Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents and teenagers

Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander mum smiling with two teenage kids

This article was produced through a partnership with Cox Inall Ridgeway, an Aboriginal social change agency. This article has been written and reviewed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

This topic has been put together to provide some information about holistic ways to support your young people’s social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB). In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, we take a ‘whole of life’ view of health and SEWB, rather than using terms like ‘mental health’ or ‘mental illness’.

What is social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB)?

There are a lot of different ways a person may experience SEWB, and these may change during their lifetime. What’s important to your young person may be different from what’s important to an Elder. SEWB, through an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lens, allows us to prioritise our connection to culture and to increase our self-determination as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

For parents and carers, adopting a SEWB approach is a powerful way to make positive impacts for our children and young people. And, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth mental health, it’s an essential framework. Read more on how to talk about social and emotional wellbeing in this guide.

Risks to a young person’s SEWB

The challenges faced by young Aboriginal and Torres Islander people that can put their SEWB at risk include:

  • discrimination and racism

  • grief and loss

  • life stress

  • social exclusion

  • family breakdown

  • cultural disconnection

  • bullying.

The role of parents, carers and communities in SEWB

Culture and cultural identity play a key role in a young person’s development, self-image and self-esteem. You can help to protect your young person’s SEWB by making sure they have access and connection to sources of strength and resilience, such as:

  • Country, culture, spirituality and ancestry

  • family, kinship and community.

Parents, carers, peers and communities play a huge role in maintaining the SEWB of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Here are some ways to help your young person connect with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture:

  • Attend community events based around important dates like NAIDOC Week, Reconciliation Week or Mabo Day.

  • Learn about your mob and language together.

  • Connect and spend time with Elders and community leaders.

  • Spend time on Country – fishing, walking or having a yarn.

Helping young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people deal with racism and discrimination

Unfortunately, many of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth people experience racism and discrimination. This can include direct racism targeted at an individual, but it can also include exposure to racist and discriminatory attitudes in media and social media. Racism and discrimination are more than just words or actions. They include the invisible barriers, both big and small, that can prevent people from doing as well in life as others, simply because of their cultural background.

There are 3 different types of racism people may face:

  • individual racism

  • everyday racism

  • institutional (systemic) racism.

The reality is that we can all experience racism, and it affects the SEWB of everyone within our community. As parents, carers, peers and community support workers, we cannot always prevent our young people from being exposed to racism and discrimination. But we can provide tools that will build their SEWB.

We can ensure our young people’s strength and resilience and foster their health and SEWB by promoting positive cultural experiences, recognising and promoting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander role models, and celebrating young people’s efforts, talents and successes. It’s also vital to support and guide our young people to express their cultural identity.

Find more resources, help and info on how to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people here.