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Screen-time making life miserable

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Young people urged to take time to switch off

ELISA VORSTER
[email protected]

Wairarapa teens and pre-teens are being urged to ditch their devices for the sake of their mental health.

Principals around the region are speaking out on the effect social media and technology is having on their students’ mental health, forcing under-resourced teachers to cope with issues outside their area of expertise.

Principal of Ponatahi Christian School Peter Bertram, said mental health issues had exploded since the advent of social media and cellphones.

“Although mental health issues predate cell phones and social media, almost every case I have had to deal with has had something to do with cellphones, social media, and/or the perception of one’s self-image.”

He said teachers were not trained to deal with these issues and they were expected to have a “magic wand” to solve the problem.

Deputy principal of Masterton Intermediate School Cushla Jones, said there was research showing the negative effects of social media on children but at this stage data was limited.

“We don’t have any data to show the train wreck we’re heading for,” she said.

The Lowdown website, which aims to help young New Zealanders understand depression or anxiety, says cyber bullying creates a type of fear which builds up to anxiety and sometimes depression resulting from negative feelings.

It defines cyber bullying as anything from anonymous abuse, embarrassing videos, private photos and hacking accounts.

Principal of Masterton Intermediate School Russell Thompson, said because of access to technology, there’s more bullying online than what plays out at school.

Jones said children are given cell phones and internet access but how they’re using them isn’t monitored closely enough.

“We’re dealing with issues in kids that didn’t present themselves before technology was around until college age.

“We don’t have any data to show the train wreck we’re heading for.”

Results from a survey of almost 1500 people aged from 14 to 24 by the Royal Society for Public Health in the United Kingdom released last year asked respondents to rate five forms of social media on 14 different criteria of health, including anxiety, depression, loneliness and self-identity.

Instagram got the most negative score, particularly on feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness, although respondents noted upsides including self-expression.

The report describes social media as being so entrenched in the lives of young people that it is no longer possible to ignore when talking about young people’s mental health issues.

Greytown School principal Patrice O’Connor, said the school spends a lot of time educating its students on how to stay safe online.

“Once they send something to a friend, they have no control over what their friends do with the information so they can get anxious if they’ve sent something they shouldn’t have.”

O’Connor encourages parents to take devices off children at 7pm to give them much needed time to be shut off from the world.

She said it can also give them a “reflective period” which can minimise any chance of online bullying.

“Devices make children more available so if they fall out with a friend they no longer have that time to process and cool down.”

Where to go for help

These 24/7 free phones are operated by trained counsellors who can help you talk through problems and identify ways of coping.
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 54 (0800 KIDSLINE) supporting under 18 year olds
• Youthline: 0800 376 633, free text 234
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (supports 5-18 year olds, 1pm-11pm)

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