Annual Seminar 2017 - Mental health and wellbeing in a digital age

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We were delighted by the fantastic turnout at our 2017 Annual Seminar on September 1, which focussed on supporting young people's mental wellbeing in an increasingly connected world.  We had a wonderfully diverse range of attendees, including parents, educators, social workers, charities and mental health professionals, from throughout Victoria.

Many thanks to everybody who attended, as well as all those who made this seminar possible. We are most grateful to Brighton Grammar School for hosting us in their beautiful new Wellbeing Centre; to Sally Pryde of the Department of Education and Training; and to Tim Wilson, federal MP for the electorate of Goldstein, who officially opened the seminar and kicked the day off to a great start.

And of course, all praise is due to our brilliant speakers and their relevant and engaging insights into student wellbeing:

  • Christine Ireland, past president of the Australian Association for the Education of the Gifted and Talented, who spoke about social and emotional issues facing high-achieving students
     
  • Josh Reid Jones, founder of the Just Be Nice project, who discussed the project's focus on social responsibility and providing equal opportunity through housing, employment and mental health
     
  • Dr. Glen Melvin, senior lecturer and clinical psychologist at the Monash University Centre for Developmental Psychiatry and Psychology, who discussed anxiety in children and ways of supporting children's mental health using a range of phone apps
     
  • Martine Oglethorpe, Accredited eSafety Presenter at Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner, who discussed digital resilience and potential online traps for young people
     
  • Casper Pieters, of SOOCed, who spoke about how parents can support their children to became safe and responsible digital citizens
     
  • Kylie Warry, lead trainer with Teamology, discussed how parents can assist their children in building resilience through a strengths-based approach

You can see more photos and read more about the Seminar over on our Facebook!

Tracy Robinson: Stress, exercise and relaxation

Dr Tracy Robinson is a senior research fellow at the Monash Centre for Health Research & Implementation. As a registered nurse and a doctor of psychology, she has extensive experience working in the field of mental health and supporting the wellbeing of young people. We’re most grateful to her for once again providing an article for this term’s newsletter.


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We all have stress in our lives that comes from a variety of sources. At this time of year, many young people are preparing for exams and may become quite worried and anxious about their marks and final results.

Most of us tend to think of stress as a problem but it would be unrealistic to think we could live a totally stress free life. In fact, stress can work as a powerful motivator and if we did not have some in our lives we would feel bored and unchallenged. However, if we have too much stress in our lives we can become ‘distressed’, and excessive or chronic stress can increase our risk for a host of health problems including cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression. Put simply, stress is an imbalance between a person and demands of their life and occurs when we do not feel we have the resources to cope with these demands.

For this reason, stress is an individual experience – it is triggered by different things in different people and depends largely on how we view a situation and whether or not we believe we can cope. Different people display stress in different ways. For example, children and adolescents might complain of headaches, stomach pain or dizziness when they are feeling stressed (although it is important to first rule out any underlying physical problems). So it is important to know how stress affects our bodies because once we recognise the warning signs we can then either change the stressor or else change the way we respond to it. 

The first step in this process is to decide if the situation or problem is a ‘real’ stress trigger or if it just feels like one.

For example, you cannot change the fact that all students must sit for exams at school, so it is more effective to prepare as best you can rather than endlessly worry about something you cannot change. A lot of people tend to ignore problems in the hope that they will go away but actively solving and coping with problems as they arise is associated with better emotional health and wellbeing. Putting things off for later doesn’t really work because the longer we wait, the more we tend to worry. Similarly, arguments with parents and friends don’t go away until we deal with the issue or until we all apologise, decide to forgive each other and move on.

While it is important to try and fix problems, sometimes nothing can be done to change the situation and it is important that we not worry endlessly about things we cannot change. It can help to understand what happens to our bodies when we are under prolonged stress. When this occurs, our body produces a hormone called cortisol. This hormone has an important role in memory, learning and even our immune systems. It is released in response to stress and when in balance it helps our bodies to function in a healthy manner but if someone in under chronic stress they have high levels of this hormone (which is why it is often called the stress hormone).

Exercise is one of the most effective ways of reducing cortisol levels and dealing with stress. If a young person is stressed about an assignment, then going for a run or doing some exercise can really help because we are all able to think more clearly after we have used up those stress hormones. Finding enjoyable activities and building them into our routines is one of the most effective stress busters – as is having a good belly laugh and being active with friends. 

We need to ensure that all young people continue to do things that make them happy even when they are stressed and busy and this could be as simple as listening to music or else going to the movies. As parents, we have a vital role in modelling a healthy and balanced lifestyle and in ensuring that young people set achievable goals and limits.

This is not an easy thing to do in our busy world - but one key thing is to try and maintain a balance between work and play. Given all the balls that parents have to juggle, we often find it hard to make time to immerse ourselves in things we enjoy. Allowing ourselves to indulge in relaxing activities (like having a bath) is really important because when we effectively manage our own stress we reduce the stress in our relationships.

 Knowing what stresses us can also help us avoid some of these situations (like sitting in rush hour traffic). Putting aside 10-20 minutes a day to relax can make a big difference to how we feel and cope with the rest of the day. Learning to say ‘no’ when we need to is another way we can start to make time to manage our own stress.

Remember, learning to relax doesn’t come easily and, like any other skill, it takes quite a lot of practice before it feels natural. You could try making a list of things that help you feel calm and give yourself permission to schedule in some of these activities every day. Ultimately, these are life skills that can produce enormous benefits for our children – if only we can give ourselves permission to indulge, however briefly, in the activities that soothe us every day!

Tracy Robinson: Learning to challenge unhelpful self-talk

Dr Tracy Robinson is a senior research fellow at the Monash Centre for Health Research & Implementation. As a registered nurse and a doctor of psychology, she has extensive experience working in the field of mental health and supporting the wellbeing of young people. We’re most grateful to her for once again providing an article for this term’s newsletter.


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Socrates is famous for saying “an unexamined life is not worth living”. In this context, he was acknowledging that being able to reflect on past events and how we might have done things differently is a positive thing. This capacity to reflect on one’s own thoughts and feelings helps us gain insight and is a key component of what we call emotional intelligence. By becoming more self-aware we can better understand what it is we really want in life and what others are feeling and thinking. But people often confuse reflection with self-criticism.

We all have inner dialogue that we refer to as self–talk. It is like an inner voice and it determines how we perceive situations in life and the way we feel and act. Our self-talk often changes – sometimes it is positive and realistic (“I tried my best even if I didn’t win”) and sometimes it is negative and unrealistic (“I am a failure”). Often our self-talk is negative when our stress is high because it is easy to blow things out of proportion when we are stressed. This is when we often fall into what some people call “thought traps” – ways of thinking that make us lose perspective.

Some of the most common “thought traps” include over-generalising (“bad things always happen to me”), black and white thinking (things are either right or wrong with nothing in between) and should and must thinking (“bad things shouldn’t happen to people”). These unhelpful thoughts traps are commonly reported by people who have depression – but the good news is that because you create your thoughts, once you become aware of them, you can change them. When you catch yourself using unhelpful self-talk, you can try asking the following questions:

  • Am I jumping to conclusions?

  • Am I being hard on myself?

  • What is the evidence for and against?

  • Am I forgetting about the positives and focusing on the negatives?

  • Am I taking things too personally?

  • What would I tell a friend in this situation?

  • Is there another way of looking at this?

When you change your thoughts about a situation you can change your emotional reaction to it. Learning to challenge unhelpful self-talk does take some practice, but research has shown that this skill can be learned (even by young people) and that using this technique is associated with lower levels of depressed mood and negative feelings. The way to overcome negative thinking is to deal with our unhelpful self-talk. Like all habits, unhelpful self-talk can be hard to shake, but practice is the key.  Next time you find yourself depressed, angry, anxious or upset, take the time to become aware of your thoughts and ask the questions listed above.

You can also practice this skill with your children. For example, if they say “no one likes me at school”, rather than reassuring them, try asking “what is the evidence that no one likes you”? You can then work your way through the other questions.

Of course, if your child is experiencing bullying and can provide evidence that they are experiencing unfair treatment, then you need to take action, because we would not ask anyone to simply change the way they think about abuse and/or violence. In those situations, we need to take action and seek help. But for myriad other situations, practicing to recognise and challenge unhelpful self-talk can really help us become more resilient.

Perhaps what Socrates understood was that questions are more powerful than facts. One way we can support our young people is by building their capacity to question and challenge their thinking.

Tracy Robinson: Parenting resourceful adolescents

Dr Tracy Robinson is a senior research fellow at the Monash Centre for Health Research & Implementation. As a registered nurse and a doctor of psychology, she has extensive experience working in the field of mental health and supporting the wellbeing of young people. We’re most grateful to her for providing this article for this term’s newsletter.


Dear parents and friends,

I want to introduce myself to you all as I hope to be contributing to your newsletter on several occasions over the year. First and foremost, I want to introduce myself as a parent of two children – now both aged over 21. I am also a nurse and have worked in the field of mental health for three decades! For the past 20 years I have worked as an academic at several universities, but it is my work with children and adolescents that I wish to share with you all.

Back in the 1990s we became aware that Australian adolescents had among the highest rates of death by suicide in the world. This spurred the government into action and, from 2000 onwards, we saw significant investment in child and adolescent mental health services and early intervention programs.

I was part of that early wave and began to work in the field of prevention and promotion. This included working with teachers in high schools to develop and implement mental health programs and resources across NSW. In particular, we implemented what we call universal programs (for all young people) and selected programs (for those young people at risk). We could not have done this without the support and commitment from principals, teachers and school counsellors, who I continue to admire because they are required to take an increasing role in providing not only education but also pastoral care.

One of the programs we implemented was the Resourceful Adolescent program (RAP), a universal program designed to promote the emotional wellbeing of young people. The RAP program is strengths-based rather than problem-focused, which means we start by helping young people identify their strengths and resources and continue to add to this as we progress through the program.

In western cultures, adolescence can be a very challenging time for young people because it is when they develop their identity and their independence. Identity formation is all about self-esteem and being independent is all about finding one’s own way while also remaining connected.

In fact, teenagers need both attachment and independence at the same time. These are the two main developmental tasks of adolescence - feeling good about one’s self and being independent while also remaining connected with others. No wonder parents sometimes struggle to understand what their teenagers need!

We do know, however, that parents have a really important role in building their teenager’s self-esteem and in helping them achieve independence with attachment. Seeing that ‘proud glint’ in a parent’s eyes is one of the most powerful ways we can validate and increase our young people’s self-esteem.

Giving them more independence a little at a time and negotiating rules and arrangements together are important strategies for supporting independence with attachment. It is important to negotiate curfews, staying in contact, supervision arrangements and transport. It is also important to discuss the increased responsibilities that come with independence (which is not the same thing as giving free rein).

If we understand the developmental tasks that teenagers have to navigate and if we acknowledge the important role we have as parents in promoting their self-esteem, things can be a little clearer. Seeing that ‘proud gleam’ in a parent’s eyes is a real booster (even for adults).

But we also need to be aware of available support services, because sometimes young people need to talk with people outside their families. It is comforting to consider that we don’t need to be perfect parents (few of us would have had that ourselves) and remember to make a mental note of our own strengths and positive qualities on a regular basis.

Free parent webinars through the ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Independent Schools Digital Collaboration Network

The Independent Schools Digital Collaboration Network (formerly TtEDSC) has been offering live webinars for a couple of years now, a number of which are aimed directly at parents. It's a really good resource, and the videos from past webinars are well worth checking out.

Of particular interest to parents and friends:

ISDCN's next parent webinar will be held on May 3 at 7:45-8:45pm. The focus is issues concerning the online behaviour of children, particularly the risks around sexting. There's no need to register - if you're interested, just tune in on the night and follow the instructions to view the presentation.

New VPC member offers for 2017

This year, VPC is excited to offer a range of high quality training programs and resources to our members schools at exclusive discounted rates. We've partnered with programs and organisations that we believe are providing unique, worthwhile services for parents and teachers in order to give you to opportunity to take advantage of them at a special reduced price.


Successful Learning

Developed by the Australian Parents Council, this interactive parent-to-parent training workshop encourages and assists families to engage in their children’s early literacy and numeracy, supporting the school’s teaching in the home. It's designed to empower parents, giving you the knowledge and confidence to work in partnership with teachers and play an active part in your children's learning.

The program is ordinarily valued at $440 per workshop. VPC will be offering a number of free parent workshops throughout the year and can arrange additional workshops for schools at a discounted rate.

You can learn more about Successful Learning here.


The Resilience Doughnut

Developed at the Resilience Centre Australia, The Resilience Doughnut is a practical model for developing resilience in children, young people and adults, based on identifying and combining individual strengths. They offer a range of quality online parent workshops, including 2- and 4-week online courses in raising resilient children, and 90-minute “Hot Topic” seminars presented by experienced psychologists.

VPC members are eligible for a 20% discount on 4-week online parent courses and a 10% discount on 2-week courses and seminars.

You can learn more about The Resilience Doughnut's parent workshops here.


Every Chance to Dance

Every Chance to Dance is a weekly online arts, health and physical education curriculum resource for teachers, promoting physical and mental wellbeing through self-expression and movement. It's designed to be inclusive, offering every student a chance to participate and develop their strengths, and includes access to lesson plans and tips, video lessons, original music, assessment templates and professional learning support for teachers.

By purchasing an annual subscription up front, VPC members can receive a 15% discount, representing an annual saving of $300.

You can learn more about Every Chance to Dance here.


Parents and Schools Working Together

Parents and Schools Working Together is a professional development program designed to build teachers’ skills and understanding of how to most effectively engage and work together with the parents of the children they teach. It's a high quality, evidence based program, developed in a collaboration between the NSW Parents’ Council, the Council of Catholic Schools Parents NSW, the NSW Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations, and researchers from the Australian Catholic University.

The program consists of five one-hour online modules priced at $100 per module, or $450 for all five. VPC is offering members a 10% subsidy on program costs.

You can learn more about Parents and Schools Working Together here.


Savv-i Digital Citizenship eLearning

VPC is delighted to partner with SOOCed to offer this unique eLearning program, designed to foster discussions about safe, savvy and social Internet use, with individual courses specific to parents, teachers and students. The program covers the 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship, making use of quality interactive learning resources from around the world.

VPC members are entitled to a 15% discount on the program’s one-off setup fee, representing a saving of $300.

You can learn more about SOOCed's eLearning program here.


For more information about how to take advantage of these offers, get in touch with us by using the contact form or emailing vicpc@vicparentscouncil.vic.edu.au. And remember to keep an eye out on our website and Facebook page for more announcements of exclusive offers and free sessions over the course of the year!