A few weeks earlier, the Princes Trust painted a similar picture in their Macquarie Youth Index, saying that more than 75% of a million young people believe they have nothing to live for.
The campaign calls for improved access to mental health services for children and young people and improved preventative work such as emotional health classes in schools.
Here are 10 things you can do as a parent at home to support your child's mental health and emotional wellbeing.
1. Get out in nature regularly
A growing body of national and international research links childhood contact with nature to a range of health and well-being benefits, such as reduced stress levels, reduced depression, increased confidence and self-esteem, reduced risks of obesity and myopia, improved academic performance, a reduction in the symptoms of ADHD and a stronger sense of concern and care for the environment in later life.
2. Exercise regularly
Exercise has also been scientifically proven to be effective in preventing and treating depression and to positively contribute not only to our physical but also our mental and emotional wellbeing.
3. Develop your child’s questioning and critical thinking skills
Children are constantly trying to make sense of the world they grow up in, which is why they are full of questions. Encourage and nurture this inquisitive nature and their critical thinking. Life is complex, so try not to provide easy answers. Instead help your children find answers for themselves, teach them about how to research on the internet, which sources of information to trust, which not to trust and why, how to analyse and evaluate information and how to fully explore a question and all its possible answers. Teaching your child to question, think critically and to not just swallow every piece of information that is presented to them will make them more resilient in the face of incessant advertising and other media messages that may influence them.
4. Develop your child’s confidence and communication skills
Does your child sometimes talk back? Can he/she be opinionated and obstinate? Good! Having the confidence to speak out and being able to formulate their own opinions will prevent them from giving in to peer pressure and being manipulated by media messages. You cannot expect children to stand up for themselves and their opinions in the outside world if you are not encouraging this behaviour at home. Teach them how to argue in a way that is respectful and doesn’t devalue different individual opinions. Do challenge your child’s opinions but also invite them to challenge yours.
5. Distinguish between your child and their behaviour
There is a big difference between saying “You are a naughty/lazy/silly…child.” and “That was a naughty/lazy/silly…thing to do.” Make sure you judge the behaviour and not the child. We are not what we do because what we do is subject to change and the choices we make. Telling someone in a sweeping comment that they are naughty/lazy/silly turns it into a label that may stick and could become difficult to remove later on.
6. Value your children for who they are, not what they achieve
Yes, we want our children to do well and achieve. However, if we don’t ensure that they know that they are already worthy and loveable and don’t have to 'earn' their worthiness, they are more likely to think they are a failure if they don’t get good grades. Don’t just praise and reward your child when they achieve in a test or competition; also praise and reward positive choices such as being kind, generous, brave, etc. Most importantly, tell your children that you love them - for no other reason than because they exist.
7. Learn and practice mindfulness/meditation
Research on mindfulness and meditation programmes in schools in the US evidences that practising mindfulness and meditation can reduce stress levels and aggression as well as relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression in children and teenagers. It’s a practice that can benefit both you and your children. There are many books, CDs and courses for adults out there and also some for children. Experiment and shop around to find what works best for you and your kids.
8. Be mindful of your speech
As a parent, everything you say is sending a message to your children. For example, if you discuss your own body insecurities in front of your children, it is more than likely that they will develop them too.
9. Make time, listen and be present
Make time to just be with your children. Be present when spending time with your children. Shut down the computer, turn off the TV, and put away your phone. Nothing improves their confidence and self-esteem more than you giving them your full attention. Actively listen to what they say, feed back what you understand and check to make sure you understood correctly. Encourage reflection by asking what went well that day and what didn’t or ask how they feel and what they think about. Help them explore and articulate their thoughts and feelings as well as their underlying needs.
10. Be vulnerable
You are your children’s number one role model. This is a lot of pressure and may tempt you to try and present yourself only from your best side and as perfect as possible. Don’t! You are not doing yourself or your children any favours because it’s neither realistic nor achievable. Instead be vulnerable and let your children see the real you. By honestly and openly sharing your thoughts and feelings and especially some of your own struggles and how you deal with them, your children will understand that it’s normal to struggle sometimes and learn from your coping strategies. They will also be more likely to come to you and ask for help when they are struggling because sharing our vulnerability is what creates trust and connection.
I hope you find these suggestions useful and that they don't make you feel like it's something else to add to your ever-growing To-Do list. Maybe just pick one or two to try and don’t beat yourself up when you don’t manage to do what you set out to do. If I had to pick just one thing, I’d take number 9: make time, listen and be present. In these busy times we live in, your time, attention and full presence are the most precious gifts you can give to your children.