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Mental health crisis in teens is being magnified by demise of creative subjects in school

After the recent report by The Children’s Society that a quarter of 14-year-old girls have self-harmed, many campaigners have called for the root causes of the adolescent mental health crisis to be tackled – rather than just firefighting the symptoms.

Resilience lessons, peer mentoring, awareness campaigns and provision of early intervention may be valuable initiatives. But they do little to challenge the main causes of mental health issues – which are likely to be integral characteristics of a neoliberal economy, including austerity, global uncertainty and a highly pressured education system.

The British Psychological Society’s recently published Power Threat Meaning Framework also supports this viewpoint. It sees mental distress less as an individual medical issue, and more as an intelligible response to the social, material and cultural pressures acting on people.

Much of my experience is as a storyteller and community artist, and I coordinate the Things As They Are network for young artists with experience of mental ill health. I have found that young people with mental health conditions often have a keen perception of how the media, economy and society contribute to their problems. These large-scale issues are often beyond the scope of schools to address, but with a change of focus, the educational environment could move beyond firefighting problems to play a more fundamental role.

More time for play

A vital first step would be measures to reverse the shrinkage of what might be called the “youth public sphere”. By this I mean the space and time that is allowed for dialogue, self-expression, playfulness, exploration, development of personal initiative, and just plain chatting, between young people and caring adults.

These opportunities enable young people to understand the world around them and thrive despite adversity. But they have been dangerously eroded by closely specified curricula, performance-focused education systems and the decimation of the youth service.

Less than one in 20 pupils took music GCSE in 2017. Shutterstock

The Pupil Referral Units to which ever increasing numbers of young people are being sent – because they cannot cope within mainstream schools – make an interesting contrast. These units are frequently criticised, but they do allow space for dialogue and responsiveness to young people’s needs and interests.

I have witnessed conversations between young people too anxious to attend school sharing tips on how to get referred to a unit – because “they treat you like a human being there”, unlike in mainstream school.

Space to grow

At the risk of sounding bitter, I could also cite my own frustrating attempt to establish a lunchtime storytelling club with a group of keen, and vulnerable, young people in a local secondary school. The teachers were supportive – we wanted to establish a space where different “tribes” of young people could make friends and collaborate creatively outside the constraints of the curriculum, which allowed little space for creative writing or group work.

Yet with lunch breaks cut to 35 minutes to maximise lesson time and manage behaviour, and further shortened by frequent detentions, it proved impossible to build up a stable group, and teachers lacked the time to support the ideas for performances and projects from pupils.

Schools are cutting time spent on PE lessons because of exam pressure. Shutterstock

It is widely agreed that education systems centred on exams place stress on young people, yet there is less understanding of their more insidious effect. That is, their tendency to reshape every exchange between teachers and pupils into something directed at an assessment goal.

They also squeeze out of the school day anything that does not contribute to this. Arts and sports activities dwindle away from the curriculum, and teachers find themselves less often in the informal, supportive roles of mentor, facilitator, and guide.

Meanwhile, outside schools, austerity has led to open access youth clubs being gradually replaced by targeted provision to improve “outcomes” for school refusers, teenage parents, or young people in care – and even these are being cut in most areas. Mental health and well-being are also effectively being converted into goals which young people must individually achieve through learning strategies.

Beyond league tables

To thrive emotionally, young people need their own time and space, that is not explicitly directed at particular outcomes. This should be an arena in which diverse groups of young people can form their identities and agendas – perhaps with the non-coercive oversight of sympathetic adults. The arts provide some of the key forums for this – I gratefully remember the music teacher that helped me and my friends set up our band in the lunch break.

To try and tackle the challenge young people are facing, the government could start by mandating time and space in schools for exploratory, informal, and pupil directed activity. This could be done by reinstating leisurely lunch breaks and allowing for extracurricular activities within them. Arts and sports lessons also must be restored where they have been reduced within the curriculum.

The education sector should pay attention to solutions to the mental health crisis which arise from young people themselves – I’m thinking of the group of GCSE students whose protest on London’s tube trains proclaimed the human cost of pupil exclusions in a system focused on exam results rather than compassion and support.

As mental health campaigner Natasha Devon points out, self-harm is frequently a way of being heard. Perhaps then, if we help young people find other, more creative outlets, we might find it easier to hear what they’re trying to tell us.

By: Postdoctoral researcher and arts practitioner, York St John University

 

Source: Mental health crisis in teens is being magnified by demise of creative subjects in school

 

 

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Is There a Difference Between Disruptive Behavior Disorders and ADHD – Amanda Morin

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You may have heard people use phrases like “out of control” or “wild” to describe kids who have a hard time controlling their emotions and impulsive behavior. If they’re talking about your child, you might wonder if your child has a disruptive behavior disorder or ADHD. You might even think disruptive behavior disorders and ADHD are the same thing. Disruptive behavior disorders and ADHD have some things in common, such as trouble keeping emotions in check and doing risky, impulsive things. But there are big differences between the two that can affect the strategies used to help your child………..

Read more: http://sco.lt/5VTdM9

How To Teach Your Kids To Care About Other People – Caroline Bologna

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As deep-seated divisions, vitriol and disturbing news fill headlines, many people are wondering what happened to the qualities of empathy and kindness in our society.

In the same vein, many parents are wondering how to raise kids who will be a force for love and goodness in the face of bitterness and hate.

HuffPost spoke to psychologists, parents and other experts about how to instill empathy in children.

Talk About Feelings

“The gateway to empathy is emotional literacy,” said Michele Borba, an educational psychologist and the author of numerous parenting books, including UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World.

A simple way to foster emotional literacy is by promoting face-to-face communication in the age of texting and smartphones. “Digital-driven kids aren’t necessarily learning emotions when they pick emojis,” Borba said. “Make it a rule in your house to always look at the color of the talker’s eyes because it will help your child tune in to the other person.”

Another key aspect is teaching kids to identify their own emotions early on. “Use emotional language with kids. Say things like, ‘I see you’re really frustrated,’ or, ‘I see you’re really mad,’” Laura Dell, an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati’s School of Education, told HuffPost.

“Before children can identify and empathize with other people’s feelings, they need to understand how to process their own feelings,” she continued. “Once they can identify their own emotion, they’re better able to develop those self-regulation skills to control their own emotions ― and then take the next step to understand the emotions of others.”

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Ravi Rao, a pediatric neurosurgeon turned children’s show host, believes parents should teach feelings as much as they teach things like colors and numbers.

“You’ll see parents walking through the park and taking every opportunity to ask, ‘What color is that man’s jacket?’ ‘What color is the bus?’ ‘How many trees are there?’” he explained. “You can also practice emotion by saying things like, ‘Do you see the woman over there? Does she look happy or does she look sad?’”

Rao also recommends playing a “guess what I’m feeling” game at home by making happy or sad faces and asking your children to identify the emotion. “You just get their brains in the habit of noticing the signals on other people’s faces.”

Once kids have a better sense of emotions and how things make them feel, you can ask them about the emotional perspectives of others. “You can ask things like, ‘How do you think it made Tommy feel when you took his toy?’ or, ‘That made Mommy really sad when you hit me,’” said Borba.

Use Media To Your Advantage

Watching TV or reading books together presents another great opportunity to cultivate empathy, according to Madeleine Sherak, a former educator and the author of Superheroes Cluba children’s book about the value of kindness.

“Discuss instances when characters are being kind and empathetic, and similarly, discuss instances when characters are being hurtful and mean,” she suggested. “Discuss how the characters are probably feeling and possible scenarios of how the situations may have been handled differently so as to ensure that all characters are treated kindly.”

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Borba recommends engaging in emotionally charged films and literature like The Wednesday Surprise, Charlotte’s Web, Harry Potter and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Set An Example

Parents need to walk the walk and model empathy themselves, noted Rao.

“Kids will pick up on more things than just what you say. You can say, ‘Pay attention to other people’s feelings,’ but if the child doesn’t perceive or witness you paying attention to people’s feelings, it doesn’t necessarily work,” he explained.

Rao emphasized the importance of parents using language to convey their own emotional states by saying things like, “Today, I’m really frustrated,” or, “Today, I’m really disappointed.” They can practice empathy when role-playing with dolls or action figures or other games with kids as well.

It’s also necessary for parents to recognize and respect their children’s emotions, according to Dell.

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For kids to show empathy to us and others, we need to show empathy to them,” she explained. “Of course it’s tough as a parent trying to get multiple kids to put on their clothes and shoes and get out the door to go to school in the morning. But sometimes it makes a difference to take that pause and say, ‘I see it’s making you really sad that we can’t finish watching ‘Curious George’ this morning, but if we finished it, we wouldn’t be able to make it to school on time, and it’s really important to get to school on time.’”

“It doesn’t mean you have to give in to their wants all the time, but to recognize you understand how they feel in a situation,” she added.

Acknowledge Children’s Acts Of Kindness

“Parents are always praising children for what grades they got or how they did on a test. You can also boost their empathy by letting them know it matters to develop a caring mindset,” said Borba, noting that when children do things that are kind and caring, parents can stop for a moment to acknowledge that.

“Say, ‘Oh, that was so kind when you stopped to help that little boy. Did you see how happy it made him?’” explained Borba. “So your child realizes that caring matters, because you’re talking about it. They then begin to see themselves as caring people and their behavior will match it.”

Expose Them To Differences

“Parents have to help their children grow up and thrive in a diverse society through education about and exposure to others who are different, whether culturally, ethnically, religiously, in physical appearance and ability or disability,” Sherak said.

There are many ways to expose your children to the diversity of the world ― like reading books, watching certain movies and TV shows, eating at restaurants with different cuisines, visiting museums, volunteering in your community, and attending events hosted by various religious or ethnic groups.

“It is also important to follow up such visits and activities with open discussions and additional questions and concerns, if any,” said Sherak. “It is also valuable to discuss differences in the context of our children’s own environments and experiences in the family, at school, in their neighborhoods, and in the larger community.”

Parents can urge local schools to promote cross-cultural awareness in their curricula as well, said Rao.

“We also just have to eliminate jokes about race and culture from our homes,” he added. “Maybe back in the day making jokes about race like Archie Bunker seemed acceptable and part of what the family did when they got together on holidays. But that actually undermines empathy if the first thought a child learns about a race or group of people is something derogatory learned from humor. It can be very hard to then overcome that with other positive messages.”

Own Up To Your Mistakes

“If you make a mistake and behave rudely toward someone who messes up at a store checkout, for example, I think you should acknowledge that mistake to kids,” said Dell. After the bad moment, parents can say something like, “Wow I bet she had a lot on her hands. There were a lot of people at the store right then. I should’ve been a little kinder.”

Acknowledging and talking about your own lapses in empathy when your kids are there to witness them makes an impression. “Your child is right there watching, seeing everything,” Dell explained. “Own up to moments you could’ve made better choices to be kinder to the people around you.”

Make Kindness A Family Activity

Families can prioritize kindness with small routines like taking time at dinner every night to ask everyone to share two kind things they did, or writing down simple ways to be caring that they can all discuss together, said Borba. Playing board games is another way to learn to get along with everybody.

Borba also recommended volunteering together as a family or finding ways that your children enjoy giving back.

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If your kid is a sports guru, then helping him do arts and crafts with a less privileged kid might not be the best match, but you can find other opportunities for face-to-face giving that match their interests,” she explained. “Help them realize the life of giving is better than the life of getting.”

Families might also consider writing down their own mission statements, suggested Thomas Lickona, a developmental psychologist and author of How to Raise Kind Kids: And Get Respect, Gratitude, and a Happier Family in the Bargain.

“[It’s] a set of ‘we’ statements that express the values and virtues you commit to live by ― for example, ‘We show kindness through kind words and kind actions’; ‘We say we’re sorry when we’ve hurt someone’s feelings’; ‘We forgive and make up when we’ve had a fight,’” he explained.

Lickona also recommended holding everyone accountable to the family values at weekly family meetings centered around questions like, “How did we use kind words this week?” and, “What would help us not say unkind things even if we’re upset with somebody?”

“When kids slip into speaking unkindly ― as nearly all sometimes will ― gently ask for a ‘redo,’” he said. “‘What would be a kinder way to say that to your sister?’ Make it clear that you’re asking for a redo not to embarrass them, but to give them a chance to show that they know better. Then thank them for doing so.”

Another piece of advice from Lickona: Just look around.

“Even in today’s abrasive, angry, and often violent culture, there are acts of kindness all around us. We should point these out to our children,” he said. “We should explain how kind words and kind deeds, however small ― holding the door for someone, or saying ‘thank you’ to a person who does us a service ― make a big impact on the quality of our shared lives.”

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Childhood Emotional Neglect And Codependency

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What is Childhood Emotional Neglect?

Do you feel empty and disconnected? Do you sense that you’re different than everyone else, but you can’t put your finger on what’s wrong? Childhood Emotional Neglect is a powerful experience, but one that often goes unnoticed and untreated. In fact, many people who experienced Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) describe their childhood as “good” and it’s only on closer examination that they recognize that something important was missing.

Your childhood experiences played a huge part in shaping you into the adult you are today. Children rely on their parents to meet their physical and emotional needs. And significant, but invisible, damage is done when parents fail to meet their children’s emotional needs.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is the result of your parent’s inability to validate and respond adequately to your emotional needs. Childhood emotional neglect can be hard to identify because it’s what didn’t happen in your childhood. It doesn’t leave any visible bruises or scars, but it’s hurtful and confusing for children.

Dr. Webb told me via email that “CEN happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotional needs while they are raising you. When you grow up this way, you learn the powerful lesson that your emotions do not matter, and you then continue to live your life this way. There are legions of people walking around with an empty space where their own lively feelings should be. Sadly, they all are lacking healthy access to a vital resource from within that could be connecting, motivating, guiding and enriching them: their own feelings.”

What does Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) look like?

In an emotionally neglectful family, you might have come home upset because you didn’t make the basketball team, but when you tried to talk to your Mom about it, she shooed you away saying she was busy working. And when your grandma died your father told you “boys don’t cry” and no one helped you process your grief. Or it might have been that you spent hours and hours isolated in your room as a teenager and no one asked how you were feeling or if something was wrong. When this happens consistently, you feel unloved and unseen.

CEN can co-occur with physical abuse and neglect and is rampant in families where a parent is addicted to drugs, alcohol, or any compulsive behavior, or mentally ill. But many people who experienced Childhood Emotional Neglect grew up in families without obvious dysfunction. They weren’t beaten or belittled. Their parents were well-meaning but lacked the emotional skills themselves to notice and tend to their children’s feelings. Such parents never learned to cope with their feelings or express them in healthy ways and don’t know how to deal with their children’s feelings either.

Many adults who experienced emotional neglect look like they’ve got it all together on the outside. They’re successful and have a happy family, but there’s a nagging sense of emptiness, not fitting in, and that they’re different, but there isn’t anything obviously wrong.

Symptoms of Childhood Emotional Neglect include:

  • Emptiness
  • Loneliness
  • Feeling something’s fundamentally wrong with you
  • Feeling unfulfilled even when you’re successful
  • Difficulty connecting with most of your feelings, not feeling anything
  • Burying, avoiding, or numbing your feelings
  • Feeling out of place or like you don’t fit in
  • Difficulty asking for help and not wanting to depend on others
  • Depression and anxiety
  • High levels of guilt, shame, and/or anger
  • Lack of deep, intimate connection with your friends and spouse
  • Feeling different, unimportant or inadequate
  • Difficult with self-control (this could be overeating or drinking)
  • People-pleasing and focusing on other people’s needs
  • Not having a good sense of who you are, your likes and dislikes, your strengths and weaknesses

What are the effects of childhood emotional neglect?

Your feelings are a core part of who you are, so when they aren’t noticed or validated you come to believe that you aren’t important because you aren’t “seen” and known. In emotionally neglectful families, the message is that feelings don’t matter, they’re an inconvenience, or they’re wrong. Naturally, you learn not to value your feelings; you push your feelings away or numb them with food, alcohol, drugs, or sex.

When your emotional needs aren’t met and your internal state isn’t acknowledged, you’ll be disconnected from yourself. You will constantly seek attention and try to prove your worth through clingy or needy behaviors, perfectionism, overworking, and achievements. But these external validations never fix the problem; they never leave you feeling good enough.

Feelings serve to let us know what we need. For example, if you don’t notice when you’re getting frustrated, you won’t be able to find a healthy resolution or outlet for your anger and you’re likely to let it fester until you explode.

Lack of emotional attunement also makes it hard for you to deeply connect with others and understand your spouse and children’s feelings.

Childhood Emotional Neglect and Codependency

I have been counseling Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOAs) and people struggling with codependency for almost two decades. When I started learning about Childhood Emotional Neglect, I immediately noticed a big overlap between CEN and codependency or ACOA issues. It makes sense that if you grew up with an alcoholic or otherwise impaired caregiver, your emotional needs weren’t noticed and met.

Childhood Emotional Neglect and codependency have the same root cause. Both begin in childhood and tend to be passed unknowingly from one generation to the next. CEN and codependency aren’t the result of you being inadequate or doing something “wrong”, but they continue to make it difficult for you to have a healthy loving relationship with yourself and others in adulthood.

Individuals with CEN and codependency have in common a tendency toward:

  • Perfectionism
  • People-pleasing
  • Low self-worth, feeling inadequate
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Sensitivity to criticism
  • Lack of awareness of their feelings
  • Discomfort with strong emotions
  • Putting other people’s needs before their own
  • Difficulty trusting
  • Difficulty asserting their needs

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