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Screens And Brains?

Posted on by Shridevi

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A recent piece in The Australian (“Technology’s effect on children’s brains isn’t black and white” 25/5by journalist John White canvassed many views about the impacts of screen experiences on children’s brains. The sometimes conflicting views produced a confusing picture.

There’s obviously an urgent need for continuing research (and a study on social media use and teen brains released late in May provides more food for thought*). But as Oxford-based Prof Susan Greenfield said “There are grounds for us to really question what society we want to live in, what values we want to promote. We need to wake up to these very big and important questions rather than just drifting into this cyber world.”

Drifting into the cyber world without much guidance is not good for kids. At the very least, a dependence on screens for entertainment can be damaging to children’s social and emotional development, and can be very difficult to modify by teen years.

The time to start with effective screen management is in the early years. This is a key time when parents can choose media for their very young children that reflects the values that they would like their children to grow up with. These might include programs and games that enhance children’s lives without glorifying violence; where characters are not constantly engaging in interpersonal aggression, but show kindness, empathy and resourcefulness; that offer diverse experiences and enjoyment.

The early years is also a key time for parents to understand some of the impacts that media experiences can have on young children. There are plenty of indicators that a careful and balanced approach is warranted.  From years of child development research, we know that interaction with others promotes healthy development in young children’s brains. Screens don’t offer that responsive interaction. From research studies we know that using screens right up to bedtime, can interfere with healthy sleep patterns; that exposure to scary content can give rise to unnecessary fears and anxieties; that exposure to glamorised violence raises the risk of use of aggression. We know that patterns of dependence on screens for entertainment, and problematic internet use start early, and can be very hard to break later. We know that parental mediation strategies can be effective in minimising harms in relation to media use, aggression, substance use, and sexual behaviour (Collier, KM 2016).**

Screens can and do offer children enjoyment and enhance their lives, but young children need time and encouragement to develop relationships and discover other engaging activities, that promote their wellbeing.

Young parents need more support and information than they are currently getting to find their way through the maze of mass-marketed-media to healthy media choices and use. This is an issue that potential politicians should be considering seriously. Have they had regard to the findings of the Australian Child Health Poll, Dec 2015*** that “Excessive screen time has emerged as the top ‘big problem’ for the health of Australian children and teenagers”?

The Australian Council on Children and the Media makes a contribution to supporting parents by providing information and evidence-based strategies that encourages them to start smart and early with screen management. Age-appropriate choices of movies and apps are made easier with ACCM’s Know before you Go movie and Know before you Load app reviews services, which can now be accessed on mobile via the new ACCM Reviews app.

These ACCM resources can be found here

http://childrenandmedia.org.au/movie-reviews/

http://childrenandmedia.org.au/app-reviews/

http://childrenandmedia.org.au/resources/fact-sheets

ACCM also runs seminars and conferences on topical issues related to children and media, and the next of these is in Sydney on July 18 on the topic of “Violence in the media: the stories and the science”. http://childrenandmedia.org.au/events/accm-conference

– Barbara Biggins OAM is the Hon CEO of the Australian Council on Children and the Media, and a longtime advocate for quality media and healthy use of screens.

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References

*University of California – Los Angeles. “Teenage brain on social media: Study sheds light on influence of peers and much more.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 May 2016. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160531104423.htm

**  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26914217

***  https://www.childhealthpoll.org.au/polls/top-10-child-health-problems/

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Musical.ly – What Parents Really Need To Know!

Posted on by Shridevi

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As a parent/carer it can be almost impossible to be aware of all the apps and sites that kids are on. As soon as you are on top of one, it is oh so yesterday and there is a new app on the block. It is not so much the name of the app (some are very misleading) but what the app actually does that a parent should be concerned with. By knowing how an app works and what it does will go a long way to helping you make an informed decision about whether or not to let your child use it. Don’t be fooled with the hollow cry of, ‘But everyone else has it’, because I can assure you they don’t. Anyway who cares? If everyone were on the roof jumping off would you allow your child to do it as well?

Much like pester power at the supermarket, some apps will get under your skin before you know it. If an app works on what I like to call the ‘lice concept’ – infest one child and get the rest, then you have to get yourself into gear and sort it out as I can promise you that your child and many other parents will not.

The latest app to hit our kids devices and us between our eyes is: Musical.ly. On the surface it seems to be a fun, karaoke type app and if you read the description on the iTunes store it will tell you that you can create amazing videos to impress your friends, in other words, a popularity contest where the number of ‘likes’ equals being popular.

So far so good you say. How could this app be harmful? Well here are some other things for you to consider.

The warnings on the side bar of the iTunes store state the app has:

1) Infrequent/Mild Profanity or Crude Humour 

2) Infrequent/Mild Sexual Content and Nudity

3) Infrequent/Mild Mature/Suggestive Themes

4) Infrequent/Mild Cartoon or Fantasy Violence

5) Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References

Sorry, but I don’t think any of theses topics are suitable for young children and early teens. Whilst accepting that kids see and view many things online outside of a parents control, when you are aware that your child is hanging out in a place of potential harm, why are you allowing them to be there?

If you read the Terms and Conditions of Use (T&C) you will also find that a person must be over the age of 13 years to set up an account and that a person between the ages of 13 years and 18 years must have parental permission. This alone should tell you that it is far from suitable for kids under 13.

Here are some things that I think you should consider prior to allowing your child to set up an account on Musical.ly.

1) 18+ content in the songs lyrics. Swearing and adult concepts in the provided music. Some song lyrics are clearly inappropriate for children and most adults don’t hear the words anyway. Who can forget, ‘Blow My Whistle’ about, you guessed it, oral sex or ‘Dirty Talk’ by Wynter Gordon… google it if you can’t remember. Most songs come with gyrating video clips as well.

2) Musical.ly users can search for other users to view or follow near their own location/city (uses GPS technology).

3) User generated videos can be viewed and shared onto other social media and messaging apps increasing exposure. You lose control of the clip.

4) Public comments on Musical.ly, which can be nasty.

5) Friends commenting that you have ‘ruined’ their favourite song and bullying in real life as a result.

6) Users can publicise their messenger usernames or social media profiles on their Musical.ly profile.

7) Kids uploading content taken in the school grounds before school starts clearly identifying students and schools via GPS and/or uniform. Cybersafety 101 is about NOT sharing personal information.

8) Large numbers of very young kids from about 8 years old on the site.

9) Predators being able to watch the videos of your child, take them, and store them for future viewing pleasure (Yuck!).

If you have a child over 13 years and you are happy for them to use the app, then ensure that the following security settings are enabled. Go to the ‘Settings’ tab and then ensure that the ‘hide location’, info is turned on. This means that another user close by cannot search for your child, nor are they giving away their location via GPS. Also ensure that ‘private account’, is also turned on. Although your child may resist this as they cant become ‘popular’ with a private account, this is the only way to retain a small amount of control of where your child’s content ends up. Remember that once posted, you have lost control and friends today can be enemies tomorrow.

Technology is here to stay and in a few weeks or months there will be another new app to acquaint your self with. Don’t be afraid, knowledge is power so be involved in what your child does online. Keep the lines of communication open and honest and remember, there are other parents out there that say no. You are not alone. Don’t be afraid to sit down with your child and check it out. Kids are usually reasonable when there is validity behind a decision. Stay strong and remember your child’s safety is your responsibility both on and off line.

– Susan McLean

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How Effective Are Your Student Wellbeing Strategies?

Posted on by Shridevi

The Education Partners

What is social and emotional wellbeing?

Social and emotional wellbeing is about happiness and life satisfaction. It is about positive feelings, character strengths, engagement, relationships, meaningful activity and accomplishment.

Promoting the social and emotional wellbeing of students is important to ensure that all young people are supported to live happy and fulfilling lives. Additionally, research has shown a strong link between students’ social and emotional wellbeing and academic achievement.

Measuring social and emotional wellbeing enables your school to effectively target policies and programs to support students’ development, to monitor the effectiveness of these programs, and to ensure all students have the opportunity to flourish in your school.

The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) Social-Emotional Wellbeing surveys were designed by Professor Michael E. Bernard (Melbourne Graduate School of Education) as a method for schools both nationally and internationally to assess current levels of students’ social-emotional wellbeing (SEW). The surveys provide extensive data on the SEW of groups of students (e.g.: at one or more grade levels; whole school).

ACER uses an ‘ecological’, positive-psychology model of the social and emotional wellbeing of young people. The ACER Social-Emotional Wellbeing Survey asks students about their feelings and personal characteristics, and also their experiences within the context of their families, schools and communities.

More than 60 000 students have taken the ACER Social-Emotional Wellbeing Survey. This research has given ACER important insights into the social and emotional wellbeing of young people.

What does social and emotional wellbeing look like?

The results from the ACER Social and Emotional Wellbeing Survey are described on a continuum of six levels: highest, very high, high, low, very low, lowest.

Young people at the lower levels of wellbeing experience multiple negative emotions and behaviours and few positive emotions and behaviours. They often feel lonely and down, and may not have the skills to manage stress. They may use alcohol and drugs. They are unlikely to have supportive peer relationships or experience best-practice parenting and teaching.

Young people at the highest levels of wellbeing have exceptionally strong positive feelings, pro-social attitudes, emotional awareness and self-acceptance. They forge strong peer relationships with other emotionally well-developed students. They work hard and collaboratively at school, are supported by teachers to discuss their feelings, values and behaviours, and feel their voice is valued in their own learning process. They display stress management skills, confidence, organisation and goal orientation towards schoolwork. Their parents and teachers spend time talking to them about life skills, such as making friends, managing stress, developing confidence and persistence. They volunteer in school and other communities in which they feel connected, cared for and supported.

How can schools support optimal social and emotional wellbeing?

Teach students to:

  • manage stress and cope with their worries
  • describe their feelings and respect other people’s feelings
  • solve problems without fighting
  • be confident
  • be persistent, organised and goal-oriented in schoolwork
  • discuss and act on ideas to make their schools better and safer
  • make friends, especially with peers who behave well and work hard.

– Victoria Major

Further information

W: www.acer.edu.au/sew I E: surveys@acer.edu.au

 

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This New Blood Test Could Personalise Depression Treatments For The First Time

Posted on by Imogen

Credit: Somsak Suwanput/ShutterStock

Scientists have developed a new blood test that could finally lead to personalised depression treatments for patients, giving doctors a tool that can identify which antidepressants are likely to work for patients the first time around, instead of relying on trial and error.

This could make a huge difference, because the current treatment method for depression – doctors trying out one medication after another until something sticks – isn’t effective, with roughly 50 percent of all first-time prescriptions failing to help those in need. And even if a treatment does end up working, it can take weeks to find out either way.

The new test, developed by researchers from King’s College London in the UK, can predict if a certain antidepressant would work on an individual patient, before a doctor prescribes it, by looking for two inflammation biomarkers.

These two biomarkers have previously been linked to patients who have a poor response to typical medications. The test can accurately measure how many of these biomarkers a person has, and if they have higher than a certain threshold, they will likely not respond to what’s called ‘first-line antidepressants‘ – the ones that doctors typically test first up.

– Josh Hrala

Source: This New Blood Test Could Personalise Depression Treatments For The First Time

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Study Finds No Method Reliable In Assessing Suicide Risk For Mental Health Patients

Credit: George Hodan/Public Domain

An Australian study has cast doubt on the effectiveness of the tools used by medical professionals to assess suicide risk in mental health patients, prompting calls for a review of the allocation of resources based on the assessments.

The meta-analysis, led by clinical psychiatrist and Conjoint Professor Matthew Large from UNSW Australia’s School of Psychiatry, has been published in the PLOS ONE journal.

It found that  assessment tools were not successful in predicting suicide outcomes, with no evidence of scientific progress over the past 50 years, pointing to a need for a more patient-focused approach to crisis mental health care.

“It is widely assumed that the care of psychiatric patients can be guided by a mental health professional’s estimate of suicide risk and by using patient characteristics to define high-risk patients,” Dr Large said.

“However, the reliability of categorising suicide risk remains unknown.”

– University of New South Wales

Source: Study finds no method reliable in assessing suicide risk for mental health patients

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The Damage Done When People Insist ‘Boys Will Be Boys’

Posted on by Imogen

Society should absolutely demand more of boys – but we should also expect more for them, writes Clementine Ford. Photo: Stocksy

Another small American town has been rocked by revelations of sexual abuse at the hands of some of their most protected football stars this week, and local response is sadly much as we’ve come to expect. According to the Washington Post, the town of Dietrich, Idaho is “a community on edge” after charges were filed against three high school football players alleged to have sexually assaulted a fellow student.

While it’s not uncommon for residents to rally around young men with “promising futures” (remember Steubenville?), there is one key difference between this case and most of the ones we hear about – in Dietrich, the victim is a male teammate. He’s also an intellectually disabled black male in an overwhelmingly white town. Prior to the assault, he had been subjected to racist bullying. During the assault, the three defendants allegedly inserted and then kicked a coat-hanger into his rectum.

It’s hard to imagine a situation in which anyone could find this kind of behaviour defensible, but it’s incredible how flexible people can be when it comes to forgiving their heroes. Local resident Hubert Shaw was clear in his position to the Washington Post: “They’re 15, 16, 17 year old boys who are doing what boys do…I would guarantee that those boys had no criminal intent to do anything or any harm to anyone. Boys are boys and sometimes they get carried away.”

– 

Source: The Damage Done When People Insist ‘Boys Will Be Boys’

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Temptation Grows To Use Drugs To Stay Awake In The Workplace

Posted on by Imogen

Professor Ian Hickie heads the Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney. Photo: Steven Siewert

The US military’s drug of choice for helping people stay awake while working long hours is finding its way into the 24/7 workplace, researchers warn.

Billable hours and the pressure to perform is tempting workers to risk their own health to gain a competitive edge.

Leading psychiatrists and drug experts in the US and Australia warn that people are turning to a narcolepsy prescription drug Modafinil because it appears to result in fewer symptoms associated with other cognitive enhancing drugs. Close to 1.4 million scripts were filled last year in Australia for cognitive enhancing drugs including Modafinil and ADHD medications.

Professor of psychiatry Ian Hickie from the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre says amphetamine drugs have been increasingly used – and abused – in Australia. People working in law firms and the financial markets could afford to buy them and were often under pressure to stay awake for long hours.

“They have a big downside,” he said. “Generally, people can only do that for a short amount of time before their mood, behaviour and sleep-wake cycle becomes erratic. Modafinil keeps people awake with less chaotic effects.”

– 

Source: Temptation Grows To Use Drugs To Stay Awake In The Workplace

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Tony McCorkell Reveals Secrets Of The Wealthy Christian Sect Exclusive Brethren

Members of a wealthy Christian sect are accused of child sexual abuse. Now the man who helped with the cover-up is speaking out. Photo: Getty Images

The Royal Commission has examined everything from Sydney’s Knox Grammar School to the Jehovah’s Witnesses; Cardinal George Pell to Tennis NSW. But not the Exclusive Brethren, a wealthy Protestant sect of 40,000 worldwide (including 15,000 in Australia), led by Sydney-based Bruce Hales. Among the Brethren, public scrutiny is shunned just as surely as are radios, TVs, voting and other trappings of “worldly” society. So far this group has managed to fly under the radar. That is about to change.

TONY McCORKELL is an anomaly. Just like the girl and her abuser, and everyone else in the Brethren, he was born into the sect. But in 1985, on Tony’s sixth birthday, his father – from a prominent Queensland family within the insular community of the church – was kicked out. He was lucky enough to take his wife and children with him, but McCorkell grew up not knowing any of his extended family.

Then, in 2006, to the dismay of much of his family, McCorkell went back. The Brethren had come to public notoriety after it spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence the 2004 election in favour of conservative Christian PM John Howard. McCorkell, by then a public relations professional, was intrigued, and a little horrified. The virtually unknown sect that had dominated his own family’s life was now on the national stage, as Brethren members campaigned on the streets in Hobart against the gay-friendly Greens, and threatened journalists outside churches.

– Michael Bachelard

Source: Tony McCorkell reveals secrets of the wealthy Christian sect Exclusive Brethren

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How To Make Friends

Posted on by Shridevi

Wikihow

One way to be happier is to increase the quality of our friendships. Whether you are a sociable person or a loner, friendships are important. One of the easiest ways to remain engaged and interested at school, at work or in life is to enjoy the company of the people that we are with.

Let’s talk about how to build friendships (without turning into some sort of gushy, over the top, Ned Flanders type character).

Look people in the eye

Gaining brief eye contact with people communicates interest and trust. One simple way to do this is to mentally remind yourself to notice the colour of other people’s eyes as you say hello to them.

Smile and say hello

While the minimalist “hi” accompanied by a shrug may seem cool, it can also come across as disinterested and uncaring. Smile genuinely when you meet people and let them know you are glad to see them.

Call people by their name – a lot

Most people feel liked and reassured when someone calls them by their name. Try to use their name at least twice in a convers-ation, once when you meet them and once when you say goodbye.

Be where you are 

One of the easy ways to stand out as a good friend is to be with people when you are with them. This means rather than checking messages, or scrolling through social media or sending texts you actually stop, talk, look at and listen to the people you are with.

Feel lucky to know them 

One of the really simple ways to be a good friend to someone is to decide that you are lucky to know them.

Ask people what they think

One way of getting past the awkward stage in conversations is to ask people just what they have been doing but also what they think about something. Seeking their ideas and thoughts shows that you value them.

Get to know a lot of people 

Not everyone you meet will be a close friend. The more people you get to know even a little bit, the more likely you will be able to find friends. It can also be good in life to know some people as good acquaintances as well as having close friends.

Get to know people who are different

One of the ways to live an interesting life is to talk to people who are different than you. Getting to know people from different countries and backgrounds will enrich your life and stretch your ideas.

What young people want in a friend

I asked over 1,000 young people last year what looked for in a friend. They said:

  • humour
  • honesty
  • kindness and caring
  • trustworthy
  • non-judgemental
  • happiness

Say hello to people you don’t know 

All of your friends were strangers once.

Maybe it is time to start saying hello to some people you would like to be friends with but don’t know yet.

The best way to lose an enemy is to make them into a friend– Abraham Lincoln.

How to mend a friendship

All friendships go through some rough times. Generally people seem to know more about how to make friends than they do about how to mend a friendship. This means that if you are going to fix up a friendship you will have to do it- you can’t rely on other people knowing how to do it.

Nix it or Fix it 

The first thing to decide is whether to nix the friendship and leave it or fix it. Generally it is good to keep as many of your friendships as you can but there are always exceptions. Some friendships just wear out. Others are with people you thought you could be friends with but they end up wanting to control, tease, bully or intimidate you. Not everyone is designed to be your closest friend.

But! Before you just say, “why should I be the one to fix it?” think long and hard about what you want. Good friends aren’t easy to come by and shouldn’t be treated as expendable.

Forgive 

One of the easiest ways to be forgiving towards your friends is to stop and consider how often people may have had to forgive you in order to stay friends with you. We all make mistakes and we all do things that have unintentionally upset or hurt someone else. When you forgive someone, the person who benefits most is – you.

Apologise 

Making an apology can fix a friendship. If you feel you have hurt or upset someone even if you didn’t mean to do it, apologies. An apology starts with “I” and does not include the word “but”. Even if your apology doesn’t fix the friendship you will feel better.

Be true to yourself

Don’t let the meanness of others run your life. If you feel hurt or insulted by someone, you can either choose to act in mean ways towards that person or you can think about the sort of person you are and keep acting in the way you want to be. If you think you are a kind, caring, understanding, funny and trustworthy person keep being yourself.

When you need to change a friendship

If you have a friend who demands that you do everything that they say there may come a time when you want to change the relationship.

It is not a good idea to let other friends tell you who you can hang out with or what you should or shouldn’t do.

Standing up for yourself and doing the things that you think are important is part of being true to yourself. This may come as a shock to your friend who is used to you agreeing with everything they say. At first they may threaten to end the friendship.

Even if they do end the friendship, you may want to ask yourself was it really much of a friendship if it relied on one person doing exactly what the other person other said.

Bullying 

Finally don’t be a bully and don’t hang around with people think it is ok who bully others. Be kind to yourself by being friends with people who are prepared to see the best in other people- you’ll have a happier life.

– Andrew Fuller

Andrew’s most recent book is “Unlocking Your Child’s Genius” (Finch, 2015).

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Understanding Aggression And Violence: A Risk And Protection Approach

Posted on by Shridevi

Think Stock

Parents and professionals who work with children often face the issue of aggressive behaviour and how to manage it. There are many ways to think about how to address this issue, but one approach that is gaining interest involves looking for ways to reduce the number of influences that increase the likelihood of aggression (risk factors) and increase the number of influences that are protective (protective factors).

This is not a new idea. Medicine has long used a similar approach for problems like heart disease and diabetes by encouraging lifestyle factors that are protective (good diet and exercise) and discouraging known risk factors (such as obesity, smoking etc.).

There are a wide range of factors that are known to increase the risk of aggression. These include: being male, exposure to heat, noise and other unpleasant environments, low IQ, child abuse (sexual, physical or emotional abuse; neglect), poor parenting, insecure attachment, substance use, intoxication, poverty/low SES, coming from a broken home, anti-social peers, exposure to violent media and living in a violent home, neighbourhood or country.

Personality factors such as high impulsivity, trait anger, trait aggression, narcissism, psychopathy, anger-proneness, low self-control and low agreeableness are also linked with increased aggression as are a range of attitudes and beliefs (e.g. that the world is hostile, that aggression is a normal way of resolving conflict, that others can’t be trusted and that it is OK to hurt others when insulted).

‘Cues’ from the world around can also trigger aggressive thoughts, feelings and behaviours. These triggers for aggression include being provoked by another person, as well as images of (or actual) guns, weapons, fighting, war and threats.

Children are also at greater risk of aggression if they are quite aroused (‘pumped’).

Factors that reduce the likelihood of aggression (and are therefore ‘protective’) include being female, personality factors (such as empathy, agreeableness and kindness), secure attachment, parental monitoring of media consumption, warm, consistent and involved parenting, pro-social peers, attendance at religious services and regular meditation.

When working with aggressive children, one approach is to work out what risk and protective factors are present, and to work with the child and their family to change the balance so that there are less risks and more protective factors at work. Some ‘risk factors’ are very difficult to change, but there is plenty of scope for parents and professionals to work with other risks such as levels of arousal, violent media exposure, unpleasant environments, self-control, poor parenting and substance use. Similarly, some protections are more easily achieved than others, but a range of strategies including meditation, less exposure to aggression triggers and better media monitoring can be managed in most families.

– Dr Wayne Warburton

Those with an interest in aggressive children should consider attending the upcoming World Meeting of the International Society for Research on Aggression, July 19-23 in Sydney. This conference attracts the world’s leading researchers in all areas of aggressive behaviour and Friday the 22nd is set aside for talks on family violence. The conference attracts 30 CPD hours (see APS listing) and has a great social program. More information can be found at the ISRA 2016 website.

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