Tuesday, July 22nd23.6°C
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Andrew Portwood

The secret joyful families know

It is often far too easy to fall into the trap of believing "the grass is greener on the other side". I have to look no further than my own front lawn to remind me of this old axiom! Even after two years of learning the essentials of in-ground sprinklers, there never seems to be any lack of brown spots in my front yard. In the same way, it can also appear that other families around us have it all together; while we are struggling to get along and there seems no end to arguments and strife, the Smiths next door are seemingly always laughing and happily spending loads of time together. Do they know something we don't, but should?

The reality, thankfully, is that no family in the world gets along 100% of the time and sails along with nary a bump in the voyage. Sooner or later, everyone must deal with the rougher waters of life, where disappointments can occur and feelings can and will be hurt. I say thankfully because it is always a relief to know that perfection is not a reasonable goal for family life, since we are all human and all imperfect by nature. In fact, allow me to suggest that arguments and disagreements are part of any healthy family from time to time, and not necessarily indicative of deeper problems that need to be addressed.

So what is it that decides whether disharmony is a short-lived period where problems are solved and life returns to normal, or alternatively, that disharmony becomes a seed of discontent that grows and festers for months or years to come? There must be some secret joyful families know that allows them to prosper in spite of (or because of) those challenging times! Here is that secret: never allow your love or support of any child, or your spouse for that matter, to appear conditional in any way. In other words, showing your displeasure with something your child or children have done can easily be confused with not loving or accepting them, if we are not careful. This is most common with younger children, but also holds true with pre-teens and teenagers as well.

Here is a scenario to help illustrate this point. Terry asks his son Josh to mow the lawn one afternoon. Josh groans, saying he will do it later, which in turn causes Terry to give a terse response.

"I ask you to do ONE thing all week, and this is the respect I get? Unbelievable!"

Dad has made a significant statement in his moment of frustration, overshadowing what may actually be a valid point on his part. Rather than express his disappointment in a constructive way by suggesting a deadline for the job's completion, or even offering to get the mower fuelled and ready first, Terry makes it clear he needs greater respect, and that his son's response is unacceptable. Most importantly however, Terry's statement appears to draw a firm connection between the lack of enthusiasm from Josh in getting the lawn cut, and an apparent disapproval of his son on a much more generalized and deeper level.

Chances are good that Dad did not intend to turn this moment into an opportunity to make his own love and acceptance of his son seem to hinge on yard work. Nonetheless, it is equally likely that Josh felt hurt on some level by Dad's sentiments, and resentment could grow as a result. To go further, it may well seem to Josh that his father is inauthentic; "I only love you when the lawn gets cut" tends to dilute any belief that this parent truly cares about him, and is a thought that can easily cross the mind of many young people, regardless of its absurdity. We need to be aware of just how easily this can occur, and the fact that it is shockingly common, if we wish to be able to create a healthier and happier family.

What would have been another approach in this scenario that Terry could have taken, and how might Josh's response have been different? We will map that out next column.

 

Andrew Portwood is a certified Masters-level counselor in Kelowna with a heart for supporting and helping children, youth and young adults. He has also helped many parents to grasp a better understanding of why their children are choosing the behaviours they have, and how to move forward in a supportive, healthy manner. Creating authentic connection and clarity is essential in all he does, both as a counselor and in his life. Find more about him and his practice:

Website: http://clarowellness.ca/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Andrew-Portwood-Youth-and-Family-Counsellor/



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Is Twitter worth banning at home?

Social media is very often talked about in not-so-flattering terms in parenting circles. If you reflect for a moment, chances are good that you will recall seeing a few articles and opinion columns detailing the dangers of children and youth using Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and others as ways to interact with others. For certain, none of us want our children to be exploring the world of social media in any sort of an unsupervised way, particularly when there is the potential of being bullied online, or even being found by any number of internet predators, exploiting technology in order to have communications with those not yet able to make this sort of sound judgment on their own.

Clearly, there is a key role that all parents should play in monitoring their children's use of social media, and this stems from a natural wish to protect our children from threats and dangers in general. However, my focus in this column is not to add to an already considerable number of voices urging caution for parents, but to shine a light on a seldom-acknowledged element of young peoples' use of social media: that it can actually be a benefit to some in this age group. To do so, I have to make this assertion - Facebook, Snapchat and others are not inherently beneficial or harmful; rather, it depends greatly on one's purpose for use of social media in communicating with others.

The first purpose is sometimes a problematic one for a child or teen to carry out, that of wishing to get the attention of others. Having others take notice of us fills a basic need to belong and to be of significance to others around us, including even some we may never even have met previously. Perhaps the best example of being motivated by a need for attention comes with Facebook's "like" button, a press of which spreads awareness of one's comments, pictures, etc. to others very quickly. When a teen is motivated to build these "likes" from others, it can influence their words and online behaviours in ways that may not be reflective of their values or genuine character. In some of the more prominent cases of tragic online bullying we have become aware of in recent months, a desire for attention from others has often proven to be a strong motivating factor in continuing to engage with others who are making unhealthy and unreasonable demands at times, such as posting revealing photos or supplying personal information.

The second significant purpose for young people using programs like those mentioned above and many others is actually a very noble one, and at times can prove to be almost therapeutic. It can help youth and young adults to stay connected with friends and peers in real-time; this is especially important for those who have a fear or lack of confidence in deepening those meaningful connections with others, but who find comfort in being able to connect from a safe distance (at least at first). We must acknowledge that the youth of today do not rely on face-to-face meetings nearly as much as they once did in order to have their needs for connection met.

I think specifically of one teen I encountered who found herself unable to talk to most others about her own interests, challenges and successes; however, as the small number of significant friends she had went to a different school, it became imperative for her to have an easy means with which to be part of the larger conversation online the rest of them were already engaged in. As she did so, being careful to hand-pick only those on Facebook that she wished to deepen healthy connection with, her confidence and sense of happiness soon began to rise noticeably! In essence, social media provided a means for her to engage with others that would not have easily occurred any other way, and she was grateful for the benefit provided.

It would be difficult, in my view, to suggest Snapchat, Twitter and the like are necessarily harmful to a young person learning and finding their way in the world of friends and peers. There are dangers and pitfalls to be sure, but it might actually be harmful to put a full ban on all children and teens in your home using social media, and take away their ability to use a key tool in meeting important peers "where they are at". Strong encouragement from you as the parent or guardian to limit connection to those they know and trust may give them some needed guidance, while supporting a natural growth of independence.

 

Andrew Portwood is a certified Masters-level counselor in Kelowna with a heart for supporting and helping children, youth and young adults. He has also helped many parents to grasp a better understanding of why their children are choosing the behaviours they have, and how to move forward in a supportive, healthy manner. Creating authentic connection and clarity is essential in all he does, both as a counselor and in his life. Find more about him and his practice:

Website: http://clarowellness.ca/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Andrew-Portwood-Youth-and-Family-Counsellor/



Do video games create school violence?

I attended a conference recently with a focus on creating safe environments for young people, particularly as it applies to schools. Quite simply, the point was made that teachers and schools have many tools at their disposal in which to create the kinds of places that we all feel happy and comfortable to leave our kids in each day, though there are a number of causes of unhealthy environments that are important to be mindful of. One of these causes is an age-old (to me, anyway) reality with young people: video games!

To be totally honest, I have never accepted the mindset that violent video games can truly cause mass numbers of otherwise healthy children and teenagers to over time become self-centred barbarians. It just didn't make enough sense to me: if this suggestion were logically sound, why would we not have seen legions of young people playing army combat games in the mid-1980s taking up arms and becoming angry and violent towards other members of our society as a result? It was not difficult, by the same token, to find someone who thoroughly enjoyed these games, and yet had a full ability to turn them off and move on with the day afterward.

However, it is impossible to ignore the recent tragic school shootings in the U.S., and notice that over the last decade, such shootings no longer carry a sense of stunned disbelief when we hear about them. They have become, morbidly, expected to occur from time to time, and at all three different levels of school. How can we not be concerned at this apparent clear trend? The key angle then becomes one that seeks to find causes for such tragedies; though there are many different possible factors, video games that involve extreme violence and causing harm to innocent people appear to be a common denominator in the vast majority of the perpetrators of these events.

The most eye-opening fact about what is called "first-person shooter" video games is that they were originally created for use in the military, in order to help desensitize soldiers to killing others, a task they might someday have to perform. As such, if the game is realistic enough, then over time a person playing regularly should expect to be much less shocked and intimidated by the idea of killing - perhaps to the point where they could hypothetically perform such unimaginable acts themselves. Nonetheless, a person cannot simply "snap" one day and decide this is now an acceptable method with which to express anger and frustration; without a sustained period of desensitization, crossing the chasm from unhappiness to causing severe harm to others is simply too large to quickly cross.

In virtually each one of the mass school shootings that have occurred over the last decade, first-person shooter games with extreme levels of violence have played a key role in allowing a real-life imitation of mass-killing to occur. They have opened the door, in effect, to the potential for such unthinkable acts of horror to be committed. The remaining but most essential factor that decides whether such a young person carries out violent acts on a significant level against others involves the degree of connection he or she feels toward the family, the school, and other key elements of a young person's life. The greater a connection that can be created with this person, through helping him or her to feel truly heard, understood, safe and respected, the less need is likely to be felt to act out in a harmful way. Teachers, peers, parents and siblings all have an opportunity to help someone feel like they belong, and that their words and stories matter.

When we choose to help others to feel part of something larger, part of a community, we give them a gift that cannot be purchased, but whose effects can be felt for years or even decades to come. There are thousands of different ways to connect one can choose from: going for a bike ride, sharing a sandwich together, discussing a movie, or heading over to Starbucks together, just to name a few! Though I would do everything in my power to keep the presence of such extreme video games out of the home, coupling that with the gift of your caring presence and investment in a young person's life is perhaps the most effective means for our society to someday make attacks with weapons in schools a relic of the past.

 

Andrew Portwood is a certified Masters-level counselor in Kelowna with a heart for supporting and helping children, youth and young adults. He has also helped many parents to grasp a better understanding of why their children are choosing the behaviours they have, and how to move forward in a supportive, healthy manner. Creating authentic connection and clarity is essential in all he does, both as a counselor and in his life. Find more about him and his practice:

Website: http://clarowellness.ca/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Andrew-Portwood-Youth-and-Family-Counsellor/



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Solitary confinement for your child

We need people.

I'm going to say it again, so get ready. Here it is:

We need people.

 

There is absolutely no way around it, when it comes to finding our true voices and being in our healthiest form. When we choose to connect with others and create meaningful relationships with family, peers, and colleagues, we actually feed a basic need within us - the need to belong. Let me go a little bit further: if any one of us chooses to isolate ourselves from society and perhaps the world around us, we are in fact intentionally cutting off the oxygen supply to a significant fraction of our well-being, and at some point will die as a result. Just as disturbing, I continue to see and hear of scores of young people right here in Kelowna and elsewhere that have become socially isolated and in critical need of assistance.

Without question, the most well-known study of this phenomenon came from the work of Dr. Abraham Maslow, a professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin in the fifties and sixties. In his groundbreaking study, he discovered how critically important it was for baby Rhesus Monkeys to have a mother they could hold and cuddle. Without this comfort from another crucial individual, these monkeys were noted to eventually become victims of emotional shock, characterized by actions such as self-clutching and rocking, and even exhibiting some degree of "autistic" behaviours. In adult humans, unintentional studies have been done of former hostages and prisoners of war, where these prisoners themselves were able to describe a feeling of dullness and "grey", where a noticeable lack of brain function and emotional health led former Vietnam P.O.W. John McCain to describe solitary confinement as "spirit-crushing", and the most effective form of torture in existence.

In young people I have had in treatment, including locally, the difficulty of social isolation is one that is all too common. For a large variety of reasons, children and teens alike can find themselves feeling hopelessly on their own. Perhaps most surprising is that few of them are truly in a solitary confinement situation, where they connect with almost nobody, and seemingly have zero willingness or ability to participate in healthy social interactions. Rather, it is often the case that they have only "surface level" conversations and relationships with others, never deepening any relationship to a point of depth where authentic caring and connection are able to develop. It is this authentic connection that allows each of us to enjoy a sense of belonging in a critically important way, and when we lack this, we can develop a "numbness" that pervades many key areas of our lives.

In addition, once a person becomes accustomed to having few or no significant social connections, it can be very difficult to break this cycle: having nobody to connect with prevents easily meeting new people who also introduce many different elements into our lives over time, from encouragement to try new activities, to checking out new clothing and new movies as well, to name a few. As we get used to this state of affairs, we often become more frightened of attempting to find new connections, and choose instead the easier option of simply keeping to ourselves, entrenching ourselves further into an unofficial form of solitary confinement. A child in grade four may become an outcast, for example, simply through showing apparent disinterest in meeting and connecting with his peers, even though this disinterest may actually be more rooted in acute fear. Interestingly, physical symptoms such as stomach pains, lack of ability to sleep, or even a tendency to be often ill can be more likely to manifest themselves once a true feeling of being constantly alone has taken root.

If we as parents and those working with young people are fully aware of the costs of feeling isolated, and start to understand the critical nature of supporting those who are unable to create their own healthy connections, we can start to make a massive difference in the health and well-being of children and teens right here in the Okanagan. We can encourage through praising good qualities and achievements, and letting them know that we care. Perhaps most important of all: we can choose to be fully present with young people in our lives, give them our complete attention when we are talking, and honour them by letting them know their words are worthy of being heard and respected, while expecting the same in return. When we share relationship based upon equality, we help build up confidence and emotional health in developing young minds.

 

Andrew Portwood is a certified Masters-level counselor in Kelowna with a heart for supporting and helping children, youth and young adults. He has also helped many parents to grasp a better understanding of why their children are choosing the behaviours they have, and how to move forward in a supportive, healthy manner. Creating authentic connection and clarity is essential in all he does, both as a counselor and in his life. Find more about him and his practice:

Website: http://clarowellness.ca/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Andrew-Portwood-Youth-and-Family-Counsellor/



Read more Youth & Family Dispatch articles

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About the Author

Andrew Portwood is a certified Masters-level counselor in Kelowna with a heart for supporting and helping children, youth and young adults. He has also helped many parents to grasp a better understanding of why their children are choosing the behaviours they have, and how to move forward in a supportive, healthy manner.

Creating authentic connection and clarity is essential in all he does, both as a counselor and in his life.

Find more about him and his practice:
Website: clarowellness.ca
Twitter: @AndrewPortwood

Contact him at The Core Centre of Health (250) 862-2673.




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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.


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