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Mission Australia survey reveals tense time for teens

Sue Dunlevy, December 2, 2021 6:30PM Kids News

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Teenagers spend too much time on their screens, not enough time exercising and sleeping, and they worry about Covid-19 and the environment, a new study has found. Picture: iStock media_cameraTeenagers spend too much time on their screens, not enough time exercising and sleeping, and they worry about Covid-19 and the environment, a new study has found. Picture: iStock


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Australian teenagers are glued to their screens for up to nine hours a day, are not doing even an hour of exercise daily and are getting less than six hours’ sleep.

And more than one in three report being unfairly treated in the past year because of their gender, sexual identity or race, Mission Australia’s latest Youth Survey Report has revealed.

More than 20,000 young people aged 15-19 were surveyed by the charity between April and August this year, with more than four in 10 revealing they are extremely or very concerned about mental health.

Asked to nominate the key issues Australia must address, not surprisingly almost half (45.7 per cent) nominated Covid-19 but almost as many said the environment.

“One quarter of young people were also personally concerned about Covid-19, saying it adversely* impacted on their ability to participate in activities, their mental and physical health, as well as their families and friendships,” Mission Australia chief executive James Toomey said.

Portrait close up of girl wearing protective mask during pandemic media_cameraA quarter of young people were concerned about Covid-19 and said it had a negative impact on their mental and physical health. Picture: iStock

The research found pandemic lockdowns and restrictions had a negative effect on young people’s health, wellbeing and education, impacting on their ability to participate in activities (68.3 per cent) and their education (62.3 per cent). It also affected the mental health of half the young people surveyed.

“My anxiety has been heightened by a constant state of the unknown and that everything can change so quickly. Not knowing when I will see family and friends next, being isolated, feeling insecure in my job,” one young person said.

Climate change and the environment are also taxing the mental health of young people.

“I’ve felt very depressed about the future of the Earth. I have lost a lot of faith in humanity, and feel like nothing is being done (or very little, very slowly) to reduce the effect of climate change,” one 15-year-old girl from Queensland said.

media_cameraClimate change was one of the big issues the teenagers were worried about in Mission Australia’s latest Youth Survey Report. Picture: AFP

Despite the trials of Covid, most young people were happy with their lives (53.4 per cent) and just over half (51.6 per cent) reported feeling positive or very positive about the future.

However, these figures have decreased since 2020, by 5.2 per cent and 3.9 per cent respectively.

The exercise, screen and sleep habits of adolescents are a major concern, with the survey revealing most do not meet the Australian physical activity and exercise guidelines.

Two in three do less than the recommended seven hours of exercise weekly.

Around three quarters (77 per cent) use computer or TV screens more than five hours a day, when guidelines suggest no more than two hours.

Disturbingly, over a third (35.7 per cent) spend more than nine hours a day looking at computer or TV screens.

Teenager boy chatting by phone, writing in blog or reading social networks instead sleeping. Young guy laying in bed and watching video clips by smartphone. Overuse and addiction kids from gadgets. media_cameraThe Youth Survey found teens spend too much time on screens and not enough time sleeping. Picture: iStock

Teens need 10 hours’ sleep a night but one in five get six hours or less.

Chronic* sleep deprivation* can affect concentration and memory, attention span and lead to poor decision-making and impact on mood.

The survey reported a concerning rise in the number of young people who said they had been treated unfairly (34.2 per cent), up from 27 per cent the year before.

This treatment was most commonly due to their gender (37.3 per cent) – with far more gender diverse young people, and more young females than males citing this.

More than one in four experienced discrimination* because of their mental health (27.6 per cent), and another one in four because of their race or cultural background (27.6 per cent).

“Gender and racial discrimination very much exist in our country in the eyes and through the experiences of young people, and our Youth Survey tells us that young people in Australia want it brought out of the shadows and into the light,” Mr Toomey said.

Mr Toomey said the results showed young people were aware of, and cared about, social and personal issues affecting themselves, their peers and their country.

“Now is a critical time to make sure young people are heard. Young people can and should create and advise on solutions that will address issues that affect them, other young people, and Australia,” he said.


  • adversely: in a way that is harmful or negative
  • chronic: continuing or occurring again and again for a long time
  • deprivation: the lack of something that is necessary
  • discrimination: being treated unfairly and differently to others


Two hours of screen time hurts health

Kids’ screen time Aussie parents’ biggest worry

How to kick off the Covid blues

How to cope with climate worries


  1. How many teenagers were surveyed?
  2. What age range were the teenagers?
  3. What two issues were nominated as something Australia needed to address?
  4. What percentage of teenagers used computer or TV screens for more than five hours a day?
  5. What proportion of teenagers got six hours or less sleep per night?


1. Create a Plan
The survey showed that two out of three young people do not do the recommended seven hours of exercise per week. Can you think of a good plan that could make it easy and fun for young people to exercise more? Create and write out a plan to help kids exercise for seven hours each week that is realistic, fun and motivating for kids who don’t exercise.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Health and Physical Education

2. Extension
Write a list of all of the issues that have been mentioned in the survey. Rank the issues according to how important you think they are. Write sentences explaining your choices.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Health and Physical Education

Opener Up-Level It
Make a list of all the openers in the article. Pick three that repeat and see if you can replace them with another word, or shuffle the order of the sentence to bring a new opener to the front.

Don’t forget to re-read the sentence to make sure it still makes sense, and that it actually sounds better.

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