Why we need to ask and answer questions about our teens right now

We need to ask and answer questions about our teens right now

We’re launching a new advice column for parents of teens with educator, thought leader and expert in fostering resilient young people, Dannielle Miller.
Danni Miller

Over the course of last week, expert educator Dannielle Miller worked face-to-face with 500 Australian (socially distanced, of course) teens. She was overwhelmed by the urgency in which they wanted to connect with their friends and to laugh.

It’s something they’ve not been able to do much this year. Indeed, many of them told her they had been feeling lonely and deprived of their usual social catch ups. In overwhelming numbers, they were worried their friends may not value them as much anymore, after being physically disconnected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dannielle (Danni) is the CEO of Enlighten Education, and has worked with tweens, teens and their parents for more than 30 years. Her expertise lies in building resilient young people and she regularly runs in-school programs for teenagers.

As Danni shared in a recent chat with Women’s Agenda, this year has been unlike any other for young people in Australia.

On weekends, teenagers who may normally have been out socialising with their friends, having sleepovers, going to music festivals, and working at their first jobs, are now mostly at home with their parents. In locked down areas of Victoria, they are also learning from home. During a time when teenagers would usually be adapting to increased independence and adventure, their adolescent journey has been paused.

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“We’re not talking enough about how tricky this is for teenagers. And how they are missing these important rights of passage. And how the world is so uncertain for them,” Danni tells Women’s Agenda.

“They are also thinking about how this will impact their futures, even girls in year nine are talking about the debt the country will be in. It feels daunting for them. We forget too that this is their first experience of huge loss and change.

“Teenagers are in crisis. I have not seen anything like this.”

At the same time, Danni has never had so many emails from stressed parents, asking for advice on how best to support their tweens and teens to get through this. She says for a lot of parents, it’s about more than just being worried – it’s a completely frantic time.

For many parents, concerns about the mental health of their children is all too real. We all know the devastating consequences that can follow from poor mental health and the ways that tweens and teens can act on their emotions.

According to Beyond Blue, suicide continues to be the leading cause of death of young people in Australia.

The Victorian Mental Health Minister Martin Foley has admitted the state’s mental health system “wasn’t fit for purpose” before the pandemic hit, and statistics from Lifeline show people across the country are struggling with their mental health. The Lifeline hotline has received 25 per cent more calls than this time last year – the equivalent of one call every 30 seconds.

In Victoria, where the strictest lockdown in Australia has been imposed, there has been a 33 per cent increase in young people presenting to emergency departments for intentional self-harm compared to the same time last year. There has been a 19 per cent increase in presentations for urgent and emergency mental health services compared to the same time last year and there has been a 29 per cent increase in mental health support by telephone.

We’re in a mental health crisis, and parents need support and advice when it comes to guiding their teens and tweens through it.

Here at Women’s Agenda, we’ve noticed that parenting advice is readily available for parents with babies and young children, but when it comes to children over the age of 10 and teenagers – there’s a lot less available.

We think there’s an urgent need for nuanced, practical and hope-filled parenting advice. And as Danni says, we need advice that’s not based on seriously unhelpful gender stereotypes.

So, we’re launching a new advice column with Danni Miller, who has devoted much of her adult life to helping young people across Australia build resilience. She has written five parenting books (including a bestselling title on raising happy, confident teen girls) and founded Enlighten Education to reach as many tweens and teens as possible. She also has an 18-year-old son, and a 21-year-old daughter. If there’s anyone who knows what’s going on with teenagers – it’s Danni.

The soon to be launched column, ‘Dear Danni’, will be a regular space where can access helpful information and tips about their adolescents.

“I want to provide thoughtful, accessible and compassionate answers to some of the questions that I’m frequently hearing,” Danni says.

If you or someone you know needs assistance, contact Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Lifeline on 13 11 14, or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.

Check out Danni’s first column here. We’ll also shortly be launching other columns for parents of kids at different ages.

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