Ideas on Solutions for the Mental Health crisis of NZ Children

Three weeks back I wrote a piece in support of Mike King and his organisation’s Gumboot Friday. In the comments section someone asked what I considered the factors to be with the apparent worsening of mental health for children and young people; for example evidenced by calls to Life Line.

My relevant background here is a few tertiary qualifications that shed some light, being in education as a teacher/Principal since 1991, bringing-up three children, observing many families and constantly researching how to improve education outcomes for children in such a way that they feel aspirational about their future.

Clearly this is a huge topic and container loads of books get written about it. Two weeks back I wrote a post on what I consider to be some of the Meta-Impacts (causes) on poor mental health for young people. Last week I wrote on what I consider to be the micro-effects on mental well-being. The aim of these posts is not to be THE expert – but more as lead-ins to get the views of people who might comment and have insights. This post is looking at what ought to be done – and done with urgency.

How to Improve Things:

1. Being a GOOD parent needs to be both an informed focus and an elevated role.
– Treating the baby well within the womb.

– Fully nurturing the new-born.

– Stimulating the mind of the infant – reading, playing, being outside – pretty much all positive things and ignoring screens.

– Being engaged in all education programmes and schools.

– Feeding your child.

– Understanding that the child is not the responsibility of the State.

2. Our education system has to be radically fixed to highly value the academic outcomes of the child regardless of their demographics. Self-esteem is earned through massive effort and achievement. All people should be “valued” as a right – but you earn your esteem. Our education needs to be rigorous and focussed so that our children grow up highly competent, focussed, aspirational, critical thinkers. Is this idealistic? Of course – what else should your education design be.

We currently have a 60% attendance rate in our schools. We have 10,300+ students not even enrolled. We have huge academic divergence between demographic groups. We are sliding in all international comparisons.

We need to very accurately provide for diverse learners and not give up on kids that have had a slow academic start in life.

It is time – and has been for a while – for a courageous Minister and a deeply effective set of implemented policies towards achievement.

Parents need to lead the schools and combine around great literature/film, great Math/Science (the same thing), high level skills and propelling the child towards world class opportunities.

3. When people are struggling with mental health we need to make interventions accessible and affordable. We need to bury the folly that the Ministry of Health is the solve all and look to effective and fleet-of-feet interventions from the best people in the nation – not the best “group-think” in a bureaucracy.

4. We must allow children to think and question. To be exposed to ideas about their purpose and pathways. As a nation we need to openly understand our whole history. In my time as an educator one of the vest worst concepts I have ever heard is that we will end up teaching a very limited range of topics as our “prescribed” NZ history.

5. Any anti-bullying programmes must also be matched with genuine resilience. In terms of what people think of me personally there are very few people whose opinion I would take on board. That doesn’t mean I don’t listen to critique of my words or actions but, to paraphrase Kipling; if I believe all of the compliments I have received I would be even more insufferable but; if I believed all of the negatives about myself I would be a very sad knuckle dragging feral. Young people need to know that their value does not lie in the opinion of others.

6. Our children need massive protection and much more time to be kids. No child should have a smart phone until at least 14. No under 18 should have devices behind closed doors and wi-fi available through the night. Screen time should have limits from day 1 and activity and broad health encouraged. We must not press down adult problems (Climate Change, Racism, Sexuality confusion) into the laps of children. Our children are not the playthings of politicians, -barons, predators or multi-national media conglomerates.

7. Our societal leadership has to lift and the examples that prominent leaders set need to be better. Our media has to have much more integrity to raise the level of trust in the 4th estate.

8. It may sound trivial but we need to be better neighbours. When Mike King talks to groups he talks about the role of those that are in a good place – to care for those who are not. In one placed we lived our neighbour was a deeply addicted alcoholic. I went over, all saintly, to offer to help. When I asked him what we could do – his response was relational – he asked to do our gardens and be taken notice of to begin to delay when he started drinking each day. He is a very different man today – not because we helped him – but we gave him a daily purpose. Do you know who your neighbours are? If not – go and see them and get to know them tomorrow.

9. Waiting for the government to solve this is like “Waiting for Godot” – they are never going to arrive. 120 oppositionally aligned and power seeking individuals of very limited experience cannot solve this set of problems. It is up to the broad community. Success or failure is on us.

10. Sometimes you get behind one person – who is not perfect but has the courage to say it as he sees it:

Very much love to know your thoughts.

Please support Gumboot Friday on the 28th: I once asked a prominent politician to speak to our school students. His response was; “Why kids don’t vote.” Please make your vote dependent on the treatment of our young.

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