Meta-Impacts on the Mental Health of Children

A week 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. I am going to do two posts on what I consider to be causes – but more as lead-ins to get the views of people who might comment and have insights. The first is what I would call meta-impacts and the second impacts of the child’s direct environment. A third – which should be lead into the posts and people’s comments – will look at improving things and with urgency.

Let me say first that children being anxious and worried is not a new thing. Neither are the huge worries – in my case growing up – nuclear devastation, and dying of any form really. I repeatedly told my mother from a young age that I did not want to die – to which she repeatedly told porkies by saying I wouldn’t (well – she may be right – I haven’t yet).

New Zealand is a beautiful, wealthy nation that should be the world’s best place for all children to grow up. There is significant evidence that the adults are getting a lot wrong and letting the kids down a great deal:
– levels of child poverty.

– the appalling academic outcomes of our system for many, the fact that only 60% of kids are attending fully (defined as 9 days out of 10), and that there 10,000 children iin NZ not even enrolled in school.

– that the PISA report not only told us about the decline to the bottom of the OECD for or academics it also highlighted NZ as the OECD country with the worth bullying.

– the disaster that is Oranga Tamariki and the rearview mirror that the Royal Commission State care is giving us.


Much of national/international leadership and role modelling is appalling and confusing. Examples:

– Our negatively focused, petty and bickering politicians. Kids notice this. That Ardern did not sack Mallard recently says plenty about the standards of both of those people and denies the age old maxim that actions have consequences. The only two leaders at present who seem to be carrying themselves well are Seymour and Swarbrick (the pseudo leader of the Greens).

– Our sporting role models are one of the groups young men in particular can look to. Jarrod Hayne is the latest example of a huge let down. For my kids it was Lance Armstrong.

– The musicians have good from Olivia Newton John and Lets Get Physical  to Cardi B’s Wap (which was even performed on an awards show). Here are the tamest lyrics from it; “Hop on top, I wanna ride I do a kegel while it’s inside”

Adult Problems are Getting Forced Down on Younger and Younger Children

– Global Warming the like likes of Thunberg, Climate Extinction. Again – not that new but it was my Advanced Economic Theory professor that chose to tell me that there would be no more generations (I now have a grand-child) not my new entrants teacher. Why bang on and on at children in terms of problems that are well beyond them.

We live in a society where faith, hope, and charity are research as children’s names rather that things that are openly discussed.

– Everyone has a life philosophy and is curious (and sometimes emotionally desperate) about the big questions; where did we come from, what is our purpose, what happens after I die). Through our education systems and societal practices these questions are heavily suppressed. For children these can leave a huge vacuum.

We live in a non-stop society and if we are stupid enough to allow under 16s unfettered access to the internet and social media (especially into the night) then you give their brain, emotions and energy systems no time to rest.

– As every athlete knows you train, rest & recover and thereby get fitter and stronger. The internet and social media world does not buy into the good human practice and it can destroy kids.

Very much love to know your thoughts.

More next week. Please support Gumboot Day:

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