Teach Children to Manage Their Inner World
I genuinely believe that we have stacked the odds against our youth. Bold statement, I know. Whether it's stressors from a "post-COVID" world, like the leftover effects from isolation, fear of the unknown, financial instability, and grief, or the harmful impact of technology and social media, our kids are hurting.
I recently watched a New York Times video that summed up a few more of these issues quite well.
Published on April 25, 2022, and entitled Teens Are in Crisis. Here's Why, the video states,
"The age of puberty for boys and girls has been falling. Researchers are investigating changes in nutrition, rising obesity, exposure to certain chemicals, and even light. In the mid-1800's girls in Western countries started puberty around the age of 16. It's been dropping for decades. Today, it's age 12." The piece went onto say, "but it's not just outward physiological changes. When puberty hits, a neurological system called the social brain is put on high alert making teens more sensitive to social connections and hierarchy. Puberty also awakens the limbic system, making brains more responsive to emotions, rewards, and threats. But other regions of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex that help regulate self-control, mature later. And so, kids are experiencing these stressors before their coping skills are mature enough to handle them" (The New York Times, 2022).
That said, as a mental health coach who works with adolescents all day, every day, one of the biggest topics I find myself discussing with parents is how they can better support their child's mental health.
So, what can you do to better support your child's mental health as we go into summer? Here are my top three tips!
1. Get Them Off of Technology as Much as You Can
If you've spent any time with me, professionally or personally, you would know how much I dislike social media, video games, and the piece of technology where both can be found.
For this article, when I refer to digital technology, I am referring to things like smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, gaming systems and all forms of social media. So, you know…all of it.
Before I go any further, I acknowledge that technology is imperative in society today, and I sincerely appreciate its positive and tremendous purpose. That said, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.
Technology is designed to be addictive—and it is. More so, technology contributes to sleeping disorders, sedentary lifestyles, reduced attention, impaired emotional and social intelligence, social isolation and has an adverse impact on cognition and brain development in children (Small et al., 2020).
Though I could talk about this subject until the end of time, I will spare you… for now. That said, I truly encourage you to read the cited journal article above in its entirety by either clicking here or going to the June 2020 edition of Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience and reading the article entitled, Brain health consequences of digital technology use.
If there is growing research that finds constant technology use impacts a growing brain, reducing exposure is simply necessary for the betterment of your child or teen.
To read more from me regarding the harm social media can pose to teens please click here.
2. Foster Healthy Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene can be defined as habits and practices conducive to sleeping well regularly.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has recommended that children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours, children aged 6–12 years should regularly sleep 9–12 hours, and teenagers aged 13–18 years should sleep 8–10 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health (Paruthi et al., n.d.). Ninety percent of my teenage clients do not fall anywhere near this recommended range.
a. Goodbye Blue Light
Like other colors of visible light, blue light is all around us. The sun emits blue light. So do fluorescent and incandescent light bulbs (Stanborough, 2022) …and…the devices we all can't live without. Screens such as televisions, iPads, smartphones, laptops, and computers all emit blue light.
While all visible light can affect our circadian rhythm (our body's natural, internal sleep-wake cycle), blue light has the largest impact because it stimulates parts of the brain that make us feel alert (Sleep Foundation, 2022). Furthermore, blue light has the ability to elevate our body temperature and heart rate and, perhaps most importantly, suppress melatonin production (a hormone that makes us feel drowsy) (Wahl - Wiley Online Library, n.d.).
Therefore, it's important that all family members, including you, turn off all blue light screens three hours prior to bed. Now, most of us need a workaround, and thankfully, I have one! iPhone allows you to change your screen to a warmer yellow color at a time of your choice, essentially filtering out blue light. From my understanding, Android phones also have this feature. Finally, for your laptop or computer, a program called "f.lux" is free and allows you to design screen color based on your circadian rhythm.
b. Manage stress!
I understand how stressful weeknights can be—especially when you're contending with children of varied ages and a packed work schedule of your own. That said, do your best to keep the peace in your home. Avoid deep or upsetting conversations 2-3 hours before everyone's bedtime. Seriously, if this is something that happens in your house regularly…make a new rule.
c. Help your teen create a routine around bedtime
When children are younger, we develop a serious nighttime routine to help them fall asleep and stay asleep. We have them take soothing baths, read them books, and turn on sound and light machines. However, as children grow up, these strict routines begin to fall by the wayside. Encourage your teen to develop these soothing, calming habits again.
Ultimately, you want to cultivate a relaxing home environment that encourages healthier sleeping habits for everyone.
3. Teach Them Proper Coping Strategies
Parents have a tough job juggling the responsibility it takes to raise healthy, happy, and productive adults. So, it's not surprising that you may not have time to teach your child proper coping strategies in challenging moments. That said, teaching kids and teens appropriate coping strategies is quite vital for their mental health.
"Research shows that being able to emotionally self-regulate is associated with lower levels of anxiety and depression later in life and children who demonstrate appropriate coping skills in preschool are more often viewed as kindergarten-ready and are more likely to succeed academically" (Better Kid Care (Penn State Extension, 2021).
That's where someone like me comes in. Though I can only speak for myself and my practice, the goal is to teach my clients how to regulate their thoughts and emotions through a series of mental, physical, and emotional coping strategies. Often these skills are referred to as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) coping strategies.
Regardless of who you choose to work with, if you choose to work with anyone at all, teaching your child how to appropriately manage their inner world is a gift they will use daily throughout their lives.
For more information on Christina H Chororos or Kairos Chronic Pain Coaching, 567 Park Avenue, Scotch Plains, NJ, please visit kairoschronicpain.com or call 908.370.5713.
The New York Times. (2022, April 25). Teens Are In Crisis. Here’s Why. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wr7BrKOX6bE&t=179s.
Stanborough, R. J. (2022, January 7). The truth about blue light and Eye Health. Healthline. Retrieved May 30, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/what-is-blue-light#is-blue-light-bad-for-your-eyes
How blue light affects sleep. Sleep Foundation. (2022, April 12). Retrieved May 30, 2022, from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/bedroom-environment/blue-light
Wahl - Wiley Online Library. (n.d.). Retrieved May 30, 2022, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/jbio.201900102
Small, G. W., Lee, J., Kaufman, A., Jalil, J., Siddarth, P., Gaddipati, H., Moody, T. D., & Bookheimer, S. Y. (2020). Brain health consequences of digital technology use. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 22(2), 179–187. https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2020.22.2/gsmall
Paruthi S;Brooks LJ;D'Ambrosio C;Hall WA;Kotagal S;Lloyd RM;Malow BA;Maski K;Nichols C;Quan SF;Rosen CL;Troester MM;Wise MS; (n.d.). Consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine on the recommended amount of sleep for Healthy Children: Methodology and discussion. Journal of clinical sleep medicine : JCSM : official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Retrieved May 30, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27707447/
Promoting coping skills (better kid care). Better Kid Care (Penn State Extension). (2021, January 28). Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://extension.psu.edu/programs/betterkidcare/news/2021/promoting-coping-skills