The latest WH&Y webinar saw ReachOut Australia researchers Rebecca Christidis and Dr Sandra Garrido reporting on the concerns parents have about their children and teenagers, and their struggles to access the help their families need. Their insights were drawn from a national survey completed by over 600 caregivers with children aged between 12 and 18. 

It comes as no surprise that concerns about mental health were a priority in many families, but the research also revealed some important differences in the way caregivers and young people perceive the problems – and the solutions. We’ve highlighted some of the key insights below.

1. Mental health is of utmost concern

Half of all parents and carers reported the mental health of the young person in their care as one of their main concerns, calling out depression and anxiety as the key issues. Parents and carers in regional and remote areas felt especially affected, with 46 percent listing ‘mental health’ as their top concern, compared to 15 percent in major cities. 

2. Caregivers worry about social media – but young people see benefits

Two thirds of all parents and carers identified their young person’s use of social media as a concern, with 35 percent indicating it was their top concern. Asked to expand on this, some parents expressed a belief that time on social media prevented their young people from taking part in experiences that would help them develop social skills and maintain good health. Others cited concerns around online safety.

The concerns of parents and carers regarding social media use contrasted with the attitudes of young people captured in What are you worried about, a study conducted by ReachOut in 2022. In that survey, only 4 percent of those surveyed identified social media as an issue of concern. 

“In fact, young people in our Youth Issues survey were telling us that they were actually using social media as a way to cope with some of the bigger concerns they had such as cost of living concerns and study stress,” says Sandra.

3. Anxieties about the future are impacting wellbeing 

Around one in three parents and carers reported that anxiety about the future was the issue having the greatest impact on their young person’s wellbeing. In particular, they pointed towards the cost of living crisis, housing affordability, employment, political climate and global conflicts as contributing factors. These concerns were shared by almost half of all parents and carers surveyed, with responses indicating that uncertainty about the future was affecting their young person’s wellbeing either ‘quite a bit’ or ‘a lot’.

4. Young people don’t feel the same way about ‘having a talk’ 

The ReachOut research was also concerned with understanding whether parents and carers feel equipped to deal with the issues that impact the wellbeing of their young people, and where they go for support and guidance. 

According to Rebecca and Sandra, informal sources of support were preferred by parents and carers, with most indicating they were more likely to turn to other parents, search for information online, or talk to their child’s school, before seeking help from a professional. They did, however, indicate they felt comfortable talking with their children about wellbeing issues.

“However, when we looked at the results of our youth issues study, we found that young people are not entirely keen on speaking with their parents and carers about the issues that concern them,” noted Rebecca. “[Instead], they said they would prefer to speak to someone their own age, or a professional.”

5. The support needs of caregivers are not being met

In their research, Rebecca and Sandra also asked parents and carers whether their support needs had been met over the past 12 months. The results revealed a significant informational gap, with parents struggling to locate the information they needed, and feeling uncertain about where to seek more formal assistance.

The researchers then asked parents and carers to elaborate on what would help fill the gap.

“We found that improved government regulation, support and education in school, access to professional advice and services, and parental and youth education and training were very much desired among the cohort,” said Rebecca.