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Anxiety, anger and trepidation are all common feelings your children might face when going back to school. Here are some tips to help ease them back into the school routines.

Amidst lockdowns, work from home and isolation requirements the last two school years have been nothing but linear. With a new year emerging from the hopeful end of the tumultuous pandemic brings new precautions, routines and expectations for what school might look like. There are some things you can do to prepare for onsite learning and remember you have been ‘back to school’ before.

Talk to your child about what is happening and set goals

Open conversations will be important, as your children will probably have a lot of questions about the new procedures their school has in place, or why some of their friends or teachers are away. It might be difficult to get your children to like school again after the flexibility of at home learning. Set goals with them they can achieve over the school year, such as packing their bag each day, learning to tie their shoes or to get their pen licence.

Schedule normal family time as something to look forward to for after school. Ask them what they are excited for and what they have missed, whether this is school choir or playing in the playground.

children in classroom art

Be ready for a range of emotions

You might need to prepare for school refusal, your child being extremely upset about going back to school and not wanting to attend classes. Every child will be different, so assess the needs of yours individually.

It is normal for your child to come home from their first day back at school feeling overwhelmed, anxious or even disappointed that school feels different. It could be that their best friend hasn’t come back to school, or that their friendship groups have changed over the break. Talk candidly about friendships and how they evolve over time.

kid reading book

Use a planner and establish routines

Learning from home meant children could work at their own pace, so they might face fatigue and stress upon going back to a full school day. Start now by setting up playdates so that your child will be more prepared for a full classroom setting and the noises and sensory overload that comes with a busy playground.

There is no need to rush back into everything, and it may be hard to see great progress immediately. Ease your child back into extracurricular activities or seeing their friends outside of the classroom. Use lunchboxes for daytime meals at home, and go over drop-off and pick-up routines. Rehearse a normal school day in the week before its return to re-establish familiarity. Do the school shopping together and get a new item such as coloured pens to get your children excited about going back to school.

children and teacher in classroom

Reassure your child it is safe, and believe this yourself

Where you can, give your child stability in processes that you can control. This may be getting them in great hand-washing, mask and sanitisation routines or teaching them about air purification devices that may be present in the classroom to stop the spread of infectious particles.

Assure your child that decisions will be made if it were unsafe to go back to school, and acknowledge that their range of emotions such as excitement, relief, worry, anger and disappointment are all normal. Reinforce good hygiene practices – consider singing their favourite team song when washing their hands.

apple on stack of books

Reach out for support when necessary

Communication with teachers will be crucial to understand how your child is coping coming back into the classroom. After a hands-on home-schooling experience, your child might require more 1:1 support moving forward. Talk to your children about what they are learning, and engage with their curriculum to assist when you can. Parental stress might also be an issue, with fears of the changes to school and work life that come with challenging times.

If you or your child are struggling, visit your local GP, contact 1800 333 497, or visit findapsychologist.org.au.

children studying

School lunches can become repetitive and tedious; the following is a list of 5 easy recipes for our kids to enjoy.

  1. Lunchbox Pasta Salad from BBC Good Food

Ingredients:

  • 400g of pasta
  • 4-5 tablespoons of fresh pesto
  • 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons of Greek yogurt
  • ½ a juiced lemon
  • 200g of mixed cooked veg (e.g., peas, green beans, courgette)
  • 100g of cherry tomatoes in quarters
  • Choice of 200g of cooked of chicken, ham, prawns, hard-boiled egg or cheese

Method:

  • Cook the pasta in boiling water until al dente. Drain and tip into a bowl. Stir in the pesto and leave to cool.
  • When the pasta is cool, stir through the mayo, yogurt, lemon juice and veg. Spoon into lunchboxes or on to pasta plates and put the cooked chicken or protein of your choice on top. Chill until ready to eat if intended for a packed lunch.

 

  1. Quick Mini Quiches from Kidspot Kitchen

Ingredients:

  • Vegetable oil spray
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 finely chopped spring onions
  • 1 cup of creamed corn
  • 50g of grated tasty cheese

Method:

  • Heat the oven to 180°C and spray 10 holes of a muffin tray with vegetable oil.
  • Mix all the ingredients together and spoon into the pan; fill each muffin cavity about 2/3 full.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes until set in the middle.
  • Cool completely and store in an airtight container in the fridge.

 

  1. Cornflake and oat fruit biscuits from Australia’s Best Recipes

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of self-rising flour
  • 3/4 cup of rolled oats
  • 1 cup of Cornflakes
  • 150g of butter
  • 1/2 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup of sultanas
  • 1/2 cup of finely chopped dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup of chocolate bits
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 1/2 cup of coconut

Method:

  • in a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients.
  • Stir in melted butter, vanilla, honey and beaten egg.
  • Drop tablespoons of mixture onto baking trays lined with baking paper. Flatten with a fork.
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes at 180C.

 

  1. Kiwi Pops from Kidspot Kitchen

Ingredients:

  • 2 kiwifruits
  • 200 g of dark chocolate
  • Pop sticks

Method:

  • Cover a flat tray with baking paper and place in the fridge.
  • Peel and slice each kiwifruit into 4 thick wedges.
  • Push the pop sticks gently into each slice.
  • Melt chocolate in the microwave in a glass bowl in 30 second bursts, stirring well in between.
  • Dip the kiwi into chocolate and tap off excess gently. Place on cooled tray and return to fridge to set.

 

  1. Energy Bites from BBC Good Food

Ingredients:

  • 100g of pecan
  • 75g of raisin
  • 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed (or a mix – milled flaxseed, almond, Brazil nut or walnut mix)
  • 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon of agave syrup
  • 50g of desiccated coconut
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter

Method:

  • Put pecans in a food processor and blitz to crumbs. Add raisins, peanut butter, flaxseeds, cocoa powder and agave syrup, then pulse to combine.
  • Shape the mixture into golf ball-sized spheres and coat in the coconut. Put in the fridge to firm for 20 mins.

 

 

 

 

Since Facebook became “Meta” and announced its entrance into the “Metaverse”, a lot of people have been left asking what exactly that means, and what are the implications for the next generation of technology-addicted kids?

Clearly, technology, phones and social media have become an indispensable asset in our lives – changing the way that we communicate, learn and speak. For many adults, it’s routine for a smartphone to essentially act as an extension of a limb, books to be read on a Kindle and work meetings to be joined through Zoom. With the rapidly advancing technological options for daily tasks, kids are beginning to form a closer relationship with technology too. The Australian Bureau of Statistics found that 90% of Australian children are looking at screens for 10 or more hours a week.

Many parents are familiar with the dangers of excess screen time, social media and technology addiction in kids – but with Facebook’s rebranding itself to “Meta”, and its subsequent launch into the “Metaverse”, the implications for children in this new technological space is unclear.

What on earth is the “Metaverse”?

We have all heard the term flying around in the news recently, but less people know what the metaverse actually entails. Broadly, the metaverse is a virtual reality and augmented reality system that creates engrossing, 3D digital experiences, that were previously viewed on a phone in the palm of your hand. Essentially, it is a combination of immersive online spaces that connect to create an entirely online universe – accessed through virtual reality.

The concept of a metaverse is not a new phenomenon. Coined by Neil Stephenson in his 1992 sci-fi book Snow Crash, the metaverse was described as a virtual world where the protagonist went to escape his reality in Los Angeles.

After Snow Crash, concepts akin to a “metaverse” were adapted by a myriad of other sci-fi and action productions like Ready Player One and more recently Free Guy starring Ryan Reynolds, as well as online games like Second Life, Roblox and Pokemon Go – which all centre around the blurring of the lines between online activity, and reality.

Clearly, there are several companies that have begun to utilise the digital connectedness that the metaverse has to offer. However, with the recent addition of Facebook and Microsoft to this list, as well as the large focus on access via virtual reality– the distinction between what is online and what is reality looks even more unclear.

Here are some of the main features of the “metaverse” to consider:

  • A virtual world and virtual reality: this is, to many, the most important aspect of the metaverse. The idea behind a virtual reality entrance into the metaverse, is that you feel more present in the online space, and less connected to reality.
  • Other people: the presence of other people in the metaverse is a characteristic that Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg are presumably focusing on – to create a more realistic and ‘natural’ form of online communication. There will be many other avatars and users in the metaverse space to talk to and even do things with – from the comfort of your bedroom.
  • Availability: This virtual world is available whenever an individual wants to enter it – which can do even more to blur the boundaries between online and real life. Users can change the metaverse by adding virtual objects or buildings, and even potentially owning residency within it.
  • Connection to the real world: some people theorise that some aspects of real life will be able to translate into the metaverse. For example, spending money for things that you will only get in the metaverse, or flying a drone in the metaverse to control a drone in real life.

Lack of control on age and content restrictions

Now we have more of a clear understanding of what this online universe will look like – we should talk about the potential impact it will have on the younger generation. Children have already been exposed to several social online games and gaming systems like Roblox, Play Station and Xbox, where they can play a game and communicate with others simultaneously. Therefore, the idea of a metaverse will undoubtedly appeal to them.

While access to the metaverse is limited to those over 13 years old, there is a lack of verification and moderation software to ensure that this age restriction remains enforced. Oculus, Facebook’s virtual reality platform, does not have much information to support the alleged age restrictions for the metaverse. Its safety centre states that the software is “Designed for Age 13+” and therefore those under 13 are not permitted to have an account or use devices. However, the section next to this explains how to share an Oculus device with friends and family, therefore demonstrating that children would be able to access the metaverse by simply using their parent’s account.

Additionally, with Facebook’s recent efforts to include younger children in their social media empire, parents may be cautious on the ability for their children to access the metaverse and become subject to its immersive and addictive nature – without someone monitoring the content they are consuming.

Where do you draw the line between technology and reality?

Despite the lack of control on age and content restrictions, a larger danger that presents itself in virtual reality, is the blurring of the lines between online activity and reality. More specifically, considering the already difficult task of moderating cyberbullying and online abuse in 2D communication, how these forms of bullying will impact teens and children in a more realistic 3D online space that is the metaverse.

When communicating online or playing games through a phone, the artificial nature of the experience is clearer, because you are holding it in your hand. However, the immersive experience of VR – in that it’s manufactured to feel ‘real’ – makes its simulated nature more difficult to distinguish. Research has demonstrated that the psychological and effects of VR register in our bodies the same way as real-life experiences, as the level of “presence” in VR aims to mimic reality.

When this is considered in the context of violent video games, or social media cyberbullying, the ‘coolness’ factor is diminished. For example, current studies have demonstrated that when playing violent video games in VR, and experiencing physical abuse in a realistic VR landscape, the subconscious psychological and post-traumatic effect may be more intense than intended.

Verbal abuse will also feel more real as well. If a child is experiencing cyberbullying in a virtual reality landscape – instead of reading abusive words from someone hiding behind a keyboard, they will be hearing and seeing someone verbally abuse them, as if it was happening in real life.

Even so, because of the developing nature of children’s brains, the increasingly mainstream nature of VR – paired with potential traumatic experiences within – makes the potential consequences to children’s mental and emotional health unknown.

The introduction of the metaverse has catapulted the prospect of VR communication into the mainstream. Albeit scary, this technology has the potential to revolutionise social media and online gaming. However, whether this will have a positive effect on the wellbeing of our children and other future generations is unknown. It is in the hands of controlling companies to establish secure age verification and content moderation systems, to make the metaverse the safest place that it can be.

Studies are suggesting that teaching your children bodily autonomy and consent at an early age is crucial for their confidence and ability to set boundaries into adulthood.

Teaching your child how to navigate the complexities of the outside world is one of the most daunting challenges presented to parents and teaching them healthy boundaries is one of the most crucial lessons to pass on.

Teaching children boundaries for themselves and others is a social and emotional skill that will keep them safe with strangers and their friends. Empowering your children with the tools to assert their autonomy over their bodies and emotions will keep them safe from anyone who might want to exploit their vulnerability. 

Often, adults can take advantage of a child’s inexperience and inability to advocate for themselves. In worst-case scenarios, this can lead to belittling, lower self-confidence, and physical and sexual abuse

Two young children hug each other outside amongst some trees.

All parents understand the basics of boundaries setting. For example, no hitting, no interrupting, no grabbing things from other children without asking and the importance of please and thank you. 

Child Mind Psychology says that these things are the basic principles of boundary setting that can be applied to everything. This is because they exist for two reasons; to understand and respect the needs of others and to understand and respect their own needs as individuals. 

While the benefits of boundary setting are beneficial for countless reasons, new movements in parenting are beginning to use these principles to teach bodily autonomy. 

Two young children laugh and hug each other.

Why boundaries matter

Christmas, Easter or a family reunion rolls around, and suddenly your child is faced with a crowd of well-meaning relatives they may not see very often who are dying to smother their niece or great-nephew with hugs or kisses. While the temptation to make people happy is present, you might cave and say, ‘Give uncle so-and-so a hug!’ there are several reasons this may be detrimental. 

In situations like these, children may feel like their bodies don’t belong to them but rather to the adults in the room and that adults can make decisions about what they should do with their bodies regardless of how they feel. 

It is also instilled in children to ignore their intuition and feelings to please others. And while it might feel like we are just trying to teach them social skills and empathy, these things will develop over time, especially once they have a strong sense of self. 

Two young boys in a classroom reach out and tickle their teacher who is laughing.

Children need to be empowered to foster a sense of trust in their instincts, not taught to ignore them. Educating them to listen to how they feel during these situations will keep them safe in childhood and adulthood.

While it is highly unsettling to consider, 90% of child abuse victims are abused by someone they know, like a family member or a friend. This is why teaching bodily autonomy to children with people they know and are close to is crucial. 

Openness and Honesty

Emotional honesty and communication are crucial elements of consent and autonomy. As well as fostering honesty around touch, it is essential to have clarity about ‘secrets.’

In addition to teaching about ok touch and not ok touch, talk about ok secrets and not ok secrets. Ok secrets are birthday surprises, Christmas presents or planning a surprise dinner for Mother’s Day. 

Not ok secrets are family members or friends who might use language like ‘this is our special game that’s just our secret,’ or ‘don’t tell anyone about our game or you will get in trouble.’

Make it explicitly clear what ok and not ok secrets are and assure them that there is absolutely no secret they would ever get in trouble for disclosing. Let them know that it is always ok to tell a trusted adult if someone asks them to keep a secret like this. Also, let them know that you will believe them if they share this with you.

Let them know that it is ok to tell another adult even if it is someone they love and trust. 

A school teacher in a classroom giving advice to two young girls in school uniforms about bodily autonomy.

Trusted Adults

Help your child establish a list of trusted adults that they can speak to, including people who are not family members. This might be a schoolteacher, kindergarten teacher, friend’s parent, or school counsellor. Often, children do not disclose abuse to parents and may feel more comfortable with one of these trusted adults, to begin with. 

Teaching children about boundaries, consent, and bodily autonomy not only keeps them safe and secure within themselves but is a crucial aspect of emotional intelligence they will carry into adulthood. And lastly, it is never too late to start implementing these lessons. 

 

 

Melbourne mum Michelle Sheppard speaks openly about the highs and lows of her gender transition, what she’s learned, and how her daughters have been invaluable in helping her through the process.

Michelle Sheppard, known affectionately to many as Mama Mish, came out as transgender eight years ago, at the age of 36. At the time she came out she was Daniel, a husband with two young daughters.

Although, Michelle says, her 13-year marriage was disintegrating. Both she and her wife had become complacent, spending less and less time nourishing their relationship.

Date nights and time spent together had dwindled away; they were just ‘there’ together.

As she started to explore her feelings about being transgender, Michelle realised it was not a place she and her wife could go together.

When Michelle eventually disclosed to her wife that she was trans, it wasn’t well received. While there was fear and hurt on both sides, she understood her wife’s reaction.

“It was very hard for her,” Michelle shares. “Her husband of 13 years who is this tall, 6’3” American who’s very masculine says they want to be a woman. It’s like, ‘What the fuck?’, you know.”

“In the early days, I had to allow my ex to express what she needed to, to get it out of her system. It didn’t matter whether it was aggressive, whether it was her expressing her hurt and her pain, I had to allow her to go through that, to feel that. It wasn’t easy, it was very hard to watch.”

Raised in the conservative US city of St. Louis, Michelle was exposed to well-defined gender roles early, which she says underpinned her decision to marry and start a family.

“Coming from the Bible Belt, gender roles were quite strong there. A man’s a man and he does this role, a woman’s a woman and she does this role. There was pressure to fulfil those particular roles.”

Michelle stuck to these rigid gender roles despite knowing from a young age that she had been born into the wrong body.

“I had known since I was about four. I remember in the playground at school saying things like ‘I should’ve been a girl’. But it wasn’t until near the end of my marriage that I decided I had to dig into this and understand further what was going on.”

The decision to transition was a fraught one, something she wanted desperately to avoid for fear of the repercussions it might have on her wife and children.

“I actually fought against it as much as I could. If I had a pill at the time to make it go away, I probably would’ve taken it. I was worried about how it would impact my kids and my ex.”

Ultimately, Michelle felt she had no choice. She had to live her truth.

Michelle’s overriding concern was how best to navigate the process of transitioning with her daughters in a way that did not negatively affect them. Airlie was about to turn seven, Peyton was three or four.

Michelle’s situation is not an unusual one. Despite the increased visibility of members of the gay, lesbian and bisexual community, the stigma surrounding gender diversity has meant that trans parents are likely to have had children in heterosexual relationships prior to transitioning.

The 2016 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Census revealed that just over half (54%) of people who identified as sex and/or gender diverse lived in a family household; of these, 49% were a spouse or partner.

When a parent comes out as trans, it can cause anxiety in the family unit as the person embarks on a quest to resolve that differentiation. Trans parents must navigate multiple, contradictory roles to integrate their parental and gender identities.

As a result, all members of the family, including children, end up transitioning with the trans parent.

Unable to rely on professional supports to assist with her transition, which were unavailable at the time, Michelle instead observed how other trans people approached their transition and how it had affected their familial relationships.

“What I found was that a lot of trans people come out – they’re telling everybody – and they want it to change overnight. For me, I realised that if I go one step too forward, if they’re not able to take those steps with me then I need to take a step back and let them catch up.”

So, Michelle adopted an organic approach, actively including Airlie and Peyton in her transition to make sure they felt safe and comfortable.

“We just let things grow and develop. As my hair was getting longer, I let them play with it and braid it. I’d already, a few years before, done a makeup artistry course and so we would do makeup and paint nails. We were allowing the play to happen, and it became a very normal thing like ‘This is what we do with Daddy’.”

Michelle’s girls continued to call her ‘Dad’, which was their choice. And they did so with an accepting caveat: ‘Well, yeah, you’re Dad but you’re a girl,’ they’d say.

The first time Michelle went out socially dressed as a woman, she put her children in charge of deciding what she should wear.

“I allowed them to be part of that. I said, ‘Let’s pick out some clothes.’ My daughters picked out this leopard print skirt, high boot heels,” she recalls with a laugh. “They did my makeup. This was them playing and being part of it. I slowly just let it happen.”

Sometimes, however, Michelle had to put her transition on hold for the sake of her children.

“No matter how much I was growing, and how much I was finally being myself, if I had to keep the reins on then that’s what I’d have to do. Because they need to be comfortable, and I need to make sure that they’re safe in this. As a parent, that’s what’s most important.”

“I let them call the shots because as a parent you don’t come first, they come first. You have to put your needs and wants, a lot of the time, behind when it comes to kids.”

While societal issues such as transphobia and discrimination can make life difficult for children of trans parents, Michelle says that neither Airlie nor Peyton have experienced negative reactions as a result of her transition.

When asked by school friends what they did on the weekend, her daughters respond with something like ‘I was at Dad’s house, hanging with her’, Michelle explains. When challenged – ‘you mean he, your dad’s a he’ – they correct their friends without a second thought: ‘No, my dad’s a girl.’

Adults have not been as understanding. Michelle blames the negative comments made by other parents to her daughters – ‘How disgusting, they’re tricking you’ or ‘The poor children will never have a father figure’ – on the media’s portrayal of trans people.

Big-screen characters such as Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s (1975) Frank-N-Furter, and Einhorn in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994) have helped to normalise transgender misrepresentation.

Trans representation is no better on television where, according to American media-watch organisation, GLAAD, trans characters were cast as victims at least 40% of the time, as killers or villains in at least 21% of storylines, and the most common profession for transgender characters was sex work.

Because many people don’t personally know a transgender person, they look to the media for information and understanding. Unfortunately, the media tends to portray trans people as deviants, criminals, and murderers, creating the misunderstanding that a lot of adults have in relation to trans people.

Stereotypes are a bit like air: they’re invisible but always present.

“It’s adults who respond the worst because adults subscribe to stereotypes and stereotypes are those over-generalised beliefs about a category of people,” Michelle says, her voice tinged with disappointment. “Stereotypes are a bit like air: they’re invisible but always present.”

Thankfully, children are less likely to subscribe to these stereotypes. Research shows that, over time, children develop a range of strategies to cope with parental role ambiguity, redefining and restructuring the child-parent relationship.

Family continuity, communication, and acceptance positively contribute to how children adapt to a parent’s transition. Often, children are aware of gender-atypical behaviours exhibited by a parent that, in retrospect, align with their parent’s gender identity.

That was certainly the case with Airlie and Peyton, given how young they were when Michelle began her transition. “They’ve never known me the old way,” she says, “this is all they’ve ever known.”

Michelle’s daughters have been crucial to her journey.

She recounts a particularly dark period early in her transition, where her daughters provided the impetus for her to continue.

“There was a point within the first year. It got tough. I couldn’t find work. And as a parent you don’t think so much about yourself or when you’re going to eat but you worry about them.”

“I was really at a low place, and I planned my suicide. I’d checked out. I was going to spend one last weekend with my girls. I went and had a quick nap. I woke up and at the end of my bed there’s my youngest and she’s got one of my wigs on and a little flower in there. She’s got my lipstick. She looks at me and goes, ‘Hi Daddy!’

“I walked into the living room and there’s my eldest, wearing another wig and another little flower and she was drawing me, her mum, her animals. She’s like ‘Here, Daddy, here’s you. Here’s a pretty dress for you. We’re all girls, even our pets are girls!’

“And I’m like, ‘What the fuck am I doing?’ I had this click,” Michelle snaps her fingers. “I had too many motherfuckers to prove wrong! That’s what shifted me. It’s the girls that have kept my tether connected.”

Michelle’s relationship with her children has continued to grow throughout her transition. One of the most interesting transformations for her had to do with changing her thinking around the sexualisation of her body.

“This space here,” she says, gesturing to her breasts, “I had to reprogram my brain because as a man there’s this sexual connotation with them.”

It was her daughters nuzzling into her breasts for comfort that led to Michelle’s change in thinking.

“This is their space, a nurturing space; non-sexual, comforting, warm. It was this weird journey that I went on, and my kids took me on that journey. It was really wholesome, and it really brought me into that woman’s space. My children took me there.”

Because I know who I am and I know my truth, as a woman I can teach my daughters the exact same thing.

“I let my daughters help me develop and grow so as I developed and grew inside, more of me changed and developed,” she continues. “Because I know who I am and I know my truth, as a woman I can teach my daughters the exact same thing.”

Given the open, loving relationship she has with her children, Michelle doesn’t regret her decision to transition. But she also recognises and embraces the masculine part of herself.

I see myself as more two-spirited. I’m Daniel and Michelle. I see Michelle as the evolution of Daniel.

“I’m still Daniel in a lot of ways. I’ve found a happy medium. I see myself as more two-spirited. I’m Daniel and Michelle. I see Michelle as the evolution of Daniel. I can live my life as I am. I think it’s important to hold on to parts of yourself and remember where you come from. If I was never Daniel, I’d never have had Airlie and Peyton.”

Michelle has this advice for other transgender parents: “This is not something to be afraid of. Please don’t subscribe to those stereotypes because they’ll give that sense of self-doubt. What you need to do is surround yourself with visible, accessible role models that are important to you.”

Michelle now enjoys an amicable relationship with her ex-wife. They have come to an informal arrangement as to time spent with their children.

Looking back, comfortable in her truth, Michelle wouldn’t change a thing.

“I couldn’t,” she says. “As shitty as it’s been, it’s also been just as brilliant and just as beautiful.”

Over 45% of parents feel the effects of parental burnout. The crippling exhaustion, overwhelming stress, and the feeling that everything is just a bit too hard, is a shared experience with nearly half of all parents. Here is what you need to know about this common phenomenon – and the steps to take to feel like yourself again.

Many parents have come to realise that having children is exhausting… And even more exhausting when a pandemic, working from home and recurring lockdowns are thrown into the mix. The overwhelming feelings of stress and exhaustion associated with trying to juggle both life itself and the lives of their children too, can sometimes feel like a bit too much to handle. If you, as a parent, felt this too, don’t worry – you are definitely not alone.

It’s important to realise that these feelings are completely valid and parental burnout is more than just general tiredness or irritability. If left unmanaged, the all-consuming sensations of burnout can have significant consequences on not only parents’ mental health, but the sense of equilibrium within the family itself.

The first diagnoses of parental burnout dates back to 1983, but more extensive research was carried out in 2017, by Belgium researchers Dr Isabelle Roskam and Dr Moïra Mikolajczak – who really delved into the prevalence of parental burnout, especially in the 21st century.

They found that since previous studies, society has placed more pressure on families to raise high-performing, healthy and stable children – as well as a shift in gender norms – especially during COVID – which has generated an increase in more working mothers, and less who stay-at-home full time. These subtle changes can make the act of parenting more difficult and stressful and thus, emerges the patterns of parental burnout.

Beyond the initial feelings of exhaustion, parental burnout can also manifest in:

If these symptoms are left untreated for too long, the damage to parents’ mental health, hormones and relationships with both partners and children, can be significant. Research has found that parents who experience parental burnout, are likely to be more coercive or neglectful towards their children – despite the initial burnout often resulting from putting too much time and energy into your children and neglecting your own needs.

Other common factors that can lead to the development of parental burnout are:

For parents experiencing this level of burnout – despite how difficult it may seem – there are several ways that this burnout can be alleviated. Here are some common and scientifically proven ways that parental burnout can be reduced:

  • Establish a routine: by creating a set schedule within the family that allows time for everyone’s respective activities and obligations – as well as carving out time to be together as a family – parents can set boundaries between work and home and lessen the expectation to be doing everything at once.
  • Communicate your feelings: whether it is with a partner or a friend, telling someone how you are feeling is the first step to treating parental burnout. As this condition is often provoked by bottling up stress and exhaustion, the first way to fix this is to let someone know you need support.
  • Go to a support group: support groups for parents are a great way to feel like you’re not alone. By talking to other parents who may be sharing the same struggles, feelings of isolation that may be contributing to the burnout can be alleviated.
  • Exercise: it’s a well-known fact that moving your body releases endorphins and, for many, provides an outlet where you can release pent up stress. This doesn’t have to mean killing your body in the gym six days a week. If you are starting to feel stressed or overwhelmed, even a ten-minute walk or stretch can help release the feel-good hormones to make you feel more relaxed.
  • Consult a therapist: regardless of if you think you don’t need it – everyone can benefit in some way from talking to someone professional about your everyday problems, or perhaps past trauma that has led to burnout. There is no shame in getting help, and if you feel you need to talk to someone, a psychologist may be able to provide the informed guidance that you need.

The chance of developing parental burnout doesn’t go away as your kids grow up. As parents, it is likely that you will always put their needs above your own at points in time. But it is the acknowledgement that you are struggling, communication that you need help, and the seeking out of support that will help you on your journey to feel like yourself again.

 

 

 

 

You can navigate the everyday challenges of motherhood with a little reassurance and advice from one mother to another. As celebrities share their secrets  behind closed doors, with advice on navigating everyday parenting struggles.

While celebrities may share the glamour and fortune of their Hollywood lifestyles, their parenting styles  differ vastly.  With more access than ever into the lives of celebs behind closed doors, we have gathered their best advice on how to tackle the everyday challenges, as well as the everyday rewards of motherhood. There’s no handbook for successful mothering, but from Chrissy Teigen‘s bath time hacks to Beyonce teaching by example, these mothers have a few tips and advice to make everyday a little easier for all.

Chrissy Teigen (35 yo)

Children: Luna Simone Stephens (5yo), Miles Theodore Stephens (3yo)

@chrissyteigen

Chrissy Teigen isn’t one to shy away from the spotlight. Her Twitter escapades in particular, have made her infamous for her controversial and unfiltered nature. However, it’s Chrissy’s relatable and transparent parenting, or as she likes to call it, “de-motivational” speaking that offers lasting impression and inspiration to mothers everywhere. 

A bath time trick shared by Chrissy offers help to eliminate the shock and trouble of cleaning up. Chrissy shared that gently wrapping your baby (swaddled to your chest) and lowering them into the water while you enter as well, will provide the comfort and eliminate the bath time struggle for both mum and bub.

Teigen also shared some of her everyday advice with  SheKnows stating,

It’s important for us to come together and understand that there’s no perfect way to do something, There’s a million different ways to raise a child, and that’s fine.”

 

Chrissy Twitter Share:

8:00 PM · Jun 27, 2018·Twitter for iPhone

“only I can understand my kid. she’s like “BDIDKDKODKDHJXUDHEJSLOSJDHDUSJMSOZUZUSJSIXOJ”  and I’m like “ok I will get you a piece of sausage in just a minute”

 

Reese Witherspoon (45 yo)

Children: Ava Elizabeth Philippe (22yo), Tennessee James Toth (9yo), Deacon Reese Philippe (17yo)

@reesewitherspoon

Reese Witherspoon knows there’s no such thing as perfection in motherhood, and all mothers can share in the reassurance that not even Hollywood’s leading ladies always know how to navigate the unknown.

She states, “No one’s really doing it perfectly. I think you love your kids with your whole heart, and you do the best you possibly can.”

Reese places emphasis on finding a strong support network stating, “I depend on the kindness and support of my mom friends…It’s really about your support system, your family structure.”

 

Beyonce (40 yo)

Children: Blue Ivy Carter (9yo), Rumi Carter (4yo), Sir Carter (4yo)

@beyonce

Fierce and bold, Beyonce utilises her distinctive persona in her everyday parenting practices. Offering some of the most powerful advice on parenting in the contemporary age she states,

I let my children know that they are never too young to contribute to changing the world. I never underestimate their thoughts and feelings, and I check in with them to understand how this is affecting them.”

Helping her children feel empowered to change the world and modelling that same behaviour herself.

 

Blake Lively (34 yo)

Children: James Reynolds (6yo), Inez Reynolds (5yo), Betty Reynolds (12 months)

@blakelively

One of Hollywood’s Golden Couples, Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds are renowned for their reasonably confidential parenting style.  Lively however, took to instagram to share advice on the importance of CPR for parents stating, “All mamas and daddies out there—I can’t recommend this enough. I took a CPR class with a focus on babies and toddlers, for those of you who haven’t done it, you will love it. It’s so helpful by giving you knowledge, tools, and some peace of mind.”

However, even when prepared, Lively knows to expect the unexpected. She states in an interview with The Los Angeles Times,

Having a baby is just living in the constant unexpected. You never know when you’re gonna get crapped on or when you’re gonna get a big smile or when that smile immediately turns into hysterics.”

 

Angelina Jolie (46  yo)

Children: Maddox Chivan Jolie-Pitt (20yo) adopted in 2002, Pax Thien Jolie-Pitt (17yo) adopted 2007, Zahara Marley Jolie-Pitt (16yo) adopted 2005, Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt (15yo), Knox Léon and Vivienne Marcheline Jolie-Pitt (13yo)

@angelinajolie

Although no longer married,  Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were one of the most iconic Hollywood couples of the past two decades. Pitt and Jolie have six kids, three biological children and three who are adopted.

Jolie shares tips about parenting throughout the pandemic stating, “Like most parents, I focus on staying calm so my children don’t feel anxiety from me on top of all the worrying about.”

Jolie shares her worldly wisdom and advice as a reminder to mothers that even in the chaos of life, it’s the simple moments and time spent with your children that matter most. Stating,

Sometimes, when I want to take on the world, I try to remember that it’s just as important to sit down and ask my son how he’s feeling or talk to him about life.”

 

Dianne Keaton (75 yo)

Children: Dexter Keaton (26yo) adopted in 1996,  Duke Keaton (21yo) adopted in 2001

@diane_keaton

Motherhood comes in all different shapes, sizes and ages.  Dianne Keaton is just one example, at the age of 50 adopting her daughter Dexter, and five years later adopting her son Duke.

The now 75 year old, is renowned for her matriarch roles on the big screen, and that ripples into her everyday lifestyle. She states, “I had a career and I came to motherhood late and am not married and have never had such a trusting relationship with a man – and trust is where the real power of love comes from. A sense of freedom is something that, happily, comes with age and life experience.”

Motherhood has completely changed me. It’s just about like the most completely humbling experience that I’ve ever had. I think that it puts you in your place because it really forces you to address the issues that you claim to believe in and if you can’t stand up to those principles when you’re raising a child, forget it.”

Jlo (52 yo)

Children: Emme Maribel Muñiz (13yo), Maximilian David Muñiz (13yo)

@jlo

Multi-talented and determined mother of two, Jennifer Lopez shares on her socials it was her mother that ingrained in her the power of believing in yourself.  She took to instagram on Mothers Day stating, “It was my mom who instilled in us at a very young age that we could do anything. This was something that has really stayed with me. Being a mom is my greatest joy, and today I think about my mommy and all the moms out there. This is your day, and I hope you are surrounded by love, gratitude and appreciation… enjoy it!”

Jlo also knows that it’s experience that drives wisdom stating,

You cannot imagine what it’s like to be a mom until you are a mom. I used to give my friends who have kids advice all the time, and they would look at me like I had three heads. And then, when I had you two, the minute I had you two, I literally apologized to all my friends.”

 

Nicole Kidman (54 yo)

Children: Isabella Jane Cruise (28yo), Connor Cruise (26yo), Suri Cruise (15yo), Sunday Rose Kidman Urban (13yo)

@nicolekidman

Australian golden girl, Nicole Kidman knows that motherhood can be a struggle of instinct and experience.

She states,

My instinct is to protect my children from pain. But adversity is often the thing that gives us character and backbone. It’s always been a struggle for me to back off and let my children go through difficult experiences.”

In an interview with Vanity Fair, the 54-year-old states a rule that has made her “unpopular” with Sunday Rose, 10  and Faith Margaret, eight, “They don’t have a phone and I don’t allow them to have an Instagram,” she told the magazine. “I try to keep some sort of boundaries.”  Kidman also states she raises her children in a very religious household.

 

Kate Hudson (42 yo)

Children: Ryder Robinson (17 yo),Bingham Hawn Bellamy (10 yo), Rani Rose Hudson Fujikawa (2 yo) 

@katehudson

Following in her mothers footsteps, Kate Hudson rose to the big screen acting predominantly in rom-coms.  However, raised by the free-spirited Goldie Hawn, many are surprised by Kate’s motherhood method of discipline. 

In an interview with PEOPLE, she states,“Where I am strict is that there are certain rules that I put down. I don’t negotiate with my kids about certain things.” 

She states, “What I realised about that is that when you set that standard in your home, you don’t end up in long-winded negotiations. When I say no, it’s done.” Adding that she is “very, very strict about manners”.  For Kate there is no tolerance whatsoever for untruths. “I have no tolerance for lying,” she shares. “The tiny lies or the big ones.” 

And while Kate’s no nonsense approach might seem tough, that it doesn’t mean she doesn’t let her kids make mistakes. “When it comes to your feelings or emotions … I’m very open, I give my children a lot of space to make mistakes.” 

“Parenting shifts as your kids shift. The best thing for me has been throwing any kind of parenting manual out of the window.”

 

Kim Kardashian (41 yo)

Children: North West (8yo), Saint West (5yo), Chicago West (3yo), Psalm West (2yo)

@kimkardashian

American personality, socialite, model and businesswoman Kim Kardashian is not shy of the public eye. Sharing her family life on screen and now her family through her socials Kim’s open lifestyle includes sharing her greatest attributions of motherhood.

Kim’s breastfeeding hack offers mums a solution to sibling rivalry. When her son Saint was born, Kim explains her daughter North was extremely jealous explaining on the Ellen Degeneres show she would slip a milk box with straw into her bra for North whilst breastfeeding Saint.

The Keeping Up with the Kardashians star shares she relies and recommends on leaning on your family, stating she often turns to her four sisters for support.

“I have such unconditional love for my kids. No matter what, I will always love them and support them in anything they choose to do in life. My family was so close growing up; now that I’m a mom, I understand the bond my mom and dad felt with us,”

You might think gambling isn’t a kid’s problem, but most children have gambled in some way by the age of 15. Gambling is illegal for young people but is becoming increasingly common. This is why it should become a normal conversation to have early, like talks of drinking, drugs and sex.

The problem

A 2020 NSW survey found that 30% of young people aged 12-17 gambled over the last year, and their introduction to gambling began at age 11 or 12. Despite its illegality, a 2018 report by Growing Up In Australia found that one in six adolescents aged 16-17 reported some form of gambling.

1 in six 16-17 year olds gambled in the past year
Source: Growing up in Australia 2018

There are several risks linked with excessive gambling. These include:

classroom statistics
Source: Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation 2017

Types of gambling

Gambling may begin in childhood with games at home, buying lottery tickets or scratch cards, and in adolescence betting on races or sports. The use of video game gambling is increasing, with excessive video gaming recognised as a growing health concern.

With the options available in the online world, spending money on virtual goods is becoming more common. The Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation found in 2017 that 34% of Australian young people made in-game purchases for online games.

Loot box features are becoming more common, where random rewards can be purchased with real money, a sort of lottery to increase playing incentives. Social casino games are often engaged with as an introduction to the world of gambling.  A 2016 study found that 54% of Facebook games had gambling content, and 22% alluded to slot machines, showing the need for education on the risks of gambling.

graph describing youth gambling activities
Source: Growing up in Australia 2018

Risk and protective factors

Children are more susceptible to gambling problems due to developmental and cognitive immaturities combined with peer pressure. Some common risk factors associated with higher likelihood of engaging in gambling include:

  • Alcohol use
  • Depression
  • Smoking
  • Drug use
  • Impulsivity
  • Violence
  • Temperaments
  • Anti-social behaviour
  • Poor academic performance
  • Mental health disorders

A 2018 report by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation recognised protective factors that could limit a child’s exposure to gambling problems.  These include:

  • No substance abuse
  • Low impulsivity
  • High self-esteem
  • Low risk-taking
  • Future-oriented thinking
  • The ability to regulate emotions

credit card and laptop shopping

Preventing the problem before it begins

Gambling should be a topic of conversations when children are young enough to understand the implications of betting and using real money. It can become a problem early in adolescence, carrying into adulthood. There are recognised ways to prevent gambling becoming a problem which mostly involve open communication and limiting screen activity.

gambling problems beginning
Source: Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation 2017

Explain how gambling works

Children in primary school will generally be ready to learn about gambling. Talk to them about the likelihood of winning compared to other chances. The likelihood of winning the jackpot for Powerball is around 1 in 290 million. However, the chance of finding a four-leaf clover is 1 in every 10,000! They should know that gambling your own money is something to be taken seriously, but having fun is also okay. Encourage sharing your betting activities, so habits that can get out of control are not hidden.

Ensure your family attitudes and activities are a reflection of your stance

Your family’s attitude to gambling can influence your child. The less they are exposed, the less likely they could develop a problem. If you gamble regularly, your child might see this as normal behaviour and want to copy. Gambling language, such as ‘I bet you can’t shoot three baskets in a row, if you do we can go for ice-cream’ can be used to encourage children. There is a fine line between healthy gambling messages and unhealthy habits.

Set limits for screen use and online gambling

Allowing your children to play online video games with gambling content can lead to addictive habits and make them want to play until they keep winning. Do not connect your credit card to gambling-type games, and ensure your children know life is not always about winning. Supporting positive mental health by promoting non-digital interests is important.

young person with mobile phone

Look out for warning signs

If your child is struggling at school or with friends, they might be more susceptible to develop a gambling problem as an escape. Be on the lookout for these problems, such as focusing on sports odds rather than the sport itself, or changes in the amount of money your child has. Encourage more positive extracurricular activities than betting or gambling games. Ask them what games they play and remember to talk to them about how real-life betting works.

teenagers and adults gambling

Compulsive gambling is a recognised addiction that is treatable, but easier to prevent. It is becoming increasingly common in children and adolescents, so it is important to recognise gambling behaviours to prevent betting from becoming a bigger problem. If you know or suspect anyone to be struggling with gambling behaviours, seek help at Gambler’s Help on 1800 858 858.

Sydney family GP and TV Personality, Dr Ginni Mansberg, discusses the challenges of parenting teenagers and offers parents advice on how to guide modern adolescents, in her latest book, The New Teen Age, co-authored with Jo Lamble.

The exhaustion that comes with raising infants and toddlers is an age-old tale – but the emotional toll so often experienced by parents of teenagers can be even more challenging, especially now with potential perils around technology.

As kids transition into the world of teenager-dom, they’re exposed to a myriad of new risks like vaping, pornography and sexting – and as parents, it can be difficult to know when and how to step in.

High-profile Sydney family GP and TV personality, Dr Ginni Mansberg, stresses the importance of facing these issues head on and without judgement in her new book, co-authored with clinical psychologist Jo Lamble, The New Teen Age: How to support today’s tweens and teens to become healthy, happy adults .

A compilation of science-backed evidence, anecdotal advice and strategical conversation starters, the book hones-in on contemporary and previously overlooked issues like porn consumption, sexting, screen time, social media and sleep; all whilst promoting a judgement-free and practical space for parents seeking guidance.

Ginni says that many parents were coming to her and Jo’s clinics, overwhelmed by the pressures associated with raising their developing children.

“There was a lot of tension, a lot of love, a lot of fear, a lot of blaming themselves in guilt and a lot of anger from the kids”, Ginni shares.

“It just seemed that quite a few things had changed since more dominant parenting books were around.”

Authors Ginni and Jo combine knowledge, not only from their own practice in raising tweens and adolescents, but their 40 years of medical and psychological experience, providing readers with an updated perspective on how to navigate that turbulent time between childhood and adulthood.

Ginni says the key motivation toward the creation of the book was the desire “to bring everyone up to speed and close the gap to bring parents and kids together.”

‘It’s what’s on the inside that counts’

Like many parents of teens, Ginni understands the tumultuous experience of trying to effectively parent through puberty, and the physical and psychological shifts that come with that. She highlights that the more obvious physical changes, such as body hair and breasts, are not the most significant change these teenagers experience, rather it is the increase in hormones and subsequent changes in the brain that are the most daunting.

She reveals that as early as seven years old, children are “hitting that percentage of body fat that’s required to make sex hormones.”

Ginni also discusses the valuable role of Oxytocin, the “love hormone”, which is released primarily in response to experiences of trust, social bonding and, most obviously, love.

“Teenagers have very sensitive oxytocin receptors,” she explains. She maintains that due to this, teenagers are in fact “primed to be quite intense in their feelings. They are so devoted to each other, the friends are so intense, their first love is so intense – even if it’s a person they’ve just met on Instagram.”

In this, Ginni urges parents to acknowledge the reasons behind their teenager’s mood swings and melodramatic tendencies. Rather than consistently clashing heads, it’s important to understand that it’s in a teens nature to be a bit ‘over the top’ sometimes.

Your teens are not getting enough sleep.

Another question Ginni and Jo probe parents to think about, is the amount of sleep your teens are getting. Evidence show us that teenagers need 9 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night to function at their highest capacity. Ginni explains that because teenagers continue to go to bed later – then get up early for school – a “conga line of horror” can ensue.

Did you know how many issues can arise from lack of sleep? When teens consistently stay up late (more often than not at the clutches of a smartphone) and rack up large amounts of sleep debt, they become susceptible to “increases in anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts, massive amounts of risky behaviour – whether its drugs, sex, sending a dick pic, taking a nude picture or saying something bitchy – decreased academic performance, decreased sport performance, acne and weight gain,” Ginni warns.

The New Teen Age author explains that these potential consequences, albeit scary, can be used to the advantage of parents trying to get through to their teens.

“In some ways,” she says, “the conga line of horror [from lack of sleep] is your ‘line in’ with the kids.”

If staying up late on phones is the issue, explaining the effects that lack of sleep can have, will provide them with an incentive to get more sleep themselves, without having the proverbial fight about leaving their phone downstairs.

Sexting and Porn – How Do I Bring it Up?

A newer conversation in the parenting world – and a necessary one – is how to navigate sexting and pornography consumption in teens. Sexting and sending nude photos, in particular, are a more recent development in teenage behaviour, exacerbated by the increasing reliance on social media to communicate and flirt with potential romantic partners.

“It is incredibly common,” Ginni says. “A lot of these kids aren’t seeing each other in person and especially during the pandemic, they aren’t seeing each other at all, so their way of flirting can be sending a pic, and they are biologically programmed to be into risk taking.”

In response to the influx of risqué photos and sexts being sent between teens, Ginni advises parents to reject protective instincts to ban teens from doing this or confiscate their phones, and instead lead with compassion and understanding, having conversations that say, “if you’re going to sext, at least do it in a safe way.”

Teenage porn consumption follows the same pattern. It is inevitable that your teens will either stumble across, or actively seek out, pornography – but it is the conversations that we have surrounding it that will limit its harm.

“Surveys have shown that what they are looking at is a video that usually preferences male pleasure,” Ginni explains. She maintains that they probably “don’t really understand the difference between what healthy, consensual sex is, and what they’re seeing online.”

Ginni persists that the only way to fix this, and help teenagers understand the implications of the risky behaviour they are attracted to, is “to be having these conversations with our kids.”

However, it doesn’t have to be the uncomfortable, grimace-inducing conversation that parents often imagine. Ginni provides readers with resources to help facilitate difficult conversations, one being ‘It’s Time to Talk’, which exists to encourage conversations about what constitutes healthy and safe relationships – a particularly important topic for teenagers who are forming unrealistic perceptions of relationships that are perpetuated through pornography.

Ultimately, Dr Ginni’s philosophy doesn’t advise controlling or limiting the actions of teenagers, rather influencing their decisions and thoughts through conversation, and in doing so, creating a safe passage for communication between the parent and the child.

“They need to push boundaries and they need to make mistakes, because otherwise they are spectacularly ill-equipped to face what is coming to them,” she says.

“We, as parents, need to use a certain amount of judgement – by knowing our kids and also understanding that they’re going to have to make some mistakes – to slowly take the training wheels off the bike.”

Watch Offspring’s exclusive interview with Dr Ginni Mansberg below or on our YouTube channel.

Harmful health and fitness advice has the habit of infiltrating social media landscapes, and it looks like TikTok is the newest – and potentially most dangerous – vessel for this advice to run rife.

The average TikTok user spends 52 minutes of their day on the app. That’s over 850 minutes a month, and 18,928 minutes a year. With these statistics in mind, it’s no wonder that TikTok has become the cultural phenomenon it is today – with popularity skyrocketing during the peak of widespread lockdowns, and now garnering approximately 1 billion monthly users – 60% of those belonging to Gen z. Clearly, TikTok has become an indispensable asset in the lives of many children and teens across the globe – but as parents, have you ever questioned the kind of harmful messaging this app could be sending your kids?

At the end of 2019, I opened TikTok for the first time. Periodically opening and closing the app every day, I consumed dance videos, funny skits, ‘daily vlogs’, and other light-hearted content that was inundating my feed. At first it seemed harmless, but it wasn’t until 2020, when plunged into the first of many lockdowns here in Melbourne, that I realised how much TikTok content I was subconsciously absorbing.

Face-to-face with reoccurring bouts of ‘lockdown boredom’, I was continually sucked into the TikTok quicksand of mindless scrolling. I wasn’t alone in this. For 4–15-year-olds, the average scrolling time per day is 80 minutes – a significantly longer chunk of the day than our 52 minutes. Although these statistics may seem shocking, the unlimited stream of consecutive, relatively short videos to scroll through – a 3-minute option only recently introduced – makes extended periods of scrolling much harder to consciously limit.

It’s all in the algorithm.

For a relatively new platform, TikTok has managed to generate a large cultural standing, carving out a previously unmatched space for mass influence.

The addictiveness of the app – a reason it is so popular – can be partly attributed to its cutting-edge algorithm – highly developed in its ability to shape users’ ‘For You’ pages to their unique ‘level of interest’. Indicators like finishing a video from beginning to end, user location and the types of videos users interact with, all contribute to the personalisation of user feeds. However, when the algorithm is pervasively feeding health advice, regardless of its validity, to impressionable children and teens – without their explicit consent to do so – this personalisation has the potential to turn sinister.

Health and Fitness advice is well established in the social media ecosystem. Beginning in Youtube communities, it eventually bled into Instagram feeds and now more recently,  TikTok has taken the reigns.

My growing suspicion towards TikTok didn’t begin until I decided to “get back into fitness” – like many did during lockdown – using TikTok’s search bar to source workout ideas and routines. It was then, that the content on my feed slowly began to change. All of a sudden, whenever I opened the app, I was flooded with videos about different workouts, “how to be in a calorie deficit”, and ‘what I eat in a day’ videos, often perpetuated by slim and toned creators, who often didn’t show a realistic amount of food.

 

Through looking at a couple of workout videos, I was unknowingly placing my “interest” in the health and fitness category on TikTok, which the algorithm then held onto, and adapted the content it showed me to reflect that. Eventually, the content on my TikTok feed extended beyond the workout ideas that I initially sought out, and onto advice about my diet, things I should or shouldn’t be eating or drinking, and different workouts to give me a particular desired body type. I was overwhelmed.

What’s wrong with health and fitness advice?

Although these types of videos may not strike some users as outrightly harmful, the pervasive nature of diet culture and the fitness industry when fed consistently to impressionable users, has the potential to garner harmful perceptions of body image and obsessive behaviours, far too young.

This largely stems from the widely engrained behaviour, of associating morality with different diets or lifestyles. Chocolate is seen as “bad” or “junk”, vegetables are “good” and “clean”, and going to the gym everyday will make you “better than” someone who does not.

 

By assigning so much moral value to the foods we choose to eat and exercise we choose to do, the likeliness of guilt when we don’t do these things, is much higher. This moral value is ultimately delineated from the fact that a large part of society continues to subconsciously perpetuate fatphobic narratives and maintain thinness as the gold standard for how a woman should look.

These ideals are further exacerbated on TikTok, due to the feedback economy of the platform, whereby comments and likes denote how videos are generally perceived. A recent example of this was called out by Emma Matthews (@sheismarissamatthewss on TikTok), who concluded that the many comments on TikTok “reinforce thin privilege and fatphobia”. She compared the comments of her ‘what I eat in a day video’ – where she got criticised for eating three eggs and using an “inappropriate amount of olive oil” – to the comments of ‘thin’ creators’ food videos, who were predominantly praised for what they eat – therefore demonstrating how users often idealise and favour those who fit into their preferred body type.

Therefore, if teens and tweens manage to get onto the “side” of TikTok swarmed with health and fitness advice, the persistent messaging of the “perfect” diet and lifestyle, has the potential to generate obsessive or harmful relationships with food and exercise, in an attempt to mirror what they see from their favourite creators.

Amid the more latent presentations of diet culture, although more hidden, are pro-anorexia accounts, particularly dangerous in their encouragement of starvation and extreme restriction around food. It was when one of these videos popped up on my TikTok feed, with the caption “If you ate over 1200 calories today you are fat”, that I recognised the true danger of TikTok’s personalised algorithm. I had never searched for this ‘pro-ana’ content, nor expressed any interest in videos on restrictive eating or diets. But it is accounts like these, despite efforts from TikTok to remove them from the platform, have the potential to be grouped into the health and fitness category, and find their way to the “For You Pages” of teens and tweens.

Body image isn’t a new issue.

Concerns around body image in children and adolescents are already an unfortunately common occurrence, with the Mission Australia 2020 Annual Youth Survey reflecting that 33% of participants saw body image as an area of major concern in their lives. Another survey in 2021 showed that out of 93 students, 45% showed a high level of concern for their body image. It is clear the ubiquity of body image concerns in children and adolescents – an issue that is arguably not improved by the persistent nature of TikTok’s algorithm.

Considering previous research that discovered girls ages 5-8, when simply looking at a Barbie Doll, experienced body dissatisfaction and a desire for thinness, it is important to recognise the capacity for TikTok – and social media in general – to project this bombardment of health and fitness advice onto their audience, without regard for the young and vulnerable nature of the users they are targeting.

If looking at a Barbie doll can cause that much harm, think about what a carefully curated selection of targeted health and fitness videos can do.

How do I talk to my kids about this?

The solution to this doesn’t come with banning your kids from TikTok or confiscating their phones upon hearing this information. Our society is saturated with potentially harmful information around health and fitness, and perpetuations of a thin-ideal – but it is the way that kids perceive this information that defines the harm it can cause.

One way that you can help reinforce positive relationships with health and fitness with your children, is by modelling that positive relationship yourself. Some ways parents can do this are:

  • Engaging in healthy eating habits yourself: consistently participating in fad diets or outwardly expressing guilt for eating certain foods are behaviours children can pick up on, and implement into their own lifestyles at a later point.
  • Making meals a positive and communal experience: research has shown that a frequency in family meals can lead to inverse effects of disordered eating, and better psychological outcomes for children.
  • Teaching kids about critical thinking: by explaining how to practice critical thinking while on social media, it becomes easier for children and teens to recognise the misinformation or unhealthy content that they might be exposed to, and purposely disengage with it. Often, parents are also encouraged to watch TikTok’s with their children, and openly talk about the misrepresentation that they see.

I, like many others, have been exposed to the more sinister side of TikTok health and wellness, but through educating myself and talking to others, I have become aware enough about diet culture and health advice, that I can recognise and ignore misinformation. By navigating TikTok with intention and purpose, seeking out trusted sources and shielding myself from the guilt-shrouded influence of diet culture, I am able to be largely unaffected by the persistent messaging of TikTok’s health and fitness community – and I encourage teens and kids using TikTok to do the same.