By Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC
* on average, 53 hours per week of a child’s life is spent interacting with some sort of screen media
* kids are sleeping less
* children are involved in more non-family activities
* children are being treated more as confidantes by their parents rather than as a child,
* kids have less time to be still or interact with family.
These don’t come without consequences.
One of those consequences is increased stress. A second consequence is a need for immediacy, and awkwardness with normal communication. Kids also feel more overwhelmed with emotions they don’t understand or have the ability to process. The brain changes as we grow and continues to change as it acquires new information.
An overload of information, or inability to manage the information, leads to anxiety, depression, and stress in our children. The evidence is everywhere. Attention deficit disorders are a real issue, but environmental influences cannot be overlooked. Many parents are as stressed, if not more, than their children. And when children don’t understand what is going on, it is likely they will try to help mom and dad by taking on some of their unspoken worries and concerns.
Parents traveling with their jobs, taking on more work, venting personal information to their children, or signing their child up for one more class or activity at night to help with carpooling may help everyone get home, but it may also be the very activity that pushes a healthy balance to an unhealthy point for their child. Just as parents need “down time,” their children do, too. The loss of childhood is a serious and complex problem facing many families in America.
How can we protect our children’s youth, help them manage necessary stress and minimize unnecessary stress? Below are a few suggestions for parents in managing their own stress as well as helping their children.
* The number one way to manage stress for parents is to prevent it from happening. Prepare yourself as a parent to not expect perfection, and instead focus on being happy and raising kids who feel good about themselves. The easiest way to do this is to focus on all you love and what is going great in your life. If your child is getting all Bs with one C or D, focus on the Bs with encouragement toward improving on the C or D.
* Minimize stress with exercise and healthy foods. When you make healthy choices, you become happier. Taking ten minutes for you each day to exercise can minimize stress and anxiety while helping demonstrate a healthy lifestyle to your child.
* Take care of yourself spiritually. Your faith and beliefs can help you relieve stress. Praying, meditating and sharing your life with a community helps you feel less burdened, others are more appropriate as a sounding board than your children.
Parents, help your children minimize and manage stress by:
* Focusing on helping your child develop a routine to follow each day. Consistency and structure minimize stress in kids.
* Making sure you have a bed time plan and your child is getting plenty of sleep. Catching up on weekends is not okay.
* Planning family meals rather than going out for fast food will reduce stress. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be time consuming, and it allows you to spend more time engaged with your child.
* Choosing fewer planned activities allows children time to journal or work on hobbies giving them more control and encouraging healthy coping skills and stress management.
You cannot escape stress–and some stress is good for us. However, when your child becomes anxious, weepy, and unable to focus, it’s time to make changes in your family’s lifestyle.
– Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at maryjorapini.com.