Monday, February 24, 2014

It's Not Just Food and Sleep.

Stressed out kids.  Seems I've been reading a lot about this lately.  (see The Epidemic of Stressed Parents Raising Stressed Kids - Huff Post )  I see it all around me at school and in private practice - anxiety, depression, ADHD, OCD, etc.  According to this Huff Post article, one out of five children suffers from a diagnosable mental health disorder.  That’s five or six children in your child’s classroom. Maybe your child is one of them.  So you might be calling me for help.
If you do call me, you will soon learn that one of my favorite mottos about problems that kids and families face is that everything is overdetermined .  That means that there is more than one factor that causes an outcome.  Conversely, it often takes more than one intervention to change that outcome.  Stress in families is overdetermined. We talk a lot about various things kids should and shouldn’t eat.  We talk about exercise and time outside.  We talk about sleep.  We talk about reduced screen time.  (see TIME - America’s Teens Outscore Adults On Stress ) All of those things are good to consider.  However, there is not one specific thing that is going to be the “silver bullet” for reducing stress, or ADHD, or depression, or anxiety.  That being said; there are some other things I think we ought to think about adding to the mix.
  • Technology – The amount of time children and teens spend online is discussed a great deal.  I think there are other aspects to technology that need to be considered, specifically about school.  My children graduated from high school in June 2011.  At that time, a few teachers were asking for assignments to be turned in online, and some were posting assignments on websites.  In three short years, I have watched a revolution take place.  Now assignments are given and turned in online, and grades and countless other activities related to school live on the web also.  There are two stressful aspects to this revolution that I think schools have not fully considered.  One is that there are still families who don’t have the hardware needed to interface with all of these technological activities.  I am working with a young lady whose school does a great deal online.  The sole computer at her house is a 1998 iMac on a cable modem.  Some sites will not even load reliably on her machine.  Her parents have limited resources, and she is embarrassed to say anything to her teachers.  I also wonder what happens to children when the cable is disconnected because the bill hasn’t been paid or because there isn’t service where they live.  I think this may cause stress for more people than we think it does.  Another technological issue occurs for children who do not have technologically savvy parents.   What happens when the network goes down, a post on Edmodo is due, and neither the parent or a child have the technological know-how to fix the problem?  How many times has there been stress in your house because homework is due, and the technology is “down”?  Don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE educational technology.  For many applications, it’s a wonderful thing.  I just think we need to be mindful of the consequences of relying on it, and then penalizing children when problems arise that are out of their control.
  • Common Core and Standardization – With the technological revolution we also have a curricular and pedagogical revolution happening.  Last week I met with a young man in 7th grade.  In one week in his social studies class they had covered the end of WWI and the Great Depression.  Monday and Tuesday on the first topic, and Wednesday and Thursday on the second.  This young man is pretty bright, so we always start with what he remembers and we build from there.  When I asked him what he knew about those topics, the answer I got was, “The Treaty of Versailles caused the Great Depression, so Franklin Roosevelt had to fight Hitler even though he didn’t want to.  Oh, and the stock market crashed right after the war.”  Granted he’s got ADHD and tends to miss things, but let me be clear.  The material covered 1918 and 1919, skipped to 1929 and ended at 1939.  In four days.  He had no context.  You should have seen the look on his face when he realized he was missing an entire decade in the timeline.  Like I said, he’s pretty bright, but this is not the first time he’s mixed two completely different concepts together that had been introduced in a short span of time.  I am not laying this at the feet of his teachers.  They are expected to cover certain pieces of material (standards, goals?) on a certain schedule.  As we work harder and harder in schools to cover more and more material in ever-shorter periods of time, we are confusing children.  This is not rigor.  I was a fan of Common Core when it was first introduced, but if this is going to be the result, no way.  Even more, for children that have organizational difficulties, the pace and demands of keeping up with all of this can be a hurdle too big to overcome.  Talk about stress! If your child brings home math homework in the 2nd grade and the question is - “Look at the following numbers and circle the one that is the median. 208, 246, 273, 264, 223, and 210” — could you help them?  Do you know what the median is?  (I learned when I took statistics in graduate school.  Not everyone has taken statistics.) Does the school expect you to?  If the answer to the first question is no, and the second is yes, you need to let someone know.  Parents need to be engaged in this and let the school and district know when their children have had enough.  Parents also need to start asking schools to teach specific strategies for different ways of planning work and learning material.  Finding the ways that work best for your child to study, finish homework and plan and complete projects are life skills that everyone needs to learn to keep stress under control. 
  • Stuff – This is not just materialism.  It’s about the complications that stuff adds to our lives.  I do a lot of home visits.  I see bedrooms filled with stuff.  Not just toys, but clothes, shoes, cosmetics, stuffed animals, books and all kinds of ephemera.  Stuff makes life complicated for kids.  It’s complicated to figure out what to do first.  It’s complicated to figure out what to wear.  It’s complicated to figure out where to find anything.  It’s certainly complicated to figure out how to keep it organized and neat.  It’s plain old complicated just to look at everything!  All of that causes stress.  If your child doesn’t want to part with things, why not just put the majority of it away?  It can be cycled and re-cycled back into the room.  Take the clothing pile down to what they need to wear in a week.  If something rips, gets stained, or just looks worn, replace it with something from the stash.  In my mind, a stress-free room looks, well, empty.
  • Loneliness – Think back to your childhood and your best friendships.  How did they start?  Many times they started at school, other times in the neighborhood.  Think about your earliest memories with those friends.  Did your parents always like those children? What do you remember doing with them that brought you close and can still make you smile? Chances are it was on the playground at school, or in someone’s yard, or even in someone’s house.  Most likely it was an unstructured activity without a hovering adult or maybe without an adult at all.  Maybe it was just sitting around doing nothing at all.  Now think about your own children.  Do they have the same types of activities with other children?  They probably don’t have them at school for more than 30 minutes, so don’t count on that.  Do they have them in the neighborhood?  Why not? Close relationships, the kind that grow closeness and trust, the kind where you can share secrets, the kind that build lasting bonds, do not develop at karate and ballet class.  They also don’t develop during play dates when Mom picks (or influences the choice of) the guest.  They develop through spontaneous, unstructured activities when kids can do what they want – with whom they want.  (Within reason, of course)  I talk to many children who do not have those opportunities.  They are lonely.  A child does not have to spend lots of time alone to be lonely.  A child who does spend time alone may not necessarily be lonely.  It’s not the quantity of the relationships; it’s the quality of the relationships. 

What do you see here that might be affecting your child?  How do you think you might be able to change?  I would be interested in hearing your perspective.  Leave a comment here, on my FB page at Pamela Mecca Seymour, LPC or tweet @pam327.


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