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Get the message: ask young people about their media use

Date

Peter Jean

Young people with mental health problems such as anxiety and depression should be quizzed about media use to check if their problems are linked to issues such as cyberbullying, sexting or computer game addiction, psychiatrists say.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists issued a warning yesterday about the impact of media on vulnerable children and adolescents.

The move came as the ACT government prepared to introduce a bill to create an ''adults only'' computer game classification designed to help protect children from harmful material.

College of Psychiatrists Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry chair Nick Kowalenko said he had young patients with anxiety and depression as a result of ''sexting''.

Dr Kowalenko said health professionals such as school counsellors needed to start asking young people about their media use.

''We think that at this stage most professionals aren't carefully and adequately evaluating young people's general social media use and I think when they get a systematic assessment of what it might be like there's probably a few surprises in store about just how pervasive it's become,'' he said.

Dr Kowalenko, who works at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, said he frequently saw young patients who had sent pictures of themselves.

''I see a range of distressed adolescents who kind of impulsively without thinking of the consequences have shared some intimate - usually photographic - material between very close friends and then found that it was distributed far more broadly than they'd ever imagined,'' he said.

''They're shocked, humiliated, shamed, anxious and distressed.''

Dr Kowalenko said some young people also suffered from addictive internet and computer game use.

The College of Psychiatry was also concerned about the impact of violent movies and games on children and adolescents and the sexualisation of young people through the media.

But Dr Kowalenko said social media sites could provide young people with benefits, including the opportunities to stay connected with friends and family and develop technical and creative skills.

Internet programs were sometimes used to help treat people with mild to moderate mental health problems.

The ACT government will today introduce a bill into the Legislative Assembly to create a Category R18 Plus computer game category. The bill will complement a proposed Commonwealth law designed to enable the new classification category to begin next year.

ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell said the classification category would give governments a greater ability to control the distribution of computer games that may contain content harmful to children.

''This legislation also empowers adults to make informed decisions about what material they purchase and use,'' Mr Corbell said.

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