Thursday, July 30th12.6°C
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Andrew Portwood

Screens in the summer

As a counsellor for kids and families, but also a parent, I am aware as many of you are about the power of screens. Whether it be cellphones, tablets, televisions or laptops, it can be very difficult to moderate one's connection to the world when we wish to. Along with most of us having a favourite program or two that we can watch on-demand, it seems there are always important calls and texts that demand to be answered, or media that entice us to monitor them at length. I find it fascinating to note that where once a message or email could certainly wait several hours before being dealt with, our society has developed in such a way that near-immediate responses are often expected, since most of us have the ability with technology to do so. While this is not necessarily harmful on the surface, the implications of this evolution are felt keenly by our children.

In the summer especially, kids are at home much more, and often have a large amount of time to engage in screen use. On a weekly basis, I see parents in my office who are acutely concerned about this, yet at a complete loss as to how to change it. Most often the parents have either done very little to regulate screen time, for fear of a fierce and unpleasant reaction by their children, or have attempted to impose an outright ban on screens, unfortunately often in a way that stirs resentment and harms relationships within the family. The allure is strong for young people, as many of their friends are communicating online, and the pull of social media can be tremendous, especially during late hours when there is no school the following day.

There is perhaps no more powerful teacher about appropriate uses of screens, however, than a parent figure in the home. It should come as no surprise that parents have a significant role in showing what appropriate screen use looks like, whether they realize it or not. Parents almost always set the tone within the family, and what they demonstrate as healthy or not healthy is taken in by other family members more than we usually realize. The key point here: adults are far too often the ones who have few boundaries that they adhere to personally with their own screens. An article I read this past week contained a quote from a child that even made me re-examine my own cellphone use, and temptation to answer texts in front of my kids:

“I feel like I’m just boring. I’m boring my dad because he will take any text, any call, any time, even on the ski lift.”

Whoa. My own children can receive an unintended message from me checking my work email regularly, and that message can involve feeling like they are less important to me than a screen? This is not reflective of what I wish to create in my own family in any way, and I suspect I'm in no way alone on this one. So if my own screen usage is teaching my children what appropriate usage looks like, and their own feelings of worth can also be connected to this, suddenly it becomes very important for me to take charge of this element of my own behaviour!

So what are the most effective ways to reduce a total reliance on screens by our kids and teens, and particularly during the summer? Here are two I will present for your consideration:

 

1) Have clear, firm boundaries in place that apply equally to everyone in the family regarding screen usage at home. That can mean 1-2 designated hours per day of gaming and media usage for example, and a willingness to enforce these boundaries in healthy (i.e. non-emotional) ways.

2) As parents, limit that irresistible desire to check texts, email, and the weather next week for times of the day when our children are not potentially seeking to connect with us, such as when we wake up in the morning or when they are off playing with friends. This demonstrates a healthy way to prioritize screen usage, but also validates them as being more important to us than technology (of course!) in ways that they feel and understand.

 

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/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AndrewPortwood/



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Dairy Queen therapy

I am continually amazed at how difficult and complex we often categorize problems that youth and children face. We are in the era where any perceived symptom or challenge one faces can be quickly looked up with Google, and instant answers (with varying degrees of accuracy) found. Too often, parents seek to immediately have a wide range of testing completed, sometimes costing hundreds of dollars, in order to get a big picture of why their son or daughter is so angry or has such a difficult time focusing in class, for example.

Without question, there are indeed many cases where children and youth are struggling with acute difficulties for which they truly require specialized help. Pediatricians in the Okanagan are very busy, and their help can be critical in helping a child to start down the road to new found health. By the same measure, there are many professionals who can share useful expertise in helping children and youth, and who are excellent at what they do. Yet, I often wonder: does finding health need to be this difficult? Are the solutions found both long-lasting and effective?

Remarkably, when we ask children and young adults for insight on their own needs and struggles, their answers can be very enlightening. One of the themes that seems to come up again and again in my practice is the wish to simply have a more frequent, healthier presence from Mom, Dad, or whoever the parental figures in a family are. When I ask the person to tell me more, I often hear of a desire to have one-on-one time with a parent, and without being on the phone, or as part of a task or chore of some sort. Our kids and youth truly just want to have some focused time where they feel heard, where Mom or Dad are not clearly just waiting for the next task or event to begin. Most of all, they want to have FUN!

One of my own favourite activities over the years has been to head over to the nearest Dairy Queen for a Blizzard. They are building one near my home in Winfield - very exciting! Almost never do I end up going alone, or without at least requests from others to bring back a treat for them as well. It is not unusual at all for me to have a tray of Blizzards to bring back home for friends and family to enjoy together. However, something almost magical can occur with ice cream: it encourages people to spend a few minutes sitting and enjoying together. In short, a simple treat can become an invitation to do something very easy but fun together, and to be emotionally present with those around us. This so often is what kids, teens, and even adults crave – and a fun treat is a shockingly powerful tool.

Last week I also engaged in an activity I had put off for too long. My seven-year-old daughter has long wanted to play "princes and princesses" with someone, and someone who was prepared to spend more than 2-3 quick minutes with her. So I surprised her by asking her to play, and was treated to a half hour of flying off to a mystical medieval palace, creating dialogue for the prince, and helping tame (not slay!) a dragon in the process. My daughter was positively glowing for that entire time, and talked about it for several days afterward! I couldn’t help but notice how nothing else seemed to matter to her for a time – she had great focused time with Dad, and her happiness with something so simple was remarkable.

A large question to ponder then arises: if our children and youth felt healthier connections with their parents or parent figures, what might the impact be on their overall health, both physical and emotional? Without a clear study seeking to answer this question in front of me, and based simply upon my own work with families over 15 years, I would hazard an educated guess that the healthier the family and the relationships within, the fewer difficulties requiring testing and visits to physicians and other professionals will generally be required. Why is this? Happier and healthier are qualities that tend to go hand-in-hand, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. If we meet our kids’ needs to feel safe, connected and loved, it is an intoxicating feeling that is therapeutic on its own, both for them AND for us.

 

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: twitter.com/AndrewPortwood



Should children play sports?

One of the issues that comes up often in my practice has to do with boys and girls participating in organized sports. This can occur at a school level of course, especially after elementary school, and also in the community with hockey, soccer and the like. There are many parents who place sports as one of the highest priorities in their kids' lives, and think nothing of driving them to countless tournaments and practices, sometimes at a frenetic pace. By the same token, there are other parents who place no priority on organized sports whatsoever, and their kids are more free to find other pursuits, including video games and home-based activities.

It is not for me or anyone else, in my opinion, to make a grand statement about the desirability for young people to participate in organized sports. This should always be a decision that fits a particular family, knowing that each is unique and has its own resources and challenges. Nonetheless, it is difficult to ignore the potential benefits that can come from playing organized team sports, and it can truly be a helpful and enriching element of a child's life, as long as a few important factors are observed and heeded.

1.  Sports bring an opportunity to create a healthier, more vibrant body and mind. Yes, mind is part of this equation! Regular FUN exercise not only helps to reduce any degree of obesity present or future, but helps the brain to function at its best. When our brains and bodies receive healthy blood and oxygen flow, they are simply more able to work efficiently and properly. The more opportunities we have to engage in active play, including sports, the greater the benefit.

2.  Being a member of a team can produce a result that is every bit as important: giving a child or teen vital opportunities to develop and refine social skills. This is seen perhaps most critically in learning how to create and strengthen friendships, though sharing laughs, solving problems, and learning what it means to work for the benefit of the group as a member of a team. Remember, kids are not born with social skills, they need to learn them, and team sports can have a healthy role in this process.

3.  Allow your child to have an active role in seeking out and choosing sports activities to try out. This helps a natural growing need for independence to further develop, and also gives him or her a critical piece of ownership over the activity they will be investing time and energy into. As an added bonus, when a child or teen has helped choose the activity they are far more likely to be excited to participate, as well as more willing to deal with those days when they DON'T want to attend (and these always appear from time to time). Any resistance to attending a soccer practice, for example, is likely to amplified 5 or 10 times potentially when soccer was at its core Mom or Dad's idea in the first place!

 

Be mindful also of any hidden dreams of athletic greatness you may harbor as a parent that are sometimes unwittingly transferred to your children. While these are not necessarily good or bad, they can push us as parents to be more aggressive and less able to hear what our children are saying; especially important if it turns out they would like to explore a different activity from what we had in mind for them. My son recently told me he would like to try Lacrosse, despite my own reservations about what looks to be a very rough and intimidating game. Nonetheless, I am choosing to remain open to the possibility in the near future, even if I kind of hope his interests move on and he remains happy playing soccer on warm Okanagan evenings.

 

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/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AndrewPortwood/



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Dads matter!

It is a huge privilege to be a father, and one that entails a large number of joys and responsibilities that go with it. In particular, it is a true gift and unique privilege to be a father of a son, and I would suggest there is something inherently special and almost magical about that bond. Now let me be clear, daughters are no less valuable or important, and for the record, I have both a son and a daughter, and couldn't imagine life without them. I love my little girl more than she can possibly know, and I always will. At the same time, the connection I have with my boy plays a foundational role in his life that is difficult to compare with that of my daughter.

As fathers of boys, it is important to be aware of just how much they look up to us. An article I once came across, that has stuck with me, nailed that point home in a way that was almost too painful to read. It related the story of a man watching another father and his young son waiting in line at Costco (parents know how daunting a challenge that can be with children!). The son knew ice cream cones were available at the concession just a short distance away, and excitedly asked his father if they could enjoy one together afterward. The father, likely frustrated from his wait in line and simply wanting to focus on the task at hand, quickly and sternly let his son know that no ice cream would be happening, and that he had better be quiet and stop bothering him. An effort to forget about the angry reaction from his father soon had the boy singing a tune to himself, only to bring about a scolding for making too much noise, and being told to be quiet in no uncertain terms. The boy slinked over to a nearby wall, his spirit crushed.

I'm sure you can imagine how crestfallen and hurt this boy must have felt. On one hand, it was an everyday situation, and children often have a way of testing our patience, and bringing forth needs and requests and the least convenient times. On the other hand however, words cannot express the degree to which, for a short period of time, fathers are no less than their son's biggest hero! Dad means everything to his boy, and the young pair of eyes wants nothing more than to spend time with him, learn different skills, and run and play with this magnificent individual. Allow me to make a bold suggestion: every father begins with this potential to meet his boy's hopes and needs, particularly during that critical period between about 5 and 8 years of age.

Knowing this range, all fathers have an important decision to make; and they will make it, even if they do not realize they are doing so. The decision is this: what, if anything, do I wish to create with my son's limited-time openness to connect on a very personal, joyful level? I have an invitation to show him what it means to be a person and a man with a level of respect from him that will be unmatched through the rest of his childhood - how do I choose to respond? Our actions as fathers will give our sons all the answers they seek. We have the right to make the most of that critical time, or alternatively, give them a message resembling "we will be together once I have time, but until then, give me the space and quiet that I need."

In my own life as a father, I am very fortunate to have a son who naturally gravitates toward high-energy, and traditionally "male" activities, such as fishing, hunting, plenty of sports, and even building war machines out of Lego. I say fortunate because he is actually leading me into interest areas that I have long been interested in, but seldom given any time for. As a result, we both grow and benefit from taking part in these activities together, and build more stories, skills and laughs that become part of our memories together. In addition we add to the common experiences and stories ("Remember when your sunglasses fell out of the boat, Dad? That was funny!") that are a critical part of developing meaningful connection with any child.

The true challenge comes in prioritizing time with our boy(s) who are at this special age, and making it clear to them and to ourselves that spending time together is important, and though life is busy and full of demands, there comes a place where even the most critical work responsibilities and home tasks must take a back seat to connection. What are we prepared to delay or cancel in the name of feeding a boy's need to spend meaningful and fully-present time with his Dad? Can we show patience when we are most tempted to yell or get angry? This can be very difficult, and I am far from the perfect father in this way, let me tell you. Your son is getting to know your heart at this special age, and your choices will help him to know who you are, deep down, for years and even decades to come.

 

Andrew Portwood is a certified Masters-level counselor in Kelowna with a heart for supporting and helping children, youth and parents. 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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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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