Looking out for our children’s mental health

A couple weeks ago, in the column about ‘Raising our boys the right way,’ I made mention of how important it is for parents to have an open door policy when it comes to communication with their children. We, as parents, are our children’s first teachers. We cannot expect to drop them off to school and for teachers to do what we should first be doing at home. Many believe that children are a representation of their parents or that ‘the apple don’t fall far from de tree.’ Well, there is absolute truth to this; how we raise our children will determine the kind of adults they become. When our children come to us with a problem, do we take the time to sit and listen to them or do we expect them to “figure it out” on their own? When they come to us with an issue, do we listen with an open, non-judgmental mind or do we jump down their throats? Perhaps the time has come for serious introspection and reflection. If we cannot make it safe for our children to come to us, who will they go to?

When children hit puberty and their hormones start raging and they are constantly faced with peer pressure, are we prepared? This is actually a time when they need us the most. They don’t fully understand everything that’s going on around them and so we have to make it our duty to be a part of their lives, to know what’s going on with them, and to talk to them. Trust me, it’s better to be that annoying parent who never stops talking to their child as opposed to the parent who doesn’t take the time to listen. Becoming more actively involved in their lives in the difficult phase called adolescence means that we will be better able to gauge them.

Sure, every teenager today wants a smart device, whether it’s a phone or tablet or the latest video game but we don’t always have to give in to their every desire. At the end of the day, you are the parent and they are the child. If you choose to give your child a device of any kind, then you should be laying out the do’s and don’ts. The internet is not what it was two decades ago; it has advanced and it has evolved. Many children nowadays get caught up online. And when children are allowed to be on every form of social media—how much monitoring is being done by their parents? You see when you give your teenager access to social media, you have to let them know that it’s a privilege, not a right. This means that you have to know what they are doing, who their friends are and who might be trying to “friend” them. You have to explain to them that there are all kinds of people online, including some who prey on young, impressionable minds. And you should also remember that you are the parent and giving them access should come with conditions. There should be no in-between or exceptions when it comes to their safety.

When we buy our sons the latest PlayStation or Nintendo consoles, are we cool with them playing violent games? You know the type that usually involves them pumping bullets into some other person or chopping off someone’s head with a machete? We may see nothing wrong with this, perhaps rationalising that well… this is “boys’ stuff.” But what message are we ultimately giving them? That violence is OKAY? That in a rage, it’s okay to pick up a gun or knife and attack someone?

What about when our teenage daughter comes home crying? Do we stop for a moment and make it our duty to ask her what’s really going on? Or do we just put it down to “hormones” and expect her to snap out if it? Do we assume that she’s just being her “usually rude self” and rather not get into it with her? She’s probably bottling up something inside and if you don’t tap into her soon enough, you might never get the chance to find out.

So what does this all boil down to? Talking to our children. Start the conversation from as early as possible so that by the time they hit adolescence, talking to you as their parent becomes normal because you would have long established early lines of communication. You can be their parent and also be their friend. You have to let them know that they can come to you with anything and that at the end of the day, you just want what is in their best interest. Giving them an explanation for why you are doing something will let them see that you’re not just being a dictator but rather trying to help them understand that you’re only doing what a parent should be doing: looking out for their child.

Make it your duty to sit with your children every day and ask them how their day was, how they are feeling, or whether anything is bothering them. Listen to what they have to say and then let them know of any concerns you might have and find a way to resolve it where the child feels the need to partake in their own wellbeing as opposed to seeing it as being at war with you.

Being a teenager isn’t easy and parents are not only our children’s first friends, we are also their first teachers. This means that the onus is on us to ensure that we are there for them in EVERY way.  We have the responsibility of being their protectors but we also have to see it as our duty to open the doors of communication to know what’s going on with them… to never stop talking to them so that they know we are there to be their sounding board… and that we will listen, non-judgmentally.

Alicia Roopnaraine is a Psychologist at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation’s Psychiatric Department. You can send questions or comments to her at aliciaroopnaraine@gmail.com

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