Youth Mental Health Threat: The Internet

TRIGGER WARNING: abuse, violence and suicide

Written by Dr Olivier, February 2024

A few weeks back, my wife and I attended a conference titled “Our Kids Online Safety Information Evening”. I was horrified: I knew about the problem, however, I did not realise the extent of it. This is a triggering topic so please seek help if reading this makes you feel unwell: Free Call/Text anytime 1737 . Crisis Team: 0800 800 717 or contact your GP

I will use the word “we” as parents are part of the problem and the solution, and I am a parent. I will start by discussing the problems and at the end give a summary of solutions and links to resources that you can click on.

If I were to summarise, I would say that we are leaving our kids alone in front of a serious addiction crisis, that leaves them exposed to abuse (all sorts of abuse) that then transforms them into humans who will have far less empathy, significantly more anxiety, dark and suicidal thoughts, low self-esteem and unable to cope when faced with problems, in particular, emotional ones.

As a GP here in Auckland, I receive notifications regularly that a young person has died by suicide. I think every person in Auckland likely knows somebody who as died from suicide.

Our Kids are exposed to hard core porn, predators, and cyber-bullying through the devices we let them interact with.

Some numbers stood out: there are 300,000 searches blocked monthly for connections to porn sites in schools in New Zealand and there are only about 800,000 school students in the whole country! 3pm to 5pm is the time when there is a spike of connection to porn sites in NZ and most adults are still at work at this time.

I learnt that currently, it is not adult males who are in the largest number of the sex offenders, but under 18 year olds. We are allowing the internet to give sex education of our children and it is not pretty! The person who gave the conference told us gruesome stories of kids, not older than 9 years old. Children and teens believe that what they watch is normal behaviour, both boys and girls, and it is extremely violent!

Predators: kids posting innocent pictures of themselves will be hunted. The predators are of all sorts, from the those who collect nude pictures to those who arrange to meet them physically. We were told that two predators were arrested in New Zealand after they infiltrated a school group chat.

Gaming: games are designed to be attractive and addictive. Gaming is not all bad, it has shown some good impacts on the kids’ brain but only if is done in a reasonable way, meaning if the time spent playing them is controlled and limited.

Lastly, given we allow children to spend so much time on devices, they often compare themselves to others they see (e.g. influencers) and what they see are “highlight reels” of people’s lives, not the reality of everyday living, so children start to believe that they are not good enough or pretty enough etc. and enter a vicious cycle to “improve themselves” and this can lead to serious risks of eating disorders and suicide. When mobile phones did not exist, a bully wouldn’t easily enter homes, however, now they can and kids can be bullied even sitting in their own bedrooms whilst “all alone”. A child who does not voice their problems, who is not heard because of our busy lives, or is too scared to speak will likely develop mental health issues.

Now to the solutions!

We need to educate ourselves and educate our kids.

Connection within the family is extremely important; the presenter called this “The Big Reconnect”.

Also, I share with him the notion that boredom is important in helping kids be more creative. Parents are not entertainers!

There should be no social media until they are 18.

Phones/devices can be set up with no browsers, no app stores etc. so they do not have permanent access at all times to the internet, rather just be able to telephone and text when outside the home. Filters at home on the internet connection can be installed so that no mature content can be reached whilst using the internet at home. We, as parents should feel comfortable asking other parents if they have filters in place so that our children are safe at their friend’s places.

Most naked images kids take and send are done in bedrooms and bathrooms, so no children should have access to their devices in bedrooms or bathrooms. Kindles are a good device to encourage children to read, however, the newer models have a browser on them so this needs to be deactivated as kindles are often used in bedrooms to read.

Controlling and checking our kids access to internet is not intruding on their privacy! It is to prevent others from doing so, it is protecting them.

Limiting time in front of any device, 30mins daily to 1h max is healthy. Setting up boundaries is known to help children develop healthily. One of the comments of the presenter was that he often hears that parents fear that their kids will miss out on something (FOMO). He replied that he’s happy if they miss out on predators, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, lack of empathy and violence and his job is to protect his children so he’s happy for them to have FOMO.

There is good material available that the presenter suggested via their website: including their documentary: The film is not suitable for Children under 16.

The filter that was particularly recommended was Safe Surfer, as filtering is their core business as oppose to an add-on service:

On YouTube: Childhood 2.0

The Social dilemma – Netflix

If anybody has the ear of our dear politicians, it would be good to advocate for child protection online and have serious measures put in place to protect our kids. Children are suffering and being targeted. One good law would be: no unsupervised internet access and no social media before the age of 18.