May 31, 2013
The innocence of adolescents is fast disappearing, according to a Perth-based psychology professor.
Clinical psychologist and neuroscientist Michelle Byrnes says childhood is now over for many children by the age of 12.
“Body image, anxiety, depression, bullying, drinking and drugs are presenting at the much earlier age of 12,” says Professor Byrnes of the University of Western Australia’s Centre for Neuromuscular and Neurological Disorders.
“The primary reason is adolescents are exposed to uncensored information through the internet, magazines and media as opposed to information from family, community agencies, psychologists and counsellors.”
Professor Byrnes says different pressures influence an adolescent’s maturity.
She said that girls face pressure on body image and early sexualisation, and boys on having to toughen up and be a man.
“These pressures makes it difficult for them to continue to do child-like things such as riding bikes and playing games,” Professor Byrnes says.
“There is a toxic combination of media, marketing and peer pressure which is where adolescents gain most of their information from.
“Young girls are made to be preoccupied with their appearance and young boys are pushed to focus on being macho young men.
“The transition from primary school to high school used to incorporate childhood.
“Now this transition is pushing young children into young adults.”
Christine Shipard, who has a 12-year-old girl and a 16-year-old boy says that girls in particular are growing up faster.
“They abandon their dolls and dress-ups at much younger ages,” Ms Shipard says.
“They seem to be less innocent than we were in our time.”
She says technology has changed the way her family communicates.
“I feel that we lack every day discussions and spending time with each other because of technology,” she says.
“As a parent I feel a need to limit time on mobile phones, computers and iPods so I can communicate with my kids.”
Ms Shipard says that time-poor and tired parents allow their children privileges they were denied as kids.
“Many parents use the internet and movies as an inbuilt baby sitter because of the lack of time they have,” she says.
Vanessa Serafini, a year nine student at Corpus Christi College in Bateman, says times have changed.
“We are doing things our parents didn’t do when they were our age and experiencing things much younger,” Vanessa says.
Adolescents are very self-conscious about the way they are perceived, says Willetton Senior High School year 10 student, Jesse Tucek.
“It is very important socially because everybody wants to become popular,” Jesse says.
“They try to grow up quicker to suit the needs of others.”
Willetton Senior High School year 10 student Claire Somers says technology is to blame for adolescents’ changing behaviour.
“Social media and media in general allows young children to see and have access to things more readily,” Claire says.
Corpus Christi College year 10 student, Ryan Taveira says adolescents engage in the wrong activities.
“I know many people younger than myself that drink with friends and regret it the next day,” Ryan says.
“Along with these people are others that are heavily involved in drugs.”
Professor Byrnes says families need to sustain strong relationships to prevent adolescents growing up too fast.
“We need to assist families to improve their relationships so that the attraction of media and other influences has less of an ability to weaken those bonds,” she says.
“I assist children everyday by improving their relationships and bonds with families and friends.”
Photography: Chantelle Ulrich