To prevent mental health problems in our kids, we must change how we parent them

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We’re in the middle of a youth mental health crisis that’s going to have implications for everyone, in the near and distant future. These young people are the future workers and leaders of our society, and if they’re struggling, and not functioning optimally, it bodes ill for the rest of us.

According to an article by Kristin Rushowy in thestar.com, a new report released in Ontario shows that the mental health of our college and university students is at an all-time low.

That same article quotes Linda Franklin, president of Colleges Ontario, who warns that “we are seeing the acceleration of these challenges beyond what we might have expected to see.” This means that the size of this problem is worse than what we might expect under ordinary circumstances.

In an article by Olivia Chandler for CBCnews online, the author describes the dire situation in East Coast universities in Canada, where young people are committing suicide at an alarming rate.

This article quotes Elizabeth Cawley, the regional mental health coordinator with the Association of Atlantic Universities, who states that it’s “absolutely urgent that we begin tackling student mental health.”

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In both of the above articles, a variety of possible solutions to the problem is discussed, but there’s no mention in either article of the possible causes. I suggest that helicopter parenting, which has become more and more common these days, could be in part what’s at fault.

We’re living in extremely challenging times due to a variety of political, social and economic reasons. Because of this, it’s essential that our youth are raised to be independent thinkers, good problem-solvers, self-sufficient and resilient in dealing with the ups and downs of young adulthood.

Helicopter parents, while having the best of intentions, inadvertently cripple their children by doing too much for them. Their hovering and smothering leaves their kids unable to cope with the typical challenges they might face when they arrive at college or university.

The more parents bubble-wrap their children, the less confident, independent and self-sufficient these kids will be. The more the parents solve their kids’ problems, the less these young people are equipped to deal with their own difficulties, if and when they should arise.

Helicopter parenting is, to some extent, a backlash against the previous, harsher and more negligent parenting styles, as well as an over-reaction to perceived (but non-existent) threats, such as “stranger-danger.”

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Many parents these days are overly-invested in the progress of their children, doing everything they can, including their kids’ homework, to ensure that their children are accepted into the best schools and receive the best grades.

Unfortunately, over-parenting doesn’t make for more successful kids, it leads to children who grow up unable to function at their best. I believe that this is one reason why we’re seeing a disproportionately large number of young people suffering from anxiety disorders, today.

We can throw more money into treatment, but this will only be a drop in an ever-expanding bucket. I think that it will be a lot more cost-effective and more importantly, beneficial to our young people, to address the root cause of the problem.

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That’s why I believe that it’s time we start teaching parents that helicoptering is the worst thing they can do for their kids. We have to show parents that hovering over their kids, over-protecting them, fighting all their battles and doing too much for them is setting these kids up for mental health problems in the future.

When parents learn to back off from their hovering and instead, raise their children to stand on their own two feet and solve their own problems, we’re going to see more young people with good coping strategies, confidence and resilience.

When parents begin to instill qualities like autonomy and self-sufficiency into their children, I’m convinced that we’ll start to see a significant decrease in mental health problems in our college-aged youth.

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About the Author:
Dr. Marcia Sirota is not about quick fix overnight solutions. Marcia helps transform individuals, employees, managers and executives into superstars by enabling them to overcome mental blocks and obstacles and helping them to bounce back from adversity.

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