When my daughter was 14 I walked in on her cutting herself.
I freaked out. I screamed “What are you doing? Stop that now! Are you crazy?” She was distressed and embarrassed. My unfiltered reaction had shamed her. She started to weep and scream at me “Go away. Get out. Get out.” I didn’t know what to do.
I went into my own bedroom and collapsed in absolute despair, weeping. Nothing in my parenting experience had prepared me for this place where we had arrived.
We didn’t talk about this at mother’s group. I don’t remember this being in the chart of milestones. My toolbox was empty. As a parent I felt alone and isolated.
What had started as reckless behaviour in her early teens developed into self-harming behaviours, an eating disorder and then later anxiety, depression and suicidal behaviour. This was not the parenting journey I was expecting for my first born. These were my darkest years as a parent.
Living regionally I was even more disadvantaged because of the lack of appropriate youth mental health services for my girl. But it wasn’t just my daughter who needed help – I needed help too. I needed support. I needed to know that I could do this.
Recently, I read two books by a grassroots youth mental health organisation for young people called Generation Next. The two books are called Nurturing Young Minds: Mental Wellbeing in the Digital Age and Growing Happy, Healthy Young Minds. As I read them, I cried.
Created by Dr Ramesh Manocha, a Sydney University senior lecturer in psychiatry, medical practitioner, educator, author and researcher, Generation Next is a national education program aimed at educating professionals and parents about the mental health crisis facing our young people.
In these handbooks, Manocha and his team have compiled leading experts’ advice on the mental health and wellbeing of young people, tackling issues like bullying, anxiety, depression, alcohol and drugs, sexual abuse, eating disorders and body image. However, they also focus on the most up-to-date aspects of being a teenager: problematic internet use, cyberbullying, social media, violent video games, sexting, online porn and consent.
These are the books I was looking for. I had searched long and hard for these kinds of practical non-judgemental resources that contained skills and information I had to previously dig for myself. But here it was, the best of the knowledge of the journey I had been on brought together in a magnificent series of books.
Here was real practical information on how to manage the many complex situations around mental wellbeing in young people. It may surprise you, but in any given year, it is estimated that about one out of four of young people in Australia aged 16 to 24 will have a diagnosable mental health problem. By 21 more than half of all young people will have experienced a significant mental health disorder. Unfortunately, suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people aged 15 to 24. Suicide across our society is sadly on the rise.
These statistics are a solemn call to arms for parents, teachers and health professionals to get educated.
The best work you can do as a parent is in the years before the onset of mental health issues. The Generation Next books give practical parenting advice on the importance of sleep, on identifying and managing bullying, on negotiating digital technology and how to set up boundaries way before things become out of hand.
Many parents like myself find themselves looking for boundaries years after they should have been set. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to set boundaries for my daughter, I just didn’t know what I should be doing, and how. I didn’t know what was normal and acceptable.
As she is my first born (of five kids), I was often second guessing myself. Like most parents, I did my best and hoped that things would resolve. Instead, as adolescence progressed the challenges just increased instead of decreased.
These are books every parent should read long before their teens become adolescents. No generation of parents have had to face the complexities of navigating parenting in the digital age – how do we keep our children safe on the highways of a world we’ve only just found ourselves?
With rates of anxiety in our young rising, these books give practical information, actual steps on what to say, and what to do. It’s not just health professionals telling you what you’ve done wrong. It’s practical advice and support on how to manage at the coalface of the home.
Generation Next is the lifeline that I as a parent had been looking for. Renowned psychologist Andrew Fuller has even said that each chapter has the potential to be not only "life changing, but quite possibly lifesaving" for young people.
I am so thrilled that for parents facing what I faced, and that for my parenting adventure with adolescents (which continues) that I now have a resource that I can turn to when I’m out of my depth. And sometimes when I’m not. For many who read this, it will be making those changes years before that might make all the difference in the world. You just need to know what those changes are.
Generation Next features a national circuit of educational seminars, live webcasts, an e-newsletter, YouTube channel, national surveys and the two main books I've mentioned.
You can buy a copy of the books here. Mamamia readers will receive complimentary postage and handling.
If you, or a young person you know, is struggling with symptoms of mental illness please contact your local Headspace centre or chat to them online, here. If you are over the age of 25 and suffering from symptoms of mental illness please contact your local GP for a Mental Health Assessment Plan or call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.
What's the best piece of advice you have for raising a teenager in the digital age? Share with us below.
This content was created with our brand partner Generation Next.
Generation Next is a grassroots charitable organisation providing education and information about the prevention and management of mental illness in young people to professionals, young people and the wider community. Our objective is to raise community awareness of mental health but also of the cultural, social and individual risk factors that precede it. Generation Next increases mental health literacy, reducing associated stigma and positively influencing individual and community behaviour to improve the mental health of young people.