We have recently had the UK focus on Children’s Mental Health Week, University Mental Health Day and Stress Awareness Month. Children’s Mental Health Week was a cause well publicised through frightening reports, celebrity endorsements and news of people, such as the Duchess of Cambridge, taking action to champion the cause.
One particular piece of research came to my attention. It said that more than half of children and young people surveyed said that they worry “all the time” about at least one thing to do with their school life, home life or themselves. It went on to say that those getting less sleep than the recommended 9 hours on a school night, struggle to cope with their anxiety, saying they often don’t know what to do when they’re worried and once they start worrying, they cannot stop.
Our bodies and minds are very closely linked, so things that children can do to improve their physical wellbeing, such as getting enough sleep and leaving phones outside of the bedroom, can help their mental wellbeing as well. By also encouraging our children to worry less about what their friends think, instead focusing more on what makes them feel good, parents can help their children to better navigate the traditionally tricky teen years, which have been made all the more difficult recently by the explosion of social media.
Another piece of research by the UK media regulator Ofcom, revealed some alarming statistics around the extent of social media bullying, with 40% of parents of 5 – 15 year olds who go online, claiming to be concerned about cyberbullying.
I was interested to read about a new online platform called The Collate Loop, who are tackling these issues by harnessing the positive aspects of the digital world in a ‘safe space’, which allows school age children to be taught social media etiquette in schools. Students (as well as parents, teachers, school leaders and governors) can communicate online in open, closed or private groups, each monitored by an approved administrator within the school. They are then able to flag any potential issues, such as trolling, safeguarding concerns or inappropriate use of the platform through the correct channels. It’s a great idea, although I can’t help feeling sad that there is a need for something like this at all. But such is the way the world is turning.
In my own very small way, I have been trying to make a difference to the lives of teenagers – somewhat unexpectedly. When I wrote my book Happiness: The Inside Job, I wrote it primarily with adults in mind. But it has been a real joy over the last year to get feedback from so many teenagers on how much the book has helped them.
You can see some of the video testimonials on my website here.
It seems that young people, just like us adults, have so many external forces in their life that are adding pressure: exams, relationships, extra-curricular activities and of course, social media. Teenagers need to take charge of their ‘happiness barometer’ just as much adults; and when they do, they too will notice that their life improves dramatically. They will realise that they have the power to change how they are feeling by learning to feel good in themselves first. It is only from this good feeling place that true happiness can be found, and the sooner in life they start to feel good the better their life will be, so how to be happy is arguably the most critical thing which we can teach our children.