Teens are in trouble, warns community worker

Soteria Ministries director Johann Kikillus addressing parents at a talk at Peak Academy.

Too much online exposure, relationships strained by lockdown and questions about gender identity are just some of the issues that a community worker says are making teenagers increasingly anxious and depressed and more prone to self harm and drug use.

Johann Kikillus, the director of Soteria Ministries, raised his concerns with a group of parents during a talk at Peak Academy on Tuesday November 9.

Mr Kikillus is also the founder of the Ocean View Care Centre, a daytime refuge for underprivileged children in the neighbourhood. He has extensive experience counselling people from all walks of life, including teenagers. He has been involved with drug-and-gang rehabilitation at Pollsmoor prison and worked as a counsellor at False Bay Hospital while serving on the hospital’s board.

Confusion among teachers and parents about how to deal with questions around gender identity was a growing source of conflict and tension, he said.

“Teenagers are exposing their parents on social media for not referring to them as their preferred gender, and teachers are terrified of using the wrong pronouns when addressing them.”

Children struggling with gender identity faced a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and suicide, he said.

Excessive online exposure disrupted sleeping patterns and led to teenagers suffering from burn-out, he said.

Teenagers were also being pressured into sex, he said, adding that online porn was making boys feel more entitled, and they were acting out what they saw.

Strained relationships at home and exposure to physical and sexual violence was another problem, he said.

“More and more teenagers are telling me that they have been diagnosed with anxiety or panic disorder or they have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder. I have seen an increase in self-harm and I am being told it is to numb the pain or to escape reality. Equally disturbing is the increased use of hallucinogenic drugs such as magic mushrooms, LSD, and marijuana,” he said.

Mr Kikillus said teenagers were desperate to talk to someone and urged parents to try to talk to their children.

Peak academy director Marc Yates said it was important for parents to stay informed and check in with their children regularly.

The uncertainty lockdown created had led to many teenagers developing a feeling of “what is the point” of life, he said.

“The number of teenagers who are suffering with depression and anxiety has increased alarmingly during this period with very little to no assistance on how to manage it. Medication seems to be the first step of assistance.”

He agreed with Mr Kikillus that gender dysphoria had become a highly contentious topic at schools in the valley, and there was concern about how it was being dealt with.

Parents having to manage their own work responsibilities and their child’s online tutoring had led to children being exposed to undesirable content online, he said.

He suggested that parents who were battling to communicate with their children find an activity the child enjoyed or encourage them to join a club or group.

“There will be a role model that notices and asks the necessary questions and, above all else, will listen,” he said.

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