Family First just interviewed an expert, who is studying the effects of digital media on the mental health of youth.

  • You can view this here:

Our title:

“Teen mental illness – an affirmation of the need for Christian youth ministry”

A summary of the interview

We’ve lived through a significant digital change.

  • The new information to know is that this directly parallels a significant decrease in mental health, with increasing suicide, depression, anxiety, self-harm and more.
    They are connected!


Time on devices results in

  • less play
  • less socialisation
  • less sleep
  • less physically healthy
  • and less mental health.

What’s happening on the devices?

  • These are addictive platforms
  • Algorythms feed (play into) insecurities – to feed (gain) the addiction.


The spiral is further reinforced by FOMO amongst youth (fear of missing out). This makes it difficult for parents to intervene, to get kids away from these platforms.


As a comment from the interview, “We’ve been overprotecting kids in the real-world, but under-protecting them online.”
– COMMENT FOR OUR APPLICATION: This is something pastors and youth leaders could tell parents – while noting below and other ideas.


Of note – outcomes of the digital age have been worse in ‘highly individualised’ and ‘non-religious’ cultures.
– COMMENT FOR OUR APPLICATION: The Christian faith is something of a protection in the data (…while we all know nothing is an entire protection. The data is about statistical averages).



For young people – their brains are still developing. They have less impulse control. This means they are easily turned, sucked in, manipulated, addicted – and ‘shaped’. The online platforms are therefore considerably dangerous for youth – as compared to adults who are more secure and established in their own identity. This is evidenced in the data.

As an example, the average girl spends 3 to 4 hours per day in social media (and screentime 8 to 9 hours daily). There is a DIRECT correolation between this and depression, as one example.


Possible action step

Delaying ready (easily accessible) internet access until 13 and social media until 16 is an example of a solution .


But how if the youth then suffers FOMO?

Parents need to recognise this is a probem – and to team up. Groups of families could unite, with similar ideas like no smart phones until 14 and social media until 16 – so their kids have peers in a similar situation. (These ages are the recommendations from the interview, based on data)

It was noted that NZ Governments decision to ban smartphones from schools is very positive – in view of what the data says about their effects on mental health.


Our own reflections.

While helping any individual youth with an emotional or mental issue requires wisdom and sensitivity – some broad points are clear.

  • Parents are wanting their kids socialising more – as contrasted with time on devices, and more could achieve this if alerted to the issues early on, and given strategies.
    • To share personal: We have 4 boys, 3 are teenagers. They get phones at 16yo – while their friends have them prior. They’ve survived the ‘FOMO’ – and have many, many other skills and experiences due to time not on devices – despite their daily desire for gaming time on the Xbox. They entirely missed the ‘identity confusion and shaping’ of social media. Like suggested – we have friends around us who also don’t give their kids phones from age 2 (or whatever it is). So our teenage kids know they’re not the only ones without phones.
  • Youth are in need of socialisation in safer (guided) spaces. Churches can offer this.
  • Youth are in need of affirmation, love and hope. Churches – and the gospel (God himself) – can offer this.

This is a powerful affirmation on the importance of Christian youth ministry –  providing active programmes for youth and also intermediate aged youth – to help them physically, socially, emotionally and spiritually.

VISION: Church-based youth ministry could yet grow again in this nation – if we can see the value of it, to invest not merely money in it – but our time.


To make a point for senior leaders in churches

(For senior pastors / ministers and their elders groups / church boards):

  • A decade or more back our churches leaders tried to avoid taking responsibility by allocating money to fix the problem – employing a youth leader.
    • We felt doing this was ‘taking responsibility’
    • For many reasons, as a general pattern and observation across New Zealand, this hasn’t worked.
  • What is maybe now needed is for Church leaders to give their TIME to youth work themselves / ourselves!
    • Do we care that so many are growing up without opportunity to know about this faith – or even their own cultural heritage (which is very strongly in it – with values from it being like ‘the air we breathe’  in our culture)
    • Do we care enough to be willing to do something?
    • Any person who is willing to relate to youth, taking a selfless interest, can do youth work.


What do you take away from this reflection?

What could you do? Who could you share a thought with – to encouraging an action step – where and when? (Could you now make a note in your calendar so you actually do? That’s how intentional leadership works – well done! :-).