Emerging topics in child and adolescent mental health


E-cigarettes (vapes) have become an emerging health risk, especially in adolescent population groups. The hidden harms of vaping are starting to be much better researched and understood. 

By educating parents, carers and the wider community, there is an increasing ability to help protect children from the harms of vaping products. 

Emotional intelligence (EQ)

Emotional intelligence, also known as Emotional Quotient (EQ) is the ability to perceive, use, understand, manage and handle emotions. A child with high emotional intelligence will be able to understand when they are expressing certain emotions and the response they are receiving through other's emotions around them. 

The four attributes of emotional intelligence include: 


Being conscious about your own feelings and the thoughts that surround feelings


The ability to control certain impulsive behaviours, emotions or feelings and being confident in your own strengths and weaknesses.

Social awareness

Understanding the needs, wants, concerns and emotions of those around you. Understanding emotional cues, people’s vibes and the group dynamic.

Relationship management

Developing and maintaining relationships with those around you, having clear communication and avoiding or managing any potential conflict.

Nurturing emotional intelligence in children can help them develop a whole new set of skills, help navigate social settings and cope with life’s setbacks. Emotional self-regulation can be broken down into two separate categories of: 

  1. problem-solving  
  2. tolerating emotions 

By the age of 10, children start to comprehend and utilise emotional self-regulation. 

Encouraging emotional intelligence

  • model positive behaviour 
  • help guide the emotion your child is feeling 
  • validate their feelings 
  • help them develop problem-solving skills in situations 
  • praise effort and hard work 

The benefits of guiding emotional intelligence

  • helps creativity 
  • builds strong character 
  • improves problem-solving skills 
  • improves the ability to create and hold onto relationships 
  • improves mental health outcomes 


Consent is the permission a person gives for something to happen or the agreement to do something. It is considered, reversible, informed, specific and particapatory. Everyone has the right to feel free to say yes or no without any pressure or manipulation. It is an ongoing conversation and someone has the right to change their mind. 

Consent is:

  • Considered
  • Reversible 
  • Informed 
  • Specific 
  • Participatory

Consent is based on equality and there are certain situations where a person is unable to provide legitimate consent. These include someone who is unconscious, incapacitated, asleep, drunk or under-age.   

Sexual consent is the agreement to sexual activity. It is often the most prominent form of consent. See Sexual consent for more information. 

There are other forms of consent which are equally as important, including: 

Medical consent

When a medical team explains the risk of a certain procedure before going ahead. For children and adolescents, this can be a guardian or the patient themselves if the treating doctors deem them capable of comprehending the nature of the consequences.

Research consent

Before conducting an experiment or asking questions for research purposes, the research group must gain consent from the participants for all aspects of the study.

Implied consent

By undertaking certain activities like contact sport, there is implied consent that someone knows the risks of being a part of that sport, for example, a boxer has implied consent if they happen to get hit by a punch in the boxing ring.

Personal boundaries

As your child ages and has more social interactions outside of the home, it is important to discuss their own personal boundaries. They will interact with more people, and those interactions or relationships may become more complex, meaning having an understanding of their rights and responsibilities can be very helpful. 

Guiding your child to set boundaries helps them understand and respect who they are as well as respecting and understanding those people around them. Your child is in charge of their own body and has the right to say when it is OK, or not OK to touch them. This is especially true if it is touching or language they don’t like or is within a sexual context.  

It is important to understand that for every right your child has to engage in personal boundaries, so too does every other person. Every person also has the responsibility to ask permission if they are likely to impede on someone else’s personal boundaries.  

Teachable personal boundaries scenarios

  • Hitting, pushing or playing rough 
  • Being bullied or having unpleasant words said about them 
  • Jumping, tackling or touching in the school playground or at a friend's house 
  • Different cultural boundaries and beliefs  
  • Sexual boundaries and what young adults are comfortable with 


Bullying is considered to be intentional, repeated aggressive behaviour toward someone. It is where an individual or group threaten, harm or control someone to cause harm or distress. 

Bullying can take many forms and may include a combination of the following: 

Verbal bullying

Using words to make someone feel upset, anxious or embarrassed.

Physical bullying

The use of physical action or threats to gain perceived control over someone. This includes hitting, kicking and pushing.

Social bullying

This is a more manipulative form of bullying where rumours may be spread about a person, tricks being played on them at their expense or intentionally leaving them out.


The use of electronic communication to bully a person, usually intimidating or threatening through messenger apps or social media platforms.

Children's and young adult’s behaviours are often motivated by a combination of biological, psychological and social needs. Often kids bully to feel in more control or have a heightened sense of popularity or importance. 

Bullying can come with some unintended consequences, including poor self-esteem, reduction in school grades, impact on a child’s social life, acting out or displaying antisocial behaviour.  

Some children may choose to talk to you about being bullied, others may hide it, or some might be ashamed. Whichever way your child reacts, it is important to take it seriously.

Understanding if behaviour is considered bullying

Behaviour that is considered bullying is:  

  • aggressive 
  • intentional 
  • repeated  
  • relying on a power imbalance.

Behaviour that is not considered bullying includes: 

  • a disagreement with friends 
  • an argument or conflict 
  • someone being mean or rude 
  • another child implementing their personal boundaries.

If you suspect your child is being bullied, the following tips will help guide you through the next steps.

Listen and support

Your child may not be open and truthful in their first discussion about bullying. They may believe that bringing it up to you or teachers at school, it will make the situation worse. Encourage your child to open up about their concerns.

Stay calm and positive

Try to find as much of the information as you can before taking action. The more you know, the more smoothly the next conversations will be with anyone else involved.

Reach out to your child’s school or organisation

Implementing a coordinated approach between the home, the school or any sporting/recreational organisations will help keep transparency on the concerns. 

Ask about anti-bullying policies

If bullying is happening in your child’s school, have an open discussion with your child’s teacher or Principal. It is unlikely this would be the first incident of bullying at any given school. Schools implement anti-bullying policies to protect children while learning. Leave any disciplinary action for the bullying child to the school themself.

Discuss personal boundaries

Encourage your child to firmly say no to something they do not like and act confidently and resiliently when someone is bullying them. Practice some strategies at home like giving quick responses to a bully. Do not engage in fighting, bullying back or ignoring it completely.

Seek further help for your child

If you need further support, reach out to the school counsellor or healthcare professional to help deal with any negative consequences of bullying.

Be patient

Overcoming bullying can be a tough time for children and their families. Remind your child you are always there to support them and that you can work through anything together.

If you suspect your child is engaging in bullying behaviour, the following tips should help guide you through the next steps. 

Take it seriously

Acknowledge the situation for what it is, take time to process the information you are given (from whoever it may be) and manage your reactions.

Talk to your child

Have an open, non-judgmental, non-confrontational discussion with your child about their understanding of events. Understand if this is a pattern of bullying with a specific child or group. Let your child know that bullying is not acceptable and that it must stop due to potential consequences to them and others.

Reach out to your child’s school or organisation

Implementing a coordinated approach between the home, the school or any sporting/recreational organisations will help keep transparency on the concerns. Understand if your child is facing any difficulties in their schooling such as social isolation, being bullied themselves or school work stress.

Encourage conflict resolution

Discuss non-hurtful ways of expressing their feelings towards others, their roles and responsibilities with personal boundaries and their own time if they are overwhelmed by emotion.

Encourage positive expression

Some children may be constantly active and looking for things to do at school or at home. Find activities where your child can express their movement or creativity in a positive way such as walking the dog after school or getting equipment ready for sports or academic classes.

Be patient

Your child will continue to learn how to express their emotions as they get older. The more you foster this, show interest and concern, the more likely they will display pro-social behaviour

Youth self-harm and suicide

Self-harm refers to an intentional act of inflicting physical pain as a coping strategy for psychological distress. It is a way of gaining back control over an emotional feeling or helping escape from them. 

Children or adolescents who self-harm are at an increased risk of attempting suicide. 

Did you know?

Young people have the highest rate of hospitalisation for intentional self harm.

If your child is displaying signs of self-harming, such as trying to hide their arms or legs with clothing, utilising a family first aid kit more often, irritability or hiding certain items such as razor blades or knives it is normal to feel concerned. 

How you respond as a parent can help your child feel supported and give you insight into how they are feeling. 

Tips for responding to a child who may be self-harming: 

  • stay calm and speak directly to the questions you have for your child 
  • remain nonjudgemental 
  • provide first aid if necessary 
  • reassure your child that you are there to support them at any time of day or night 
  • let your child know that it is common for emotions to express themself strongly and frequently 
  • seek help as a parent if you feel overwhelmed 
  • refer your child to professional help if they are ready for it and keep the conversation going. 


Suicide is the act of taking one's life voluntarily. Suicidal thoughts are feelings that an individual has when they perceive life is too overwhelming. These thoughts can last a few seconds or can be ongoing. 

Young adults who have suicidal thoughts often have a combination of a mental health condition, diagnosed or undiagnosed, alongside difficult life events such as past trauma.

Did you know?

Suicide is the leading cause of death among Australians aged 15-24.

Those who are at a higher risk of attempting suicide include: 

  • males 
  • people who live in rural and remote areas 
  • aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 
  • people who identify as LGBTQ+ 
  • people who self-harm 
  • people who misuse alcohol or other drugs 
  • people who have had traumatic events or family conflict 
  • people who have previously attempted suicide.

Having one or multiple risk facts doesn’t necessarily mean a child or young adult will have suicidal thoughts in their lifetime. 

Tips for responding to a child who may be having suicidal thoughts: 

  • stay with your child if you think they are high-risk 
  • seek help immediately by calling Lifeline on 13 11 14 or calling Triple Zero (000) 
  • Let your child know that it is important for them to stay in your life 
  • stay calm and speak directly  
  • remain nonjudgemental 
  • make a pact with your child that you will always support them and for them to reach out to you or another trusted adult if they have suicidal thoughts in the future 
  • write down a list of trusted adults you both trust and make sure they are in your child’s phone.

Why language matters

Instead of using the phrase ‘committed suicide’, use phrases such as died of suicide, suicide or suicide attempt. Other health conditions do not use similar language (ie. committed cancer)

Gender identification and expression

As a parent, educating yourself on some common terms for gender identity or gender expression can help support your child or understand what they may be going through.

Most children will grow up to think of themselves as a girl or a boy but some may identify with gender diversity and want to express themselves differently.

Gender diversity

Relating to someone whose gender identity or gender expression does not conform to socially defined male or female gender norms.

Gender identity

An individual’s sense of self and internal understanding of their gender.

Gender expression

The way in which a person externally expresses their gender. This may include clothing, hairstyle, make-up, body language and mannerisms.

Gender fluid

The term used to describe someone who is in the process of changing gender.

Gender dysphoria

A feeling or discomfort or stress for those whose sex assigned at birth does not match their gender identity.

Cisgender (or cis)

Refers to a person whose gender identity aligns with their sexual assignment at birth.


Refers to the traditional understanding of sex and gender as two binary forms (male and female).


The term used to describe a person outside of the gender identity of male or female.


The term used for an individual whose gender is different to their sex assigned at birth.


someone whose attracted to a person regardless of their gender.


The abbreviation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer.

It is common for children or young adults to express themselves differently across what society may refer to as commonly male or female traits. 

Think of gender expression as a sliding scale of more feminine expression and more masculine expression. Everyone has elements of both masculine and feminine traits, it’s just how much they would like to express or how comfortable they are by expressing certain traits. 

Not all children or young adults who experiment with gender expression will later identify as gender diverse.

Body image and self-confidence

Body image

Body image is the thoughts, feelings, attitudes and beliefs someone has about their own body, how it looks, feels, appears and moves. 


Self-confidence is an attitude regarding a person’s own skills and abilities. It is an acceptance of trust in one’s ability, personal qualities and judgment.   

Children and young adults are faced with a number of challenges related to body image and self-confidence. It is often identified as one of the biggest concerns for this age group and can be influenced a number of factors including: 

Social pressures

Diet culture and beauty ideals are a constant theme children see. This can often create unrealistic expectations of what is needed to be seen as desirable.

Media and social media

The pervasive use of certain social media channels creates a comparison of people’s best photos with their own everyday bodies. This is not a fair comparison.

Parent and family norms

The discussions you have with your children can greatly impact the way they look at themselves and their bodies. Some norms around body weight or weight loss have been passed down through generations and often are not helpful for young adults (especially with young girls who have added pressures as they age).


Physical changes in a young person’s body can cause them to be self-conscious as body parts grow or change.

Body shaming or bullying

Regardless of how subtle it may be, body shaming can have lasting impacts on children’s self-confidence. Studies show that body shaming children has more negative consequences than positive outcomes.

How common is poor body image?

A recent study of children 12-18 years old found that of the 1,635 respondents, 90.1% reported some level of concern about their body image. Nearly half (45%) responded they are dissatisfied with the way their body looks.

As a parent, it can often be hard to hear your child talk about themselves or their body in a negative way. The good news is you have a great deal of influence over the way your child views and values themselves. B

See our tips to help your child through the journey of body acceptance.

Focus on the positives

Your child’s body is capable of many things, from transport to fun activities to dance. Being grateful for what their body can achieve will give them insight into some positivity.

Avoid unhelpful comparisons

The more young people compare themselves to others, the less likely they are to value their own strengths. These comparisons are often on social media where photos can be heavily edited to create online engagement.

Mind your words

Remind yourself that speaking kindly to your child and not body or food-shaming them will help create a positive environment. Also, using words like “bad food” or “toxic” is unlikely to create food freedom in the family. 

Remind your child to watch their words

Remind your child to be kind to themself through the internal dialogue they have. Respecting themselves starts with small internal thoughts.

Be cautious of overly restrictive diet trends

Educate yourself on diet culture through reliable and relevant sources. Overly restrictive diets or excessive exercise is not a helpful or healthy relationship to build with your child. See Lifestyle diets for more information.

Be open to all body shapes

Respecting diversity when you see others out in the community will help inform your child that different body shapes and sizes are completely okay and that someone's internal values and substance have nothing to do with their appearance.


Orthorexia is the term given to describe an unhealthy obsession or fixation on food intake, weight or excessive exercise. It can develop into a very negative health habit. 

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)

When children start to chronically obsess or worry about their bodies, their doctor may diagnose or refer to the condition as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). 

Body dysmorphia disorder is a condition that causes people to feel their body is flawed in some way. This worry often takes up excess time and energy for the child and can affect relationships and social interactions. Working alongside a healthcare professional is the best way to work through BDD.  

Last updated Monday 6th May 2024