Saturday, January 23, 2010

Mental Health Care and Raising Teens

I have often wondered why we do not have a counselor present in our children's lives from the very beginning. Why does our culture ignore emotional care until it reaches a state of emergency? What American parent would delay medical care until there was a problem? Waiting on medical care until your child had a life-threatening condition would be considered negligent? Yet we place no preventative care in reach for mental and emotional growth. Our children have medical and dental well-visits from the time they are days old. As a culture we accept the concept of preventative care for these areas of our children's lives. What if we did the same for their emotional health?

Imagine this. Your child is starting school - new stressers, new relationships with peers and adults, new systems of social engagement. What if your child had preventative emotional care from the get go? A place to explore those triggers and stressers, a place to learn effective communication skills, a place to learn positive techniques to deal with bullies, friendships - group dynamics. You may say, well I provide that - or the school provides that - don't kid yourself. And maybe you do to a degree. But I'm willing to bet that there are an awful lot of us out there that do not have the skills to provide the kind of care a professional child psychologist can provide. And I'll bet that you yourself, as a parent, are one of the stressers in your child's life. Because we are - because we aren't always on the top of our game - because we carry our own baggage.

After all, our generation is one of the first to even embrace the idea of mental care - without the stigma. And where the heck did that stigma come from anyway? We don't need the history lesson right now. Suffice to say, we are slow to acknowledge the need until we see our child cutting, using drugs, or acting out in some other destructive way. As a culture we cannot even fathom preventative emotional care. The world is flat.

Imagine your child learning how to articulate their emotional state and needs from childhood to adulthood. How extraordinary. When they have early issues with your parenting you work through it together. You share a session. What would you learn as a parent both from the counselor and your child? How valuable it would be to work through the small problems, refine your communication skills along with your child, learn how to parent that particular child effectively?

The world is flat. We are okay with the pediatrician and the dentist but we resist the counselor until the red lights are flashing. Wouldn't it be so much easier to develop the skills over time? How many tragedies would be diverted? Our teen suicide rates are on the rise. We have a serious teen drug problem, and our kids face new challenges as a result of technological advancements. Now the bully can reach your kid virtually. Cyberbullying, sexting and Internet abuse are new stressers. Congratulations and welcome to the 21st century!

The need is clearly there but I know what you are thinking. The same thing I'm thinking. How do I afford that? Even if I have good health care, it is so limited in mental/emotional care it is practically non-existent. Maybe you get 6 visits. And counselors - well I'm most discouraged by that. I wish I could charge $200.00 an hour! I have personally had to make the tough decision of foregoing care because of cost. It is a reality - I get that - we can't always get what we want - but emotional care? I live in the richest nation in the world. We send rockets to Mars! Counselors...are you out there? Do you have a way of reaching those of us who can't afford $200 an hour care?

But forget all that bull crap about entitlement cause it's not about that. It's not about living in the richest nation or health care expectations. It's about where we place our priorities. It's about recognizing the 'what if'. It's about making small changes that could positively affect an entire generation.

Some statistics from
There are 35 million American families with children at risk of abusing drugs and alcohol. (Source: U.S. Census 2000, parents with children ages 9 -17)

Most teens in America experiment with drugs by the time they are 14 1/2 years old and 50% of high school seniors report that they have used some form of illicit drugs in their lives.

"A previously published CDC survey of youth in grades 9 to 12 in public and private schools in the United States found that 17 percent reported “seriously considering” suicide, 13 percent reported creating a plan and 8 percent reported trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey."


Monday, January 11, 2010

Teen Brains

I was doing some research for a new client and I stumbled on this article. It was one of many that mentioned the teen brain as unique, rather than just an adult brain with less miles.

The teenage brain is more responsive to the world around them which may help them learn and retain faster than their tired parents - it may also make them susceptible to negative stimuli, like stress and likely to experiment with drugs (this strikes a personal chord). Read Why Teens are Impulsive - Risk Takers. On the same page is a link to a newer set of findings. New mapping seems to suggest that risk taking teens may have an advantage over those more passive. Read More. Which just goes to show you that the braniacs have only the tiniest glimpse of whats really going on. Still, it may help us understand what makes our kids tick and that can't hurt - can it?

This new information may help us transform the old high school model into a place that serves this kind of brain a little better. Do our teens have a chance to positively create using that impulsiveness? How can we turn risk into possibilities? What part of high school French or Algebra allows them to tap into that trigger fine receptive brain and explore those concepts in the world around them? I sat in high school - I sat, and I sat, and I sat - listening but rarely invited to 'do'. I did my time - Erik is doing his time.

I was listening to NPR - Madeleine Brand was talking to author Daniel Pink about his latest book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. The gist - 'given more autonomy in their jobs, the rewards for both employee and employer are enormous.' In the course of the conversation he described the process of a four year old exploring the world. A four year old doesn't really identify when he is learning or when he is playing - he is just interested, and in the moment and so learning and growing from the experience. We cowl our kids - institutionalize them - teach one dimensionally.

It was ironic because Erik has been trying to beat this into my brain for about a year now - he does not at all respond to scheduling creativity. He dispises dates or schedules and as soon as anyone tries to impose them, he resists. But he'll spend hours trying to achieve on his terms. This has been very frustrating for me - and his math teacher! But Pink's conversation made me stop and think - and coupled with the new brain imaging information, it made me really attempt to adjust the angle at which I try to engage with Erik.

So if Erik never learns to conform does this mean he will never achieve? God, I think of all the interviews of all those really creative people talking about the hell of high school and I think, this is bullshit - if Erik is driven - he will acheive. I need to give him the space to find it - whatever 'it' is.