A Field Day

ACT had a Field day at the Mystery Creek Fieldays this year, because the party is delivering for rural New Zealand. Hot on the heels of Andrew Hoggard keeping methane out of the ETS, Mark Cameron started a rural banking inquiry on the Primary Production Committee. David Seymour started a Regulatory Sector Review for Animal Compounds and Veterinary Medicines, and Brooke van Velden kicked off her Health and Safety at Work Act consultation before the Act is changed. This is real change, with ACT driving the Government to reform the policies that have alienated rural New Zealand for too long.

The Kids Aren’t Alright

“The thing that worries me about New Zealand is that people aren’t well in themselves,” a prominent New Zealander told Free Press. There’s no shortage of evidence to bear out the basic concern.

Each year the Ministry of Health asks people about their health, including whether they’ve experienced ‘mental distress.’ The number of young people reporting mental distress 15 years ago was about five per cent. It rose for a decade then exploded through the COVID period.

Today it is five times five per cent, closer to twenty-five. Now, this is self-reported mental distress. It may be that young people are more sensitive than those half a generation ago. If that’s true there’s still a problem, just a different kind of problem.

Any teacher will tell you that the kids are harder to teach. One or two students can disrupt a class and they’re restrained from, well, restraining misbehaving children. More and more students are diagnosed with neurodiversity conditions, followed by demands for more specialists and teacher aids that no Government will fund.

What could be the cause of this? Free Press has some theories, but we’re sure you’ll want to make up your own mind.

Theory one, climate catastrophism. “I am literally going to die from climate change!” So said a young child on the latest school strike for climate. The cynicism of climate activists who tell children the world will end unless they fix it (and that they probably can’t) beggars belief.

Theory two, identity politics. One of the more extraordinary developments with School Strike for Climate was when the organisation’s Auckland branch of high school students temporarily disbanded itself. They effectively apologised for being white students, public flagellating themselves for not listening to minority voices. If you are struggling to believe this paragraph, that’s understandable. It did happen, in 2021.

Radio New Zealand reported the students saying they apologise for creating a "racist, white-dominated space.” They are reported as going on to say “We apologise for the hurt, burnout, and trauma. We also apologise for the further trauma caused by our slow action to take responsibility… We recognise that this apology can never be enough to make up for our actions on top of years of systemic and systematic oppression, racism…”

So, you believe you’re going to die but you can’t do anything about it because you’re a born racist, all by the age of 16. Whether you’re a victim or a villain in this piece, the most harmful message is the same. You cannot make a difference in your own life but are instead a prisoner of actions you didn’t take. Losing your sense of agency cannot help your mental health.

Theory three, phones and the internet. Jonathan Haidt says cellphones have created a crisis in mental health since 2012. The Government’s ban on cellphones in schools may inadvertently provide an oasis for cerebral development.

Like many technologies, people need to decide how to collectively regulate them. Cars are wonderful but there are many rules for using them so people don’t kill each other, or themselves. Australian politicians have opened a debate about minimum ages for social media that we should carefully consider.

Theory four, casual neglect. It might not matter so much whether the children are on their phones and social media if their parents are anyway. Go to a park and see parents by the playground glued to their phones. Add to that early childhood education where one adult can theoretically look after fifteen two-year olds, and you begin to see a problem.

A lack of language development, ‘executive function’ (the part of the brain that regulates behaviour) and general social skills make small people ticking time bombs going into the primary and secondary education system. There may be other explanations for the worrying increase in mental distress, but we think that prominent New Zealander was on to something.

Notice we haven’t said there needs to be more money thrown at the problem, more mental health councillors or teacher aides. It hasn’t worked, we don’t have the money, and the goal should be independent people who value themselves for who they are, not more expensive pathologising of human behaviour.

If people not being well in themselves is one of New Zealand’s biggest underlying problems, then putting it right will require more thought than throwing more ‘resource’ at it. It will take an understanding of the neuroscience and psychology that got us to this point, and the pathway out. A noble task for thinking people who love our country, such as Free Press readers.

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