More than half of Australian parents are seriously concerned about their children’s mental health, a study has found.

Clinical psychologist and Beyond Blue senior adviser Luke Martin said parents were facing myriad challenges when it came to their children’s mental wellbeing.

“Unfortunately, bullying is very common – one in four kids are affected by it,’’ Martin said.

“Bullying can lead to kids feeling unsafe, isolated, sad or hopeless, which can have a huge impact on their mental health”.

An Ipsos poll of 1000 parents for Beyond Blue found more than half believed bullying (54 per cent) or screen time (51 per cent) were having an impact on their children.

Martin said a sense of safety, connections with others and meaningful activities had a positive impact on kids’ mental health.

“When it comes to screen time, we know it’s OK in moderation, but excessive screen time means our kids aren’t spending time doing other things that are good for their mental health, like imaginative play with friends and spending time outdoors,” he said.

About one in three parents reported poor mental health, with cost-of-living pressures the number-one stress factor for two-in-three respondents, while half were struggling with a lack of time and one-in-three with work demands.

“Many parents are under significant strain, juggling demands to stay afloat,” Martin said.

“We also know there’s a link between financial distress and mental health concerns that can impact the entire family.”

Experts say children face many challenges when using social media. 

Pediatrician Harriet Hiscock, from Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, said about half of mental health conditions began in childhood, before the age of 14.

“So it’s important that parents recognise the signs early,” Professor Hiscock said.

“We know that getting support early can make a big difference in reducing the impact of a mental health condition on a child’s life.”

A Monash University study also found the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect young people in NSW and Victoria.

The report was based on a national survey of 1500 young Australians aged 18 to 24 along with interviews between 2021 and 2023.

It found more than one-in-five (20.7 per cent in NSW, 31.1 per cent in Victoria) received mental health support in 2023 with most young people surveyed struggling financially during the three years and many having ongoing concerns about their education, job prospects and relationships.

Study co-author Lucas Walsh noted the pandemic was not over.

“Aside from continuing infections, many young people living in the two states that experienced the most serious lockdowns have been affected and scarred,” Walsh said.

“The ripple effect, which is social, economic, psychological and political, is likely to shape, if not transform, a generation.”

South Australia’s Malinauskas Labor Government, meanwhile, has taken a major step to protect children from social media, appointing former Chief Justice of the High Court Robert French AC to conduct a legal examination into banning children under the age of 14 from having social media accounts.

As one of the nation’s pre-eminent legal minds, Robert French has been tasked with examining the legal, regulatory and technological pathways for the State Government to impose a ban, while also giving due consideration to the constitutional framework.

SA Premier Peter Malinauskas said like most parents, he’s concerned about the impact social media is having on children in the community.

“We are seeing mounting evidence from experts of the adverse impact of social media on children, their mental health and development,” Malinauskas said.

“I am determined to ensure as a Government, we are doing everything we can to protect our children.”

A Beyond Blue study has found the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to impact the lives of young Australians.

In addition to imposing a ban on all children under the age of 14 having access to a social media account, South Australia would also require parental consent for children aged 14 and 15.

The changes would be the first of their type in Australia but would follow a growing number of global jurisdictions banning social media access for children.

In March this year, the US state of Florida legislated to ban social media accounts for children under 14, and requiring parental permission for 14 and 15 year-olds, while Texas has legislated to require parental consent before allowing a user under the age of 18 to open an account.

Spain also bans children under 14 from accessing a social network.

Another survey by Australian mental health service ReachOut earlier this year found social media is the number one issue of concern among parents and carers of children – with 59 per cent saying they were concerned about their child’s use of social media and 55 per cent saying social media had a significant impact on their child’s wellbeing.

Recent research in the United States found adolescents who spend more than three hours per day on social media face double the risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes.

Sonya Ryan, founder and CEO of The Carly Ryan Foundation said her organisation applauds the SA Government’s move.

“Social media presents a ‘profound risk of harm’ for kids,” Ryan said.

“Children do not have the life experience or the cognitive and executive functioning to think through harmful situations online, sometimes placing themselves at real physical risk.

“Children are exposed to harmful content, including dangerous viral trends, pornography, online predators looking to sexually exploit them, cyberbullying and sextortion.”

Ryan said she believes the only way forward is for appropriate legislation to be created to protect children from these harms and to regulate big tech companies to include mandatory age verification across all platforms.

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Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (for people aged 5 to 25)

beyondblue 1300 22 4636