There is a serious silent tragedy which is developing as we speak, in our homes, and it concerns our most valuable jewels, our beloved children. Through my work as an occupational therapist, I have witnessed this tragedy unfolding in with hundreds of children and families right in front of eyes. Our children are in a really bad, devastating emotional state! Talk to professionals and teachers who have been working with children for the last 15 years. And you will see that they have concerns which are similar to mine. Moreover, researchers have been releasing alarming statistics in the past 15 years on a sharp and steady increase in mental illness in kids, which is now reaching proportions that makes it to be an epidemic:
- one in 5 children has mental health problems
- 43% increase in ADHD
- 37% increase in teen depression
- 100% increase in suicide rates in kids around 10 to 14 years old
How much more evidence do we need for mental illness in kids before we wake up?
No, “increased diagnostics alone” is not the answer!
And No, they are not just born this way!
Nor, it’s the school system’s fault.
Yes, admitting can be very painful, in most cases if not all, as parents, we are the true answer to many of our kids’ struggles!
It is scientifically proven that the brain has the capacity to rewire itself through the environment. Unfortunately, with the environment and parenting styles that we are providing to our children, we are rewiring their brains in a wrong direction and contributing to their challenges in everyday life.
Yes, there are and always have been children who are born with such disabilities that despite the efforts their parents spend trying to provide them with a well-balanced environment and parenting, their children’s struggles never stop. And these are definitely NOT the children we are talking about here.
I am talking about many children whose challenges are most likely shaped by the environmental factors that parents, with their greatest intentions, provide to their children. As I have seen in my practice, the moment parents change their perspective on parenting, these children change and so does mental illness in kids.
What is wrong?
Today’s children are being deprived of the healthy fundamentals of a childhood, such as:
- Emotionally available parents
- Clearly defined limits and guidance
- Balanced nutrition and adequate sleep
- Movement and outdoors
- Social interaction, Creative play, opportunities for unstructured times and boredom
Instead, children are being served with:
- Digitally distracted parents
- Indulgent parents who tend to let their kids “Rule the world”
- Sense of entitlement rather than responsibility
- Inadequate sleep and unbalanced nutrition
- Sedentary indoor lifestyle
- Technological babysitters, Endless stimulation, instant gratification, and absence of dull moments
Could anyone imagine the possibility of raising a healthy generation in such an unhealthy environment? Of course not! There are no shortcuts when it comes to parenting, and we just can’t trick the human nature. As we all see, the outcomes are totally devastating. Our children are the ones paying for the loss well-balanced childhood with their emotional well-being and we are just making mental illness in kids to be worse.
How to fix it?
If we truly want our children to grow to be healthy, happy individuals, we have to wake up and go back to the basics of parenting. It is still possible after all! I know this because hundreds of parents saw some serious positive changes in their kids’ emotional state within weeks, and even days in some cases, after implementing these recommendations:
- Set limits and remember that you are your child’s PARENT, not a friend. Offer your kids well-balanced healthy lifestyle filled with what kids NEED, not just what they tell you they WANT. Don’t be afraid to say “No!” to your kids if you see that what they want is not what they need.
- Provide healthy nutritious food and limits snacks.
- Spend at least one hour a day in green space: biking, hiking, fishing, watching birds/insects
- Have a technology-free family dinner once a week.
- Play one or two board games a day. (List of family games)
- Involve your child in one house chore a day (folding laundry, tidying up toys, hanging clothes, unpacking groceries, setting the table…etc)
- Implement consistent sleep schedule to make sure that your child gets lots of sleep in a technology-free bedroom
- Teach responsibility and independence. Don’t over-protect them from minor failures. It trains them to acquire skills which they’ll need to overcome greater life’s challenges:
- Don’t ever pack your children’s backpacks, nor carry it, don’t bring to school his forgotten lunch, box, agenda. And don’t you peel a banana for a 5-year-old child. Teach them how to do things rather than doing it for them.
- Teach delayed gratification and provide opportunities for “boredom” as boredom is the time when creativity awakens:
- Don’t feel as if you are responsible for being your child’s entertainment crew.
- don’t use technology as a remedy for boredom.
- Avoid using your phone during meals, inside the car, in restaurants, malls. Use these rare moments as opportunities for their brains to be trained to function under “boredom”
- Help them creating a “boredom first aid kit” with activity ideas for times when they are bored.
- Be emotionally available to connect with kids and teach them self-regulation and social skills:
- Pu your phones away until kids are in bed to avoid digital distraction.
- Become your child’s emotional coach. Teach them to recognize frustration and anger and deal with it.
- Teach them greetings, how to take turns, wait in line, sharing, empathy, table manners, conversation skills,
- Connect emotionally with your children. Smile, hug, kiss, tickle, read, dance, jump, or crawl with them.
We must make changes in our kids’ lives before this entire generation of children end up having to deal with mental illness in kids will be medicated! It is not too late for change yet, but soon it sure will be… -Victoria Prooday
- This story was written by the founder and clinical director of a multidisciplinary clinic for children and parents. Psychotherapist, and registered Occupational Therapist Victoria Prooday.