Villa Maria College prides itself on the support it offers to students on all levels – spiritual, emotional, physical and practical.
“Doing ordinary things, extraordinarily well” is the College’s aim and the support in the form of pastoral care, careers development, guidance and counselling, learning support and other support offered by College staff is one example of this being put into action.
The College has comprehensive action plans, which enable students experiencing difficulties or stressful periods to be identified and offered assistance. Small classes and the culture of mutual respect between staff and students means that students in these situations are able to be well supported by the College staff during these times. Strong communication at all times with the families of students is emphasised.
The family atmosphere of Villa Maria College is no accident. Students are encouraged to look after each other and give something back to the life of the College.
The Pastoral Care Network – The entire staff work in a caring fashion to help students through their teenage years. There are also specific pastoral care professionals available to the students.
The Front Page: The dark side of TikTok is a ‘wall of teenage misery’
nzherald.co.nz Damien Venuto March 1 2023
WARNING: The article and podcast presented here include content dealing with self-harm, suicide, and related mental health topics.
Scroll through TikTok and you’re likely to find a series of harmless, sometimes hilarious video clips of young people doing weird things.
But dig a little deeper, and you’re likely to find a dark underbelly of posts sharing the experiences of people suffering from mental illness. The deeper you delve into this content, the more you’re likely to see.
NZ Herald investigations editor Alex Spence saw the power of the TikTok algorithm when he recently created an account on the app.
“One night, last week, I took my iPhone, downloaded TikTok and set up a new user account,” Spence tells The Front Page podcast.
“It takes a few minutes. It’s really simple to do. You just have to give it a username and password.”
Spence specifically wanted to see what the app would serve up to a young person interested in mental health topics.
“I told the app that I was 13, the minimum age, and it didn’t ask for any verification.”
Spence explains that the TikTok algorithm doesn’t build your experience by asking what your interests are. Instead, it watches what you do and then suggests things based on that.
“I just started off with what I thought was a pretty broad generic mental health-related term by typing in ‘depressed’. That brought up a bunch of videos, so I watched five or six. I liked some of them. Some of the posts had hashtags, so I clicked on one of those and it took me to a new group of videos.”
Spence kept doing this for around 15 minutes, which was enough time for the app to start building a sense of what he was interested in.
It was at this point that the app started recommending other clips to him.
“I clicked back to the ‘For You’ feed, which personalised… The first few that came up were pretty random, but I continued scrolling through them. It took about five minutes before I got the first post that referred to self-harm. Another three minutes after that, there was one referencing suicide or suicide intention.”
Spence said it escalated from this point, becoming worse and worse the longer he spent on the app.
“Because I’m watching more and more of those videos, it’s sending me more and more of that. Before long, I just get this wall of teenage misery coming at me about people fantasising about death, suicide and self-harm.”
Spence was looking from the outside into this issue, but this is a daily reality for many young New Zealanders. One person who has seen the impact of social media on those struggling with mental health first-hand is 20-year-old university student Megan Dykes.
She tells The Front Page that parents are often in the dark when it comes to what their teenage kids are viewing online.
“One of the biggest problems … is that parents really just don’t know,” Dykes says.
“This is part of being a teenager, right? You’re totally going to hide what you’re doing from your parents. You don’t want to share it with them.”
Dykes says that while parents might not want to pry over the shoulders of their teenage kids, they need to gain a better understanding of what’s happening online.
“Parents need to find a way to have these conversations with their children, to ask them in a way that’s open and without pressure: ‘What are watching online? Is it good for you? Do you feel good after you’ve watched it?”
Dykes says that parents can only start to help if they actually know what’s going on.
“My parents, bless their hearts, didn’t know what I was up to. We never had a conversation about it. They never brought it up and I think they should have. I wish they had done that.”
So, what are TikTok and the other social media companies doing about this issue? Is our Government stepping in to address the problem? What are other countries around the world doing? And are there enough resources going in to support young people who are struggling?