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Priory psychotherapist urges parents to ditch addictive devices and replace them with “family experiences” this Christmas

A Priory expert treating children and adolescents for mental health conditions has urged parents to rethink Christmas gifts and replace them with days out and other “experiences”.

Priory psychotherapist Beth Tudgay says: “Addictions start young. Parents know this of course but it can be very difficult at Christmas not to buy the present your child really wants but which you know is likely to fuel their addiction to say gaming, the X box, Insta, WhatsApp, YouTube, anything on their mobile phone – the list is endless.

“So how do you celebrate Christmas while trying not to avoid feeding those addictions? What comes up for me every time is experiences. Buying experiences and then doing family things together. This might mean spending a day or a few hours doing something your child is passionate about, or just being close as a family together. Children who spend a lot of time behind an X Box CAN fundamentally BE quite lonely, so do something to connect. Also, think about self-care for your child and encourage a bit of nurturing - a “pamper hamper” perhaps for a child who might be self-harming. Buy them something from a shop like a face mask or bath bomb and encourage self-care and “me” time at home.”

Her comments come amid increasing concerns about the huge and negative effects of social media on the lives of young people. This month (September 2022) the NHS released new statistics on the mental health, development and wellbeing of children and young people in England. Figures show as many as a quarter of young people aged 17-19 are now experiencing a mental health problem, up from 1 in 6 in 2021 and 1 in 10 in 2017. Among 7-16 year olds, rates have stayed consistently high with 1 in 6 facing a mental health problem since the onset of the pandemic.

In November 2022, the government said the encouragement of self-harm will be criminalised, in an update to the Online Safety Bill. Content that encourages someone to harm themselves will be targeted in a new offence, making it illegal. The government said the changes had been influenced by the case of Molly Russell - the 14-year-old who ended her life in November 2017.

Beth, therapy lead at Priory’s Woodbourne Hospital in Birmingham and at its Wellbeing Centre in Birmingham, says: “Experiences aren’t gifts to open on Christmas Day so parents might need to be creative – put clues around the house which end with an explanation of what the experience is going to be. Let’s say it’s a father and child going to a football match together – wrapping up something connected to the event and then writing a detailed description of what the day is going to look like: “You and me are going for a day and doing something special.”

“Get out of the house.

“Gaming is what we hear about the most in terms of addictions among young people, and social media use generally. It’s obscene how many hours children spend on their phones. How to stop this?  Boundaries and being very assertive. Taking the phone away, for example. Yes there might be backlash and hysteria but that is ok, and it’s then the responsibility of the child, the parent, and the whole family system to care and “sooth” for that. Parents sometimes express huge fear that if they take the phone away, a child might self-harm – but that parent is being held hostage and leaves the child in a powerful position. I would encourage parents to put in firm boundaries and ask themselves ‘why is my child doing this for hours a day; what are they not getting from somewhere else?’ If they are looking for approval on social media - getting likes, or acceptance – maybe they are not getting that elsewhere?”


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About Priory and MEDIAN

Priory is the UK’s leading independent provider of mental health services. We treat more than 70 conditions including depression, anxiety, addictions, and eating disorders, as well as children’s mental health, across our nationwide network of sites. We also support adults with complex autism, learning disabilities, as well as older people, as a leading provider of specialist residential care and supported living – helping as many people as possible to live their lives.

Priory is part of MEDIAN, one of Europe’s leading providers of high-quality mental health and medical rehabilitative services. Overall there are 427 facilities in the MEDIAN Group, comprising 306 Priory facilities with 5,352 beds in the United Kingdom, and 121 facilities and 19,200 beds in Germany, caring for around 260,000 people, with 35,000 employees.

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