We now see and hear the headlines almost daily about the staggering and worrying rise in Children’s Mental Health and each one saddens and disappointments me, I wonder where our society is heading in the future?

It saddens me because such young lives are being affected unnecessarily, and disappointment because the cause is often disproportionate and surface level? The real cause is not being addressed sufficiently, preventing resourceful and effective solutions.

Or better still, young people accessing, learning and developing the skills, strategies and tools essential to managing the complexities of growing up today.

I know this from personal experience after coaching thousands of children and teens across the world.

Over the years, I’ve witnessed a significant rise in young people who struggle with body confidence, self-belief, anxiety and bullying issues. They wonder where they fit in to life today? These “problems” are typical of growing up ~ I experienced all of these and more well into my young adult-hood. But the complexity and pervasiveness of life is what separates today from yesterday.

The Children & Young People’s Mental Health Coalition (which we are members), regularly reports about the state of Children’s Mental Health with worrying statistics. In December 2017, NHS Digital reported one in ten teenage girls were being referred for specialist mental health treatment, struggling with mental and emotional well-being issues.

According to many reports, CAMHS (Children Adolescent Mental Health Service) is at breaking point, in fact, many parents who contact me have registered their child or teen but with an average wait time of 3 months in some areas, then what happens to that poor child? They are forced to wait, feel/get worse, with the potential for the issue to become patternised, engrained, conditioned and the probability of lasting mind-based issues they carry into their future.

New figures obtained from NHS Trusts in England confirm from a total of 652,023 cases referred to CAMHS, 109,613 children were turned away – equivalent to an average of 150 a day. Record numbers of children contacted Childline about suicidal feelings in 2016/17, it was revealed by Childline’s ‘Not Alone Anymore’ annual review. Mental and emotional health is now the most common reason for a child to contact Childline, with the service carrying out 63,622 counselling sessions in 2016/17.

I don’t blame CAMHS

I know many professionals working in the services who do such a fantastic job. Like many organisations they are the symptom of the bigger problem, experiencing sheer overwhelm by over demand.

So, let’s step back for a moment.

What’s the REAL cause and is anything really to blame or is it just a combination of modern failings in Society that need fixing?

It’s true there are many fingers pointing towards Social Media and Online influence, but I’m not convinced this is entirely to blame. I certainly agree it has highlighted certain areas that need addressing and there’s no two ways about it many young people nowadays could be described as “Digitally Addicted”.

However, let’s turn the spotlight on School pressures and homework for a moment, this is another indicator of where else mental and emotional issues could be generated for young people. Schools are increasingly focused on academic performance, results, attendance levels and Ofsted ratings. Which is OK, but at what cost?

We need to re-think the definition of a ‘good or outstanding School’.

One that nurtures, cares and recognises the need for a pupil to be their best in anything they put their mind too. They must have a balance of study, activity, rest and creativity. Our mind and bodies naturally need this to thrive. Recent reports have revealed many Schools (due to funding cuts apparently) have stopped lessons like Drama, Art, and other creativity inducing classes and replaced with… more academic type lessons like Maths, Science, etc. You’ve no doubt heard of left brain (hemisphere), right brain activity. Both require stimulus.

Here’s the irony in this, many of those very same Schools begin offering weekly 30 minute ‘Mindfulness’ or ‘Emotional Well-being’ type sessions, like that’s somehow the solution! It’s a sticky plaster.

And what about homework? A parent recently shared her 6-year old’s homework that quite frankly even had many parents stumped at the answer. And how many parents have the weekly struggles with their children going through the proverbial homework mountain, causing stress, pressure, anxiety with the emphasis on getting it done in ridiculously short timeframes rather than engaging, motivating and inspiring young people to be creative, give things a go, make a concerted effort even if the answer is not correct.

Life is so much more than 2 boxes marked right or wrong, pass or fail.

So why are we setting up young people from as young as 6 with homework that often create deep barriers, study resistance, and a feeling of overwhelm, pressure and failure (and from a very early age, remember homework at 6 years old!) to only think in this way. Diminishing, crushing self-belief and making them wish they were someone else.

Not a good start in life for an aspirational and happy future is it?

What a tragedy it would be if our country were to become like countries such as China and Thailand, where there is huge pressure on young people to academically achieve, and some sadly see the only way out is to take their own life.

Just as everything evolves, so should the understanding of how we as humans learn and process information, certainly now in the 21st century. A few years back, a study carried out in Canada (featured in The Telegraph 15th May 2015) about human attention showed the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds to just 8 seconds. Interestingly, coinciding with the start of the mobile revolution.

Let’s not beat about the bush…

Young people are growing up in a world of distraction, confusion, brain-dump, info-overload, overwhelm, and cognitive downgrading.

Yet they’re still made to sit in classrooms where information is churned out in Robot fashion with the expectation to remember and recall all the growing number of tests and exams! Most of which, so the Schools can improve “stats”, and gloat at ‘their’ academic achievements.

The question is, are we really equipping/preparing our young people for the world of work they’ll ‘actually’ experience? It’s crazy, to think some jobs and industries this generation and beyond will be part of, haven’t even been created yet.

Further evidence of how times have changed, a recent survey reveals the top career choice for young people is a “YouTube vlogger” – ahead of the typical pop star, actor and other ‘famous roles’!

This was a survey of young people aged 6-17 and revealed their desire for careers that will give them creativity, fame, and self-expression, in fact money was down at number 4 on the list.

Whilst elements of Social Media play their part in the rise of children and teen’s anxiety and mental health issues (with increasing reports about how Facebook, Instagram, etc are controlling and manipulating all our minds). There isn’t just one villain at work here.

We need to stop falling back on the reactive and ineffective ‘sticky plaster’ syndrome. One of the many great quotes of Einstein … ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result’!

Schools need to re-think their remit and understand where children are heading in an evolutionary sense and be out in front of their psychology.

We all must think differently to help young people increase their digital IQ, to be responsible, safe and accountable for their behaviour and online activity. Providing practical psychology of how life works in the real world. Staying safe online with strategies, tools and resources to protect them, but also to embrace technology now and in the future whatever the digital winds of change bring.

Author: Annette Du Bois

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