Baroness Susan Greenfield – How modern tech impacts on brains of children

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Do we really want to live in a world where people have no self esteem, are narcissistic and have no empathy when you talk to them?”

This was one of the key questions Baroness Susan Greenfield asked in her keynote presentation on the second day of the Good Childhood Conference.

Thanks to technology, we have more leisure time than ever before. This means we have the greatest ever opportunity for developing the human mind. Susan expressed fear that we are not taking the opportunity to do so.

She argues that, as social media use has increased, face-to-face interaction has decreased. When you meet someone face-to-face, your words make up only 10% of meaning communicated. Social media narrows communication, as it doesn’t include things like body language, tone of voice and physical contact.

Susan argued that if we use social media too much, we lose these face-to-face communication skills. As a result, we feel uncomfortable in social situations, and so continue to avoid them in favour of social media.

Social media encourages us to disclose personal information with people we don’t know well, and Susan said their responses to this information cause low self esteem. But it’s not only self-confidence that she was concerned about.

Susan indicated use of technology was prompting a range of health problems:

Autism

“There is a link between autism-like behaviour and screen time”

Susan said there was a link between the typical brain wave response present in problematic face recognition, a characteristic of autism, and heavy internet users.

Gaming & gambling

Baroness Susan Greenfield on gaming
Baroness Susan Greenfield argued for some of the negatives of gaming, such as people hiding behind fictitious characters or avatars.

Susan said children who are addicted to video games have similar brains to problem gamblers. She cited this article in UK newspaper ‘The Telegraph’.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Susan said she would “like to flag that there are certain elements of gaming that can be good for you.” These elements included using video games to help people with disabilities to rehearse situations which may be difficult in real life. She also acknowledged that technology is good for input-output mental processing, and may be responsible for increasing IQ’s, but stressed that humans are designed for a deeper level of thinking than simple input-output processes.

Susan asked:

“Could the people who Tweet a lot be in some kind of existential crisis?”

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

There has been a great rise in diagnosis of ADHD in the developed world. Susan suggested the intense stimulation provided by video games and the instantaneous flow of information on the internet leads children’s minds to adapt to this pace of thinking. When these children are placed in slower paced situations, their minds race and they are unable to slow them.

What do you think? Are social media users undergoing existential crisis? Are people becoming more narcissistic and less empathetic as a result of technology?

You can find out more about Susan Greenfield and her research here.

Post written by a youth blogger from SYN Media

Young people transitioning from out of home care in VIC

Associate Professor Philip Mendes
Associate Professor Philip Mendes

“Young people with disabilities are facing huge challenges when leaving Out of Home Care.”

On Friday, the second day of the conference, Associate Professor Philip Mendes from Monash University presented the findings of a study into this transitional period.

Philip said his study confirmed that young people leaving care are more vulnerable to poorer outcomes. He drew comparisons with the wider community, highlighting many young people don’t leave the homes of their parents until they are aged 25 and of those who do leave home by 18, a large portion continue to receive some sort of support from their family.

This is in stark contrast to young people with disabilities who are leaving Out of Home Care at age 18 and are often not ready to be fully independent for a variety of reasons.

There is minimal research about how many young people are in care, or what types of disabilities they live with, but it appears there is an over representation of children with a disability.

The findings of the study concluded:

  • Young people with disabilities are not experiencing planned transitions from care and are not receiving the care they need.
  • Young people are sometimes transitioned into aged care facilities.
  • The system is crisis driven.
  • Inadequate funding results in a lack of accommodation options and support services for young people with disabilities.
  • Young people’s participation in their leaving care plan is hampered by the lack of resources and services.
  • The sudden transition from statutory children’s services to voluntary adult disability services is problematic for some young people.

“After transitioning from care, young people with disabilities should have ongoing monitoring and support”

Associate Professor Philip Mendes

Philip continued to explain the situation for young people with undiagnosed disabilities, borderline disabilities and mental illness was also dire. They ‘fall through the net’ and are often left worse off than those with significant diagnosed disability.

“The most common type of disability is mental illness and yet young people with mental illness are not eligible for disability services,” he said.

Philip’s presentation highlighted how a sector that is underfunded is not providing the level of care and support a vulnerable group of people need. The process of leaving out-of-home care is fraught with difficulties, as one can imagine.

Perhaps the most important finding from Philip’s study:

“After transitioning from care, young people with disabilities should have ongoing monitoring and support”

For more information on how young people are affected, read this great article from The Age on Chantelle’s story of leaving care with a mental illness.

Post written by a youth blogger from SYN Media.

For what we’re about to receive: using gratitude to boost wellbeing in schools – Lea Waters

Associate Professor Lea Waters
Associate Professor Lea Waters

“In our daily lives, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but the gratefulness that makes us happy” – Albert Clarke

What is gratitude? How do we define gratitude? How has gratitude changed over time for us as individuals?

We all most likely began our life seeing gratitude as manners. As the “pleases” and “thank you’s” in life, as what our parents told us was right. Turns out, this is possibly the simplest meaning of gratitude we could have.

Opening our eyes to the power of gratitude, Associate Professor Lea Waters began by asking us to tell her what gratitude feels like. Having closed our eyes and brainstorming to find a moment when we felt gratitude or have received gratitude in our own lives, Lea then helped define this feeling of gratitude as:

“A worldview moving towards noticing and appreciating the positives in life” or

“An acknowledgement that we have received something of value from others”.

Gratitude is not just a feeling, but a reaction from a complex cognitive process. Lea explained that there is actually multiple factors that are taken into play right before we begin to feel gratitude for something, a whole judgement process considering factors such as:

  • Is this gift something of value?
  • Was it through kindness or altruism?
  • What is the cost of this action?
  • How is this impacting the person who’s giving?

Associate Professor Lea Waters

However, gratitude is more than a feeling and it is more than a cognitive process. Gratitude can improve your health on all different levels. The physical findings from studying the impact of gratitude on the body has come to show that:

Gratitude can:

  • Help us sleep better,
  • Support our immune system,
  • Help us cope with pain,
  • Reduce somatic symptoms.

So remember, “If we don’t show gratitude, it’s like receiving a present and not opening it”.

Why not try the exercise yourself, close your eyes and think of something you have to be grateful for, or a time you felt grateful; then share it with us!

Post written by a youth blogger from SYN Media.

Is Childhood Improving for Aboriginal Children?

Professor Muriel BamblettProfessor Muriel Bamblett AM, CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA), covered issues facing Aboriginal children in today’s society.

And, the stats were shocking.

Aboriginal children today are twenty times more likely to be homeless, receive over 30% less financial support, face a life expectancy 20 years lower than that of non-Aboriginal children, and they are more likely to experience disability, ill health, and a reduced quality of life.

Despite all of that, Muriel reminded us that this data doesn’t tell us about the good things happening in Aboriginal communities and spoke of the successes in culture and sport of indigenous people like singer Jessica Mauboy, AFL star Buddy Franklin & NRL star Jonathan Thurston.

Muriel shared that building Aboriginal culture into everything VACCA do is crucial, and that after their safety, the most important thing to establish in an Aboriginal child’s life is culture and cultural safety.

Professor Muriel Bamblett and cultural identity

How can we help provide an environment which respects that culture around us?

Post written by a youth blogger from SYN Media.

Youth perspectives & leadership – A Youth Panel

Youth Panel

Day 1 of the Good Childhood Conference 2013 wrapped with a youth panel consisting of four young people, all of whom work actively in areas relating to youth affairs and leadership. Facilitated by UN Youth Representative 2012, Dan Ryan, the panelists discussed issues related to modern childhoods from their own experiences and work, and answered various questions posed by Dan and the audienceThe panel was made up of:

  1. Marlee-Alice Gorman of the Victorian Student Representative Council (VicSRC) who’s been described as “the most compassionate speaker Parliament House has ever seen”.
  2. Sarah Faithful of the Young & Well Cooperative Research Centre, Youth Brains Trust, who is interested in utilising technology to improve mental health and well-being in young people.
  3. Crystal Goetz, A Mirabel Foundation Youth Ambassador, who is passionate about a world that is fair for all.
  4. And, Linh Do, a Melbourne-based social change advocate.
Marlee-Alice Gorman
Marlee-Alice Gorman

The panelists spoke eloquently and honestly about their interests, passions and opinions regarding topics facing youth today:

  • On the (often negative) perceptions of youth in society the panelists all agreed “I’m gonna defy this stereotype of me”,
  • In regards to the boundaries that young people face Crystal argued that “You need to be allowed to make bad decisions”,
  • And, when asked what they would tell their 10 year old self if they had the chance, Marlee summed it up perfectly saying “What the other kids think about me doesn’t matter”.

There was united consensus among the panel on the notion of treating young people as equals and a strong belief in the idea that anyone is able to change the world.

Melbourne based social change advocate Linh Do.
Melbourne based social change advocate Linh Do.

Connect with the organisations or young people on Twitter:

Victorian SRC @VicSRC // Young & Well CRC @yawcrc // Mirabel Foundation @MirabelFndation // Linh Do @lmdo

Post written by a youth blogger from SYN Media.

UN Youth Rep for Australia: Dan Ryan

Dan Ryan

Young people should be at the forefront of change.

This was the sentiment of the 2012 United Nations Youth Representative for Australia, Dan Ryan, in his keynote address Architecting new expectations for youth.

There didn’t seem to be a more appropriate person to speak at the Berry Street Childhood Institutes’s Good Childhood Conference, and Dan provided the floor with an invaluable, youth perspective during the day’s events.

The key issues Dan addressed explored the fundamental question of the conference: what does a sustainable, good childhood look like?

Dan spoke about what fantastic influences he had growing up, being raised and home-schooled through natural learning. No limitations or restrictions were placed on himself or his siblings – what subjects they learnt, what time they woke up, whether their homework got assessed or not, the jobs they could pursue, and so on.

Dan Ryan and his siblings
Dan Ryan speaking about his childhood and siblings.

Dan believes that this freedom allowed him and his siblings to make mistakes, learn from them, and develop and grow as people.

Because of natural learning and the influence of making his own decision, Dan believes he has been inspired to live a fulfilled life. He spoke a bit about how failure is a tool for reflection, that it shouldn’t be stigmatised and shamed, but welcomed as a learning curve for young people.

Speaking about his website, Dan outlined the abilities of young people to develop solutions and create change around Australia. On his website, youth can participate by:

  • Entering a solution they have seen working in their local area;
  • Browsing, discussing, rating and sharing solutions; and
  • Following in Dan’s journey as Youth Rep. with stories, surveys, photos and videos exploring issues related to youth.

Dan Ryan

Dan also touched on the conference’s contentious issue of social media, and claimed that while social media could be an invaluable, innovative tool for youth to learn about and create change, real change comes from people and communities. So long as there is a real community behind a movement, change can be achieved.

Dan’s keynote address concluded that the most important thing is including youth in the decisions that organisations make.

It’s important that we look for those moments, … look for opportunities to include youth in choices so that we can have societal change.

Post written by youth blogger from SYN Media.

Trauma Informed Positive Education: Wellbeing strategies in relationship-based classrooms

Tom BrunzellIn this session, Berry Street’s Tom Brunzell spoke about how to engage young people, specifically in the context of the Berry Street School.

The Berry Street School caters for young people aged 12-16 who have become disengaged from mainstream education, and strives to re-engage them and promote pathways into employment.

The part that stood out to me was when Tom introduced the concept of ‘flow’ as proposed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – a state where a person is completely engrossed in what they’re doing.

Imagine a situation where a child is entirely uninterested in school, but the area they’re interested in – the place in which they ‘flow’ – can be used to help them learn and grow as a person.

He also spoke of the importance of value clarification exercises at Berry Street School.

Both students and teachers are encouraged to reflect on which skills they have built on regularly, on their own and as a group, with the students’ skills posted on the wall to encourage the students.

The Berry Street School recently celebrated it's 10 Year Anniversary
The Berry Street School recently celebrated it’s 10 Year Anniversary

This isn’t just an idea, or an activity which is done once a term, but a weekly exercise to reinforce the strengths of the children, as well as the areas in which they are improving.

What way might you be able to help increase engagement around the young people you come into contact with?

Post written by youth blogger from SYN Media.