In my teaching career spanning 50 years, I have noticed a clear decline in the mental health of teenagers, with a corresponding increase in both depression and anxiety. In my previous role as Headmaster of a large Anglican school, we employed six school counsellors (all psychologists) plus a part-time social worker. This contrasts starkly with 30 years ago, as Principal for a large government high school, where I had a single school counsellor employed for half a day each week.
What is driving this level of depression and anxiety in our young people?
The advent of social media has been a major cause, in my opinion, in the general decline of mental health of young people. Firstly, the toxic online bullying behaviour, through to the lesser but still emotionally damaging, constant interplay of inclusion and exclusion from friendship groups.
Secondly, the ubiquity of ‘sexting’ is a common source of anxiety, with teens feeling pressured to comply with requests, and even demands. This leads to acute embarrassment, shaming and derogatory comments for the person involved. Young people in this situation can experience an overwhelming sense of isolation and victimisation.
Thirdly, there is the addictive nature and out-of-control usage of social media. Some teenagers are responding to posts through the night, leading to interrupted sleep, which further exacerbates depression and anxiety. One sad case was an international student who wasted his educational opportunity by spending most nights on online gaming and gambling.
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How does our society exacerbate these issues?
I have seen a distinct shift in parenting, as the Western world moves away from authoritative parenting styles. In many families, the child seems to be in charge and parents default to the child’s wishes.
One instance of this was a senior student who habitually arrived at school at lunchtime, due to spending most of the night (and morning) on social media. When his parents were contacted and asked why the student’s device was not removed from his room overnight, their response was,
“I couldn’t do that. He wouldn’t like it!”
Growing divorce rates breed emotional insecurity amongst children. Rather than an authoritative guide, parents increasingly want to be their child’s friend. Separated parents often vie with one another to gain the affections of the child.
Lack of parenting due to parents being too busy to have adequate time with their children is a particular issue in high fee-paying schools, where both parents may be in demanding employment roles in order to sustain school fees. In some cases, adults can share the same household as their teenagers but live largely independent lives, often not even connecting at meal times. This can occur when parents give priority to their own lifestyle, embracing a laissez-faire parenting style where children are allowed to do as they wish.
Where does Christian teaching fit in all this?
In light of the issues discussed, how critical it is to have mature and committed Christians in our Christian schools with a strong pastoral, as well as educational, focus. It is a missional and ministerial opportunity where Christian teachers can truly make a difference… working compassionately in serving young people to effect Christ’s transformative change in their lives.
To meet the need of an evangelical college offering initial teacher education from a Christian worldview, Morling College, the Baptist College in Sydney and Perth, have formed a partnership with Christian Heritage College (CHC) in Brisbane that enables us to offer teacher training in NSW and WA at a very moderate cost, enabled through access to CHC’s Commonwealth Supported Places.
The Christian Teacher course structure is hybrid: all lectures are online as students of CHC; with placements in Christian schools incorporating focused supervision and mentoring; and the opportunity to connect with other students in our Sydney or Perth cohorts. This is designed to enrich the student experience academically, pastorally and spiritually.
Considering the looming shortage of teachers nationally, teaching also offers the prospect of strong and stable employment opportunities. The program offers pathways for primary and secondary teaching, the latter across a broad range of subjects. It is suitable for both school leavers and career changers.