work as simple conversation starters – it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable or tense, it can be a matter of self-reflection. But Charlotte advises parents to follow their own rules too, for the benefit of their kids and themselves too.
“Because I think, you know, you have to sort of practice what you preach, you have to effectively model what you would like them to do too,” she says.
But one of the more insidious contributors to depression and anxiety in young people is bullying – and Charlotte says how we respond makes all the difference.
“If your young person comes to you and tells you that they've been bullied, do your best to try and stay calm, it might be really scary and really concerning, but the support they need from you is to listen very carefully, to be very calm about it and to try and ascertain the facts of what has happened from their perspective and to take any evidence, if it is online of what's been said or done,” says Charlotte.
Charlotte also encourages early and open conversations around bullying to ensure kids know what to do – and who to talk to.
“Help them make a list of trusted adults that they feel like they can actually talk to about it,” she says.
Keen to learn more about simple ways to respond to bullying? Or perhaps you’re looking to learn the signs that something’s going on with your child and how to start a conversation – Charlotte reveals all her top tips to helping your kids through mental health issues in the latest episode of the Unprocessed podcast.