As the school year comes to a close and the carefree feeling of summer comes roaring in, I want to take a moment to talk about something serious – your child’s mental health.
This is unquestionably one of the most important issues you as a parent will navigate while your children are growing up. While a lot of the information I’m about to share is sobering (and I won’t sugarcoat the realities of what your kids are facing), you better believe I am going to encourage you because the biggest influence on your child’s mental health is YOU.*
I believe that when you have the facts about any situation you are dealing with, you are better equipped with how to handle it. Does it make it easier? Not always, but it can give you the confidence to address it! I know that you care enough about your kids not to shy away from something even if it’s scary or uncomfortable. As your kids grow and watch you confront difficult topics head-on, you’re instilling the courage for them to do that, too.
I’m now going to touch on two of the ‘Big Bads’ that I believe are at the forefront of affecting our children’s mental health. These are very brief summaries, but for further reading and research I’m including links to other blogs and podcasts that have focused on these topics specifically. I encourage you to bookmark this blog and keep coming back to these resources.
Big Bad #1: Social Media
We’ve been hearing about the dangers of social media for a few years now and it can be easy to tune out things that are constantly being repeated. But here’s the kicker: more evidence is coming out every few months on the life-impacting influences of social media – and we as parents cannot afford to ignore it.
One week ago, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released an advisory on the effects social media has on the mental health of children:
“The most common question parents ask me is, ‘is social media safe for my kids[?]’ The answer is that we don’t have enough evidence to say it’s safe, and in fact, there is growing evidence that social media use is associated with harm to young people’s mental health,” said Murthy. “Children are exposed to harmful content on social media, ranging from violent and sexual content, to bullying and harassment. And for too many children, social media use is compromising their sleep and valuable in-person time with family and friends. We are in the middle of a national youth mental health crisis, and I am concerned that social media is an important driver of that crisis–one that we must urgently address.”
Now, whether you believe that your child is different; able to handle themselves and smart enough to restrict their time on social media OR your child is glued to their phone at all hours – you need to realize that they are still children. Their brain development isn’t fully complete until age 25. As adults, we can self-monitor our social media use. We know when enough is enough and when to put the phone down and do something else (even though we might not do it every time). Our children don’t know how to self-monitor. This is why when it comes to social media and our kids, the parents’ role is vital. You may think you have no control over your child’s screen time or social media use. You may think it’s too late to take the phone away, but it’s not. You do have control.
Depression and anxiety are on the rise in our children. Studies show that the amount of time a girl spends on social media increases in parallel with depression. So we need to be paying attention. To learn more about this big bad and how you can help your kids, check out my other resources:
Our Teens are Facing a Mental Health Crisis: https://meekerparenting.com/blog/our-teens-are-facing-a-mental-health-crisis-and-social-media-is-the-culprit/
Social Media isn’t going away, but parents can equip children to resist the harms:
And listen in to my podcast ‘Toxic Screen Time’ with Melanie Hempe:
Big Bad #2: Sexual Activity
You may be thinking that because your kids are small, this isn’t an issue you need to be worried about yet. I’d argue that if you learn about it now, you’re 10x better equipped to handle the sudden questions that may come up when they’re just 7 years old. If your kids are older, I can almost guarantee that they’ve overheard conversations about sex from peers, have spoken about it with their friends, or may be on the cusp of actively engaging in it. That’s why having the facts and understanding the physical and emotional effects sexual activity has on your kids is vitally important!
Sexual activity is an adult activity. Whether they like it or not, your 16-year-old is still a child. They simply do not have the cognitive development to fully understand the ramifications of engaging in sexual activity. I can’t make you tell your child to wait to have sex, but I can tell you about the countless young teens I’ve seen in my practice over the years who’ve contracted STDs and struggled with the intense emotional consequences from it. There are long-term benefits of educating your child on the dangers of STDs and how amazing sex can be in a loving relationship if they wait even a few more years.
I also want to mention pornography here. While watching may mean your child is safe from physically contracting a disease, pornography is truly one of the most dangerous forms of media that your child could be consuming. It is shockingly easy for them to get a hold of and it has a profound impact on their emotional wellbeing. Watching porn can change their brain chemistry towards sexual activity – meaning that when they do eventually have sex, it could lead to difficulty in emotionally connecting with their partner and even enjoying sex in a long-term, loving relationship. I’m going to share a couple of links to podcasts on pornography that will shed even more light on this subject.
My new course, How To Talk to Your Kids about Sex (from age 8 all the way to 18) covers the statistical data on STDs in the U.S. as well as how to begin conversations with your kids about this topic. I’d also encourage you to go to the CDC website to read the latest data yourself! In the meantime, listen in to a few podcasts that cover this issue:
How To Talk To Your Kids About Sex
Pornography and Boys: Part 1
Pornography and Boys: Part 2
The social landscape our children are navigating today is different from what you and I experienced growing up. The dangers are hidden in plain sight; thinly veiled behind the technology on which our world is building its foundation. Parents are being told more and more that they need to be more hands-off, let their children do what they feel is best and champion them no matter what – but this is flawed logic that doesn’t take into account that your children are just that – CHILDREN. Technology, social media, clothing retailers, pop stars and influencers don’t care about the wellbeing of your child. They don’t take into account the messages they are putting out there that kids will internalize – maybe for years.
Parents, it’s up to you to sit up and pay attention to what could be harming your kids. You can spot negative messaging that belittles their character, their intelligence, their confidence as individuals – You are equipped for this! You know exactly who your child is and by speaking positively, complimenting their true nature and character, challenging them, and by embracing them with unconditional love, you are solidifying their identity and giving them armor to wear out into the world. When your child knows without a doubt who they are – the rest of the world can’t convince them otherwise.
I’m right here with you. You’ve got this!
Blogs & Books:
Your Kids at Risk: How Teen Sex Threatens our Sons and Daughters
Sexual Assault is a Rising Problem:
Three Things to Tell Your Teen About Sex:
Mental Health Strategies for the Covid-19 Generation: https://meekerparenting.com/podcast/mental-health-strategies-for-covid-19-generation-children/
Mental Health in Kids:
Anxiety & Depression
Raising Resilient Kids in the New Age of Anxiety:
Anxiety and Depression in Kids:
Children and Anxiety:
Kids and Screens: Help for Parents:
Screen Time with Your Kids: Part 1
Screen Time With Your Kids: Part 2
Adolescent Substance Abuse:
 Surgeon General issues advisory regarding effects social media has on youths’ mental health
*I know there are cases where a diagnosed mental health condition can’t be “fixed” just by you being the best parent you can be – I’m not speaking to those instances specifically.