Nurturing Young Minds – Mental Wellbeing in the Digital Age book review

As both a grandmother and author of a book about the power of the role of the arts in mental health, this book hits home with a resounding jolt. I found its revelations shocking and confrontational but it is overflowing with valuable information, solutions and resources for the issues it raises.

Dr Ramesh Manoocha and Gyongyi Horvath and a team of specialist practitioners have compiled an important book which should be invaluable to parents. Nurturing Young Minds is a wake up call in understanding young people, the issues they are facing and how to deal with them.

It’s a reminder that access to the internet has changed almost every aspect of our lives over the last few decades, overpowering legal limitations and creating challenges that we could never have foreseen. The book is written in mostly laymen’s language from a range of qualified therapists. Its key message to parents is that their children are looking for them to show what healthy relationships look like and they must give them the tools they need, spend time with them and maintain an open dialogue.

Parents are reminded of the impact they have on their child’s emotional and social development, that the teenage brain is a work in progress and that parents are shaping their children’s brains from the moment they console them as crying infants: “Teenagers are hot-wired for emotion but often lack the brakes to slow down those emotions when they speed down life’s highway of experimentation and experience”.

The majority of the book’s chapters address issues arising from the internet and offer a plethora of strategies and ideas in responding to its challenges.

The average age a child is introduced to technology is four months.

Parents are advised to keep up with technology and not let it take over their children’s lives. Problematic internet use is a recognised disorder which coincides with a challenging mental health problem “strongly associated with a range of underlying health, social or family-based problems”. It’s shocking to learn that the average age a child is introduced to technology is four months, that toddlers are given screens to calm them and that 80 per cent of Australians 12 -17 years old use screens more than the recommended two hours a day.

Many kids spend more time with pixels than people. Sleep deprivation has become a major health issue and Australian teenagers are now the third most sleep-deprived in the world. Research reveals that the bed has become a place of wakeful activity rather than a place of sleep with children young as nine checking devices up to ten times a night.

When they are online they are growing up in a world awash with highly sexualised messages, visuals and narratives. There is an increasing use of porn, cyber bullying, sexting, gaming and gambling or “gamblification”. A UK study of 12 – 15 year olds found that eight per cent had gambled online and more than 90% of boys and 60% of girls had seen porn. We are told that young girls think oral and anal sex are just like kissing and boys are struggling to work out peer accepted appropriate sexual behaviour.

Young people list porn as their top internet concern. It’s the number one sexual educator  but forces children into an awareness that their bodies and brains are not ready for. It  rewires the brain and can lead to addiction and the obsessive seeking of certain sexual experiences. Virtual Reality porn tricks the brain and body into thinking it is having a real sexual experience – totally disconnected from actual reality and meaningful intimacy.

A chapter written by a former police officer and undercover detective who spent five years online pretending to be a young person to gather evidence against child predators warns parents to look out for their children in both the physical world and online. He offers strategies and emphasises the importance of communication – creating an environment of openness about technology and talking with kids about their bodies from when they first learn to speak; they need to learn to trust you in the most sensitive areas of life.

Schools are urged to have a plan and to provide young people with questioning and critical thinking strategies to become more media literate. Those who work with children are advised to foster their development by “having fun, sing, dance, play, tell and read stories.” Such experiences build relationships and release powerful chemicals, engaging the brain’s neurochemistry in a positive fashion, diminishing stress and anxiety.

Nurturing Young Lives should be on the bookshelf of every parent and every person charged with the responsibility of guiding and educating children. There’s a wonderful quote included penned by Frederick Douglass in the 19th Century which is just as relevant in the 21st: “It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men”.

Nurturing Young Minds – Mental Wellbeing in the Digital Age edited by Dr Ramesh Manocha is published by Hachette (RRP:$35, Ebook: $16.99).

Jill Rivers is a writer and arts advocate and is the author of The Arts Apothecary – a vital prescription for health, happiness and wellbeing which provides a guide to how engagement with the arts can improve our mental and physical health. 


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