by Clare Rowe, CEO at Rowe & Associates & Educational Psychologist
published in The Australian, Sunday 19th June 2022
Covid is a cop-out. Our children were set on a path to emotional fragility many years ago, thanks to a small shift in parenting philosophy within Western culture that has now snowballed.
The NSW government has recently announced a further measure in an attempt to stem the bleed on our children’s declining mental health. A hotline of sorts will be available to teaching staff to access a registrar of external counselling supports and programs that will endeavour to fill the gaps for overworked and exhausted in-house school counsellors.
In recent times, children as young as four have been diagnosed with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, thought to be exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. But the truth is, the lockdowns of the past two years are only the last straw to break the proverbial camel’s back for our next generation. there are multiple layers that have contributed to children being increasingly fragile, less resilient and embodying a sense of hopelessness and helplessness about their future.
About 20 years ago there was the beginnings of a new movement in parenting philosophy within Western culture. That small shift snowballed to become the parenting movement of a child-centred approach. with career-driven, successful women becoming mothers, parenting became a research project to perfect at every stage. Over one generation, parents have become pressured to raise children who are in tune and validated with their emotions, sensitive to others’ needs self-assured and with healthy levels of self-esteem.
The result of which is a wave of anxious parents overloaded with “expert” advice and unable to send a child to their room, say no to them or use basic techniques of bribery or punishment in order to curb behaviour. Parents are paralysed by the deluge of information and routinely turn to Google for help, while their kids are left floundering and grappling with the balance of power in the household resulting in being highly strung and anxious.
This new wave of parenting has, unfortunately, overlapped with the new religion of inclusiveness. Every kid gets a participation certificate, every kid is told they are special and every murmur of offence is validated and offered therapy. Children who become teenagers believing they can achieve or be anything with little effort or without any sense of delayed gratification come crashing down to Earth when the reality of the real world confronts them.
This is also the generation now raised firmly engulfed within the sewer of social media, with its insidious and persistent messaging to children providing them with vindications of their emotions and struggles. With its constant feeding of the insatiability for instant gratification, social media is the enemy of fostering the sustainable values such s hard work, delayed reward and fortitude. the modern teenager will already have the language of psychiatric diagnoses from TikTok and be “following” pseudo-experts proliferating advice long before they present to a GP or psychologist for help.
Every generation has always claimed the next one is “weaker”, and certainly the forebears of the 20th century have a point, after living through two world wars. However, it is the nature of this compounding series of shifts in the way we parent our children, equip them to handle and accept differences and generally interact with the world that has resulted in the current emergency. At the heart of matters, it is a brooding sense of helplessness and hopelessness that defines the mental health crisis of children. They have been robbed of individual agency and capacity to look forward with optimism and enthusiasm to direct the destiny of their future.
Through the Nataional Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan, the federal government has invested an eye-watering $2.3bn in the 2021-2022 budget. Yet our children are more depressed and anxious than ever before. Perhaps it’s time to take stock and ask where we are going wrong before throwing more money at the problem. The latest NSW education initiative equips classroom teachers with means to assist children struggling emotionally by acting as a cse co-ordinator to direct them to targeted programs and counselling. While this is admirable, we must also question the breadth of scope we place on teachers beyond teaching literacy and numeracy. Between emotional coaching, racial ideaologies, diversity training and environmentalism, it is little wonder there is little time left for rigorous rote learning of academic basics.
It seems inevitable any downturn or misfortune in the foreseeable future will be easily blamed on Covid-19. When it comes to the spiralling decline of young people’s mental health, undoubtedly pandemic lockdowns were a policy disaster that should never be repeated. But to solely point culpability at the pandemic is too simplistic. Our children were set on a path to emotional fragility many years ago.
Read the full article in The Australian HERE