Love in a Lutheran Primary School (Educational Article)

Updated: Jan 6

“…nothing communicates loving more powerfully than noticing.” (Fazal, Page 181)

“Being Jesus means noticing people just as Jesus noticed the woman who touched the hem of his garment to be healed. While that may not sound like a big deal, it is. Colossians 1:15 beautifully illustrates this complex mystery.” (p 184)


· The art of noticing people is an acquired skill.

· When we notice people, we make assumptions about them. We need to check those assumptions because they may be totally wrong.

· There are people in our life arena who appear to live their life on mute. How do I feel about that? What is happening in the life of a child who is continually flying under the radar?

· Jesus stopped and noticed people and when he did that he did it for us too. He did it to show us that we are called to live like him, to stop and create divine (Kairos/opportune) moments. Jesus did it to heal people both spiritually and physically. To slow down long enough to anticipate those moments in our time we need to STOP, NOTICE, TOUCH, SPEAK.


Fazal states, “It’s time we started acting and believing as if the Spirit of God lives in us, because he does. He has the words of life, and if we’ll let him, he can use us to give that life to others” (Fazal, p 189). He tells us to, “Own being Jesus”.


John Burke (2015, p248), in his discussion of ‘Relational Matters’ gives the encouragement that we are called to live for what really matters. The world tells us money matters, power matters, prestige matters and if we have those things we will be happy and successful. However, in striving for those things, and proving worthiness in front of family and others and worthy of their love and respect through those accomplishments, we could actually lose the love we seek and sacrifice the relationship we desire. When the relationships disintegrate, the things which we thought mattered are seen as dispensable; prestige, money, houses, cars etc. have no value when we have no one with which to share them. “The one who wins in life is not the one who has the most toys, but the one who has the best relationships” (Leadership Bible, Zondervan p420). Jesus said, “use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9).


“Everybody wants to change the world; nobody wants to love their neighbour! Yet all God needs us to do to change the world is to love God so we can love our neighbour as much as ourselves” (Burke, p 248). People do many great and wonderful things in the world’s eyes and even for charity and in Church groups, which is good. “But if we fail to love our families, our neighbours, our co-workers, and those in need whom God puts in our path, we’ve failed in the primary task God’s given us” (Burke p 248). Jesus made a point of showing that it’s the little unseen things that matter – giving a drink to a thirsty person, helping up a person who has fallen, giving food to someone in need, giving words of encouragement, taking time to listen and to visit with a lonely person or the sick (Matthew 25). Doing such things changes people and allows God’s love to touch them.


At the end of last year when the Leadership Team settled on the theme of LOVE for our school in 2017, having had the themes SHINE and GROW, many questions, thoughts and challenges began bouncing around in my head. How would we unpack such a huge theme in a concrete and meaningful way? At the same time this was happening, other concepts were impacting on my thinking and challenging me; suicide, depression and mental illness in Australia and New Zealand (statistics were released through the Ipswich Suicide Prevention & Awareness Network of which I am a member), resilience (Appendix A), lack of hope and a negative view of the world’s future by the media in relation to climate control, sustainability and fear for personal safety in a violent society. You may recall the terrorist events of 2016 in Brussels, Orlando, and Nice that made the biggest headlines around the globe. There were over 100 more terrorist attacks in 2016.


At the same time, as we are striving to be innovative and creative in teaching and learning and have so much knowledge, information, access to data and evidence at our fingertips, why are these issues seemingly becoming more prevalent in my thinking? Then I heard a comment that really resonated with me; Challies (2011 p77) tells us that, “Studies now show that many young people are actually losing their ability to relate to one another in an offline context. … Now, real-world communication feels threatening, less natural, less normal than typing a text message.” Challies says that our ability to communicate is now the dominant paradigm through which we live our lives and most of it is done on social media (Challies, p 74). While, we can communicate with anyone, anytime, from anywhere we can also do it from a position of invisibility with a sense of being beyond accountability. People are more likely to be less restrained in their speech than they would be in a face-to-face encounter. The use of social media also provides freedom to explore all the internet and associated applications in any given area with a sense of anonymity, which can have moral implications in society.


Building relationships and enhancing a sense of community comes from getting to know each other. As we relate to each other through word and action we share what is in our heart. Whether we speak the words, type or text them, Skype or use Twitter, the words are an expression of our values and beliefs; an expression of what is in our heart. Words are powerful. Challies (p79) reminds us that it was words that brought the universe into being. “Words accomplish; words carry weight; words have meaning; words lift up and words beat down. They bring life and they bring death” (p79”).

As teachers, we do so much communication. We do it face-to-face with students, parents and colleagues. We use Social Media – emails, blogs, a wide range of Applications, we record speech on iPads, we use Skype, Class Dojo, written notes and our mobile is always with us. Challies provides a useful guide for us to use and share with others on Christian communication, which I have included below. These values and practices in using all forms of communication are helpful in assisting us to show love in our communication and to share God’s love through all that we share with others.


Christian Communication

In the introduction, I (Challies) referred to the three circles of experience, theory, and theology and promised that we would seek to find ways to live in the sweet spot between them. Now that we have learned about the new challenges of communication in a digital world, let's see how we can communicate well. Let's see how each of us can hold theology, theory, and experience together, regarding them as essential components of Christian communication in a digital world.


Each of us has a lot of experience with digital communications. Every time we send an e-mail, read a blog, talk on a cell phone, or watch a DVD, we are sending or receiving some kind of communication. Experience shows us how much we love to do this, how much this kind of communication has become an integral component of our culture. We assume that our friends are on Facebook, that they have an e-mail address, that they carry a cell phone with them at all times. The few who do not are the exception to the rule. Experience is also showing that there are new realities to grapple with-the difficulty of communicating well all the time, the ease with which we can misuse these great gifts.


Our theory of technology tells us that there are always unexpected consequences to our use of it, that with all of the benefits come inevitable drawbacks. And we know that we must be diligent in seeing the drawbacks that tend to be hidden from our view.


Our theology of technology tells us that while our new devices do not have any innate morality - they are neither good nor evil - they inhabit a sinful world and will draw our hearts away from God more easily than toward him. We know that though our devices are not sinful, we may well use them in sinful ways. In all the ways we communicate today, we may use our technologies to destroy relationship instead of foster it, to tear down instead of buildup. If we are to use them well, we must use them deliberately, thoughtfully, and in a distinctly Christian way. On the other hand, if we live outside the sweet spot, we may be unaware of the power of our words. We may neglect to speak truth or to make love central in all we speak and write.


Through the Bible God calls us to speak truth in love. Truth and love are the twin pillars that should uphold all of our communication. And in this age of pervasive communication they are as important as ever. How can we ensure in practical ways that we are speaking truth in love? Some small measures can do wonders.


Be visible. If anonymity can be an enemy and a refuge, then visibility can work to keep us from slipping into sinful patterns of living and communicating. Simply by removing the anonymity of the web we can guard our hearts. When you find yourself pursuing anonymity, question your heart. You may well find that you are doing so for the worst of motives. Live a visible life, even as you use gadgets and technologies that almost beg to be kept private. Remember, "The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good" (Proverbs 15:3), and, "Nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light" (Luke 8:17).


Be accountable. Do not live your online life apart from accountability and oversight. Let friends or family know what you are doing online; invite them into your digital world. Have someone keep up with your blog or check in on your Facebook status. This will go a long way to ensuring that you think twice before hitting the Post button, and it will give him free rein to approach you with words of warning or caution or rebuke when necessary.


Be real. Don't fabricate for yourself an identity online that is vastly different from your real-world identity. There is so much temptation to be someone you are not when you are online, but this can prove to be just the start of a drift into an increasingly fantastical presentation of yourself. Be the person that God has made you to be, even in the online world. And as you commit to being yourself, focus on quality communication, being willing to say less in order to say more.


Be mature. To sum it up, you will need to act like a mature Christian. Paul draws a clear connection between maturity and the ability to speak truth in love. While maturity is not easy, and it requires labor, there is no great trick to it. We simply commit ourselves to those things that God tells us to do, while turning away from those things he tells us to avoid. We join in community with other Christians where we can live our lives visibly before them, eager and thankful for their guidance and, if necessary, their rebuke. We commit to studying Scripture and communing with God in prayer. We use the gifts God has given us to serve one another. And we relentlessly pursue the truth, learning what is true and how to integrate that truth into our lives.


Be visible; be accountable; be real; be mature. And always distrust yourself. It may sound harsh, but be willing to doubt your motives, your heart. Take a moment to pray before answering an antagonistic e-mail; bounce your ideas and articles off trusted friends before posting them; be slow to speak (or type) and quick to listen.


QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

1.How much of your digital life is lived visibly, before the eyes of a friend, a spouse, a parent, a pastor? Do you find that you tend toward visibility or anonymity?

2.What kinds of boundaries or limits have you placed on your communication? Have you found it challenging to communicate only at certain times or in certain places or contexts? Or are you in near-constant communication through your devices? It may be interesting to ask your spouse, your parents, or your friends what they think about your habits.

3.Today we communicate more often than ever before, but in such a way that much of our communication is low in quality and low in content. How have you found this to be true in your life? In what situations is it especially tempting for you to replace quality with quantity?

4. What are some contexts in which you may need to communicate less in order to communicate better? What are some ways you communicate that seem to prohibit significant, meaningful conversation?

5. Amid all of the communication we are doing today, what are some ways we can intentionally use words in ways that really matter?


I now turn back to the other concerns which are not unrelated to building and showing LOVE in our school. Why do young people struggle to have hope and resilience in the face of life’s challenges? As I began to explore this question, I came across the popular notion in child raising practice of entitlement. The idea of entitlement became popular in the 1990s and is still with us today. The ideas related to entitlement have been promoted through television and the social policies of governments with the intention of caring for all in need. However, it has evolved further providing Australians with one of the largest welfare systems in the world. Despite the help given to people through welfare we still have homeless people, poverty and a high and growing suicide rate in Australia.

Unfortunately, when we give our children everything without them earning it and teach them by our actions that they are entitled to all the good things available in life, we take away their resilience in the face of challenges. Society actually doesn’t function on entitlement. Society is ruled by the LAW and practices SOCIAL JUSTICE.


Even in God’s Kingdom, there is no entitlement because JUSTICE has been satisfied by Jesus suffering and dying in our place in order that we receive God’s forgiveness as a free gift. Jesus purchased our life with his blood and through his resurrection has claimed us as his saints for eternity. Entitlement is seeded by the evil one to deceive even the faithful; he comes to lie, steal and destroy the life God wants to give us through Jesus.


Let’s compare our position in life under the way our society operates in the workplace and the way God’s Kingdom operates through the Gospel of Jesus.

1. WORLD RULED BY LAW AND SOCIAL JUSTICE


2. GOD’S KINGDOM RULED BY JESUS

1. Condemned by the application of the Law

2. No condemnation because God gave his only son in our place to fulfil the Law

1. Justice must be served

2. God has fulfilled all his Law for us

1. Effort is not enough

2. God looks at the heart of the believer

1. The requirement criteria must be fully achieved

2. The criteria has been met in Christ

1. There is no equality and ability is judged only on achievement

2. God loves each person fully

1. The best person for the job is the only winner

2. God sees each person as a winner in Christ through faith

1. No prize for coming last or even for competing

2. The prize is unconditional and is a free gift for all who accept it


When we teach our children that they are entitled to receive the rewards that society has to offer when they have not earnt them, we set them up for a life of failure, despair and mental illness. It is not fair to tell children that they can be anything they want to be if they do not have the skills and ability to reach the standards needed to achieve their goal. Children always need to be encouraged and assisted to reach goals and keep on learning, but they also need to learn how to fail and pick themselves up and move on again. When they learnt to walk, they fell down, then got up again and strengthened their muscles, learnt about balance until after weeks or a few months mastered how to walk. That same effort needs to go into their development throughout life. When we help our children to fail and try again, we are showing true love; that is not the case when we reward them for a poor effort or no effort at all. As we move through such learning processes we do so by giving encouragement, showing enthusiasm as attempts are made; we hold their hands, we walk with them having their feet on ours so that they get the idea of what to do and we expect them to achieve their goal.


Love is speaking the truth in a helpful and kind way; it’s helping them learn what is required and acceptable; it is doing that over and over until they understand and can achieve the task they need to master. Use teachable moments – speak in love – in this way you will help children to grow to maturity and be able to achieve independence and find their way in our world which works by rules.


LOVE IN THE CLASSROOM – what will your list of practices look like? Add to the list as many items as you can.

· Always speak respectfully to all students

· No nick names – use their real name

· Always say hello when you first see them – this lets them know you love them

· Take time to talk to all children

· Notice the quiet ones and make sure you talk to them too

· Notice their facial expressions and emotions

· Be aware of their needs

· Answer their questions and check they understand

A great privilege and responsibility comes not just with teaching, but with using communication in teaching and teaming with parents and colleagues. Wherever possible, we need to do face-to-face communication. In this mode we have our fullest opportunity for giving and receiving feedback using all of our senses and gaining a holistic message. It is also in this mode that we build the strongest relationship bonds as we are present in the fullest sense of being with another person. Just as we are purposeful in the strategies we chose to use in teaching various topics in the classroom, we also need to choose wisely which form of communication to use in each situation. Which form is appropriate for a quick reminder, which one allows instant feedback and response, which one is useful for sharing an illustration or a photograph, and through which one can I best share the love and care with this person as God would want me to do?


As we use media we need to discipline ourselves not just in in what and how much we word the message, but in using the most appropriate media to say it. When sending out letters to parents, official class notices about excursions, school procedures addressed to all the class and letters which are addressing parental concerns, they need to be approved by the Principal or the Deputy Principal. The Administration needs to know what has gone out to give you support and to be able to answer any questions which come to them. As children do with Mum and Dad, they sometimes ask both to see if they can get the answer from the other which they desire. No matter what you send out it is always wise to have someone proof read it for you to pick up unintentional errors which alter the message or give an impression that you do not wish to convey. Always keep a copy on file of all communications that you receive from parents and your written responses to them. It is wise too to have a note in your daily program about touching base and the communication made verbally as it helps us to show we care by remembering when we communicated with the parent last and that we heard and understood their message, and have been supporting them with their child.


If we see communication with parents as an opportunity to care for the people Jesus loves and to build good relationships rather than see them as potentially difficult issues, more work to do in an already overcrowded week, or as an unwanted and perhaps unnecessary interruption, we will handle our communication much better.


God be with you this year as you use communication, in all its varied forms, to enhance all the wonderful opportunities that you have to serve your Heavenly Father and build up our school community and the body of Christ within it. Remember even a short sentence, a smile, a simple text message may go with the child, the parent, a colleague into eternity and be treasured forever.

Go in love and peace and serve our Lord in all you do. Amen.


In all things God works for the good of those who love Him,

who have been called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28


Staff Inservice Presentation 2017

Neil P. Schiller, J.P (QUAL), Dip T, Grad Dip Th Ed, B Ed Admin, MEd, MACEL

Principal

Bethany Lutheran Primary School

Raceview

REFERENCES

Burke, John Imagine Heaven, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2015

Challies, Tim THE NEXT STORY - Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2011.

Chapman, Gary & Pellicane, Arlene Growing up Social – raising relational kids in a screen – driven world, Northfield Publishing, Chicago, 2014

Costello, Tim Faith – Embracing life in all its uncertainty, Hardie Grant Books, Melbourne, 2016

Fazal, Naeem Ex- Muslim HOW ONE DARING PRAYER TO JESUS CHANGED A LIFE FOREVER, Nelson Books, 2014.


Appendix A

Put simply, resiliency refers to the capacity of human beings to survive and thrive in the face of adversity. It is a term that can be applied to people of any age. However, in the context of this website it refers to the capacity that some children have to overcome difficult circumstances and go on to lead healthy, successful lives.


Here are some definitions of resiliency, as it has been defined by researchers in the field:

· 'Remaining competent despite exposure to misfortune or stressful events'

· 'A capacity which allows a person ... to prevent, minimize or overcome the damaging effects of adversity'

· 'The capacity some children have to adapt successfully despite exposure to severe stressors'

· 'The human capacity to face, overcome, and even be strengthened by the adversities of life'

· 'The process of, capacity for, or outcome of successful adaptation despite challenging or threatening circumstances'


Why is it important?

Mental health problems among young people are an increasing problem in Australia and world-wide. The World Health Organisation has predicted that depression will be the number one health issue in the world in 2020. In Australia, it has been estimated that 20% of young people suffer from some form of mental disorder, with depression one of the most common problems. Not only is depression the leading cause of youth suicide, but it is frequently a recurring disorder, which has social and economic costs that continue for years.


Resiliency research helps us to understand the factors that help children develop into mentally healthy adults, despite growing up in disadvantaged circumstances. Understanding these factors is of great importance if it means we can learn to help children in adverse circumstances to overcome the odds and grow up to become healthy and productive citizens.

Although the impetus for resiliency research originally came from research into 'at risk' populations, what has ultimately emerged from this research is a picture of the building blocks of mental health that is relevant to everyone. Although we may choose to target resiliency-oriented programs at those populations which are most in need of intervention, all children have the same needs for care, competence, self-esteem, autonomy, and the other components of resiliency. Therefore, the information on this website is important for everyone who deals with children, including parents, teachers, childcare workers and social services workers who deal with children.


Components of resiliency

Broadly speaking, resiliency can be broken down into the following components (click a heading to expand):

· Cognitive and behavioural factors

· Social and contextual factors

· Organic/genetic factors


The resilient child

A great deal of research effort has gone into distinguishing the characteristics of resilient children from their non-resilient peers. These findings consistently show that resilient children tend to display the following attributes:


Social competence

Resilient children tend to be responsive, socially adept, capable of initiating and sustaining close relationships with adults and peers, and able to show appropriate empathy. They have good communication and conflict resolution skills, and possess a healthy sense of humour. (See Social skills.)


Problem-solving skills

The resilient child is typically able to think creatively and flexibly about problems, to make plans and take action on them. They are able to ask adults for help when needed, and show resourcefulness in dealing with problems. (See Problem solving.)


Autonomy

Resilient children show a healthy degree of independence, are able to think and act autonomously from adults, and are able to reflect critically on their environment. They have a well-developed sense of their own identity and believe in their own ability to effect changes in their environment. (See Encouraging autonomy.)


Optimism

Optimism encompasses the sense of having a bright future, a tendency to see challenging situations in positive terms, and a belief in one's ability to deal with whatever life brings. (See Optimism.)

(Benard, 1995)


Three sources of resiliency

Edith Grotberg of the The International Resilience Project defines resiliency in terms of three sources, which she labels I HAVE (social and interpersonal supports), I AM (inner strengths) and I CAN (interpersonal and problem solving skills).


I HAVE

· People around me I trust and who love me no matter what

· People who set limits for me so I know when to stop before there is danger or trouble

· People who show me how to do things right by the way they do things

· People who want me to learn to do things on my own

· People who help me when I am sick, in danger or need to learn


I AM

· A person people can like and love

· Glad to do nice things for others and show my concern

· Respectful of myself and others

· Willing to be responsible for what I do

· Sure things will be all right


I CAN

· Talk to others about things that frighten or bother me

· Find ways to solve problems I face

· Control myself when I feel like doing something not right or dangerous

· Figure out when it is a good time to talk to someone or to take action

· Find someone to help me when I need it


(Reproduced from Grotberg, E. (1995))

According to Grotberg, for a child to be resilient, he or she needs to have more than one of these strengths. For example, if a child has plenty of self-esteem (I AM), but lacks anyone whom they can turn to for support (I HAVE), and does not have the capacity solve problems (I CAN), they will not be resilient. This finding is in line with other research showing that resiliency is the product of a number of mutually enhancing protective factors. It is not a personality attribute, but the result of many factors which combine to buffer a child against the potentially harmful effects of adversity.


Resiliency as a process

Resiliency is not an attribute of an individual, as this would imply a fixed and unchanging invulnerability that some have and some do not. Rather, it is a complex process involving both internal cognitive and personality factors and the functioning of external protective factors, such as caring adults. Therefore, rather than labelling any child as 'resilient' or 'not resilient', it is better to think in terms of children who are manifesting resilient behaviours and those who are not. Also, just because a child is showing resiliency today does not mean that he or she will continue to show it tomorrow or next year. The skills that help a child to be resilient at the age of nine may not be adequate for the demands of adolescence. Resiliency is a process that unfolds within the context of development and many other temporal and contextual factors.


Resiliency is also a normal, understandable process. It arises from normal, human adaptational systems such as the ability to rationally solve problems, the capacity to regulate emotion, and the ability to form close, supportive ties with others. It is only when these systems are damaged or overwhelmed that natural human resiliency fails.


Longitudinal studies of resiliency

A number of longitudinal studies have documented the phenomenon of resiliency over time. The following are some examples:

· A longitudinal study of children born into poverty-stricken families on the island of Kauai in Hawaii found that even some of the children who were troubled during adolescence were able to achieve good outcomes in their lives later by making wise choices in such areas as work and relationships (Werner & Smith, 2001).

· A study of children who had experienced severe deprivation in Romanian orphanages prior to being adopted into caring families in the United Kingdom showed that many of the developmental delays shown by these children could be made up once the children's environment had been improved. (Rutter, et al, 1998)

· 'Project Competence', a longitudinal study of 205 ordinary elementary school children, found that resiliency is 'the extraordinary outcome of many ordinary processes'. The finding that resiliency was based on normal, innate human capacities to adapt to adverse conditions challenged the notion that resilient children were 'superkids' blessed with some kind of super-normal invincibility.

· A University of South Australia longitudinal study looked at 55 9-12 year old children who had been identified by their teachers as experiencing 'tough lives'. 25 of these children were identified as showing resilient behaviours, and 30 were identified as showing non-resilient behaviours. Follow up of these children one year later showed that by and large resiliency remained stable over time, with nearly all of resilient children remaining resilient, and most of the non-resilient children continuing to show non-resilient behaviours (Howard & Johnson, 1998).


Links

Brief summary of resiliency information, plus a lot of child and youth mental health information on the general headroom site:

www.headroom.net.au/family/index.htm

General information about resiliency and the 'resilience paradigm': www.projectresilience.com

Excellent bibliography of resiliency related articles, including some online articles: http://activated.det.act.gov.au/reading/curr_jour_hotlists_resiliency.htm

Key resource for all matters related to resiliency: http://resilnet.uiuc.edu


References

Alvord, M. & Grados, J. (2005). 'Enhancing Resilience in Children: A Proactive Approach'. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. 36(3). pp. 238-245.

Anthony, E.J. (1987b). Risk, Vulnerability and Resilience: an Overview. In Anthony, E. & Cohler, B.J. (eds.). The Invulnerable Child, pp.3-48. New York: Guilford Press.

Benard, B (1995). 'Fostering Resilience in Children.' NY: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education. Available at: http://resilnet.uiuc.edu/library/benard95.html.

Grotberg, E. (1995). 'A Guide to Promoting Resilience in Children: Strengthening the Human Spirit.' Available at: http://resilnet.uiuc.edu/library/grotb95b.html.

Grotberg, E. (1997). 'The International Resilience Project: Findings from the Research and the Effectiveness of Interventions.' in Bain, B, et.al. (Eds). Psychology and Education in the 21st Century: Proceedings of the 54th Annual Convention of the International Convention of Psychologists. Edmonton: ICPress. pp. 118-128. Available at: http://resilnet.uiuc.edu/library/grotb97a.html

Howard, S. & Johnson, B. (1998). 'Tracking Student Resilience'. Paper presented to the 1998 Annual Conference of the Australian Association for Research in Education. Available at :http://www.aare.edu.au/98pap/joh98076.htm.

Masten, A. (2001). 'Ordinary Magic: Resilience Processes in Development.' American Psychologist, 56(3), pp. 227-238.

Rutter & The English and Romanian Adoptees Study Team. (1998). Developmental Catch-up, and Deficit, Following Adoption After Severe Global Early Privation. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 39, pp.465-476.

Rutter, M., Pickles, A., Murray. R. & Eaves, L. (2001). 'Testing Hypotheses on Specific Environmental Effects on Behavior.' Psychological Bulletin, 127, pp.291-324.

Werner, E. & Smith, R. (2001) Journeys from Childhood to Midlife. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.


Appendix B

Social media can damage young people’s mental health, research shows

February 12, 2016 9:00pm

Susie O’Brien

A major report has found social media can damage young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

PARENTAL fears about the dangers of young people spending a lot of time on social media are justified, new research shows.


Social media can damage young people’s mental health and wellbeing, a major report based on hundreds of international studies has found.


Those with low self-esteem are particularly at risk, say experts from Macquarie University and Sydney’s Children’s Hospital at Westmead.


Lead researcher Deborah Richards says parents should be on the lookout for “increased risk-taking behaviours, cyber bullying, depression, exclusion of minority groups and reduced self-image and self-esteem”.


Teenage girls with body image issues are particularly at risk, she says. One study of 1000 children aged 9-16 has found even confident social media users are at risk of harm.

Cyber bullying is another major issue for many young people spending long hours on social networking sites.


“The effects of cyber bullying can be profound, including depression, anxiety, isolation and in some cases suicide,” Richards says. “For some, the appeal of cyber bullying comes from the anonymity of the attack, as people are able to communicate things that they would not say face to face.”

The deaths of 13 young people through suicide as a result of online abuse led the Human Rights Commission to call Australia the worst place in the world for cyber bullying in 2013. Studies also found links between social media use and risk-taking such as substance abuse, sexual behaviour and violence.


Richards says the impact of social media will vary according to the individual.

“Those with lower self-esteem may access social media more frequently and use it in a different way to someone with a higher level of self-esteem,” she says. “Facebook enhanced feelings of connectedness for well-adjusted people, but those prone to depression were likely to feel more disconnected.”


One study actually found students’ self-esteem was highest when they were updating their Facebook profiles, particularly because of the “ability to selectively self-present by choosing their best photo or personal information”, Richards says. But other studies have linked Facebook use to narcissism, loneliness and body image concerns.


However, the findings, reported in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, are not all bad news. Researchers say there are benefits for young people from using social media, such as being free to communicate with their peers.


In addition, some children benefit from the anonymity; they can be the same as everyone else. Others say online social networks can help introverts learn to socialise and be empathetic.

There’s no doubt there are pressing issues for many parents. Australian Communication and Media Authority data shows two-thirds of 12 to 13-year-olds access social media on a computer, and 92 per cent of 16-17 year-olds.


But young people using mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets is increasing.

Balwyn speech pathologist Marita Fraser is all too aware of the risks associated with social media sites. She’s keen to ensure her daughters, Lucy, 11, Abby, 9, and Emma, 7, stay off social media as long as possible.


“The worry is that children don’t have the skills to manage things if something bad is said, or they might be the ones saying something bad,” Fraser says.


“There is a lot of pressure on parents, with kids saying all their friends have it, but as far as I am concerned, the risks outweigh the benefits.”

susie.obrien@news.com.au

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