Sunday, April 20th8.4°C
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Andrew Portwood

3 important reasons to be needed

All of us have our own quirks, and I'd like to let you in on one of mine this week: I love to cook, especially when it involves Italian cooking, using plenty of herbs and chopped vegetables. There are few activities that bring me more joy than having the freedom to create pizzas using whatever variety of produce and meats we happen to have on hand. I suspect I am also like many other cooks out there: when we get involved in the process of preparing a meal, we like to have loads of space to work in, and with a minimum of interference from others. In some ways, I suppose one could say that cooking is often a self-centered activity in our society, and that assistance in cooking is often neither desired nor offered.

What makes this character trait I share with others so difficult is that when kids (and teens!) are present, they would often like to help, and would enjoy the process if invited. My six year-old daughter is overjoyed when I ask her if she would like to "help Daddy grate some cheese and spread it on the pizzas", even though I would probably prefer to put it on myself and save time and mess. She gets on her little stool, grabs two big handfuls of mozzarella, and starts spreading it as carefully and skillfully as she can. It is almost impossible for me not to smile and enjoy this beautiful moment with her. On the other hand, it crushes me to think of all the times she has asked to help me prepare something in the kitchen, and I've told her to go play or watch a cartoon instead.

All young people have inherent needs both to be independent, and to belong. A sense of independence means that when being given an area of responsibility, it will be accompanied by a degree of trust that sends an important message: you are capable, and will not need me to do this task for you. Belonging is just as critical - by inviting someone to help us in the kitchen, for example, we are actually saying that through their efforts they are needed! Children usually don't know or care why they are being asked for their assistance here, they are honoured to have been asked to perform what would normally be considered an "adult" job, and that's good enough for them.

These ideas are even more impactful in times of controlled crisis, where someone has a need, and every individual in the family has an opportunity to help out during urgent or critical events. Having been in Calgary visiting relatives this past week, I had the opportunity to hear stories of last summer's flood related again. One theme that never fails to come up is that not only did entire neighbourhoods band together to help those in need, but families, including kids of ALL ages, pitched in wherever they could. Interestingly, when I hear from kids and teens themselves about the flood, it is almost inevitable that they will smile and talk about the destruction in a neighbour's basement, and how everyone "got to help" break ruined drywall and carry garbage and sludge out to the street. Why the smiles?

The smiles, I am convinced, are the result of being given a gift: a request to help out during a time of crisis using his/her own individual efforts and generosity. They are being asked, by extension, to become involved in the fullness of life, mud and all, for a few minutes or hours, and to leave the protection of the safety bubble many parents assume their kids need to remain inside whenever possible. When they are needed to perform a task that is full of purpose and woven together with a message of "you are capable", kids and teens often get a jolt of energy from this sudden purpose-filled activity. Whether during a time of critical need, of simple household tasks, or even preparing pizzas for going in the oven, parents and elders have an opportunity to help young people grow in significant and irreplaceable ways. If we choose to send these special invitations to participate in life in meaningful ways, the rewards can be felt for years to come.

 

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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Does marijuana lead to good health?

As it has been over the last few years, the reality of marijuana and its impact on our society is a hot topic. This has never been truer than right now, as many American states have legalized its use fully, and there are allowances for medical-based use and production in many more areas, including Canada. A requisite element of this debate also comes through its polarity: you are either strongly for its legalization and availability for use, or you are against it. There seems to be little if any room in the middle for discussion. Regardless of which side of the fence you are on, there is no denying marijuana is likely to occupy a much larger part of our culture as we move forward.

I have also noticed most people approach this debate with their primary viewpoint being a moral one: either they believe in greater freedom and less government intrusion, symbolized by legalized marijuana, or they do not accept that a moral and healthy society can have any number of drugs as part of it, and they must be controlled at all cost. Both sides have powerful and reasonable arguments, and could rightly claim to have some degree of common sense backing them up. However, my own view fits neatly into neither of these two camps, and is in fact based largely upon my own work with teens and their families.

The biggest problem I have with marijuana's increasing availability, and its growing acceptance as a regular part of life among many teens, is its tendency to discourage one from dealing with any of the problems or challenges that its use might be helping to cope with. Phrased another way - regular use of marijuana, just like alcohol or narcotics, is unlikely to help someone to find the courage to take action, while reducing the natural tendency to avoid the discomfort and energy exertion of creating change in the first place. If one is feeling fear or pain from a difficult relationship with a family member, for example, it may often be easier to use marijuana for some temporary relief, rather than have a conversation or seek some support in finding a more permanent relief.

Human beings will almost always, as a species, seek out and utilize easier solutions to problems before embracing the more difficult solutions. Unfortunately, where marijuana is involved, I am aware of many examples of teens and young adults who became stuck (both emotionally and physiologically) in this method of dealing with tough life situations, and allowed pain, resentment, and damaged relationships to labour on years longer than might have been required otherwise. The natural progression, then, of accepting progressively more difficult but necessary measures to solve problems and reduce anxieties is interfered with; even with support of wonderful people in our lives, it can be a real challenge to move past the marijuana option that is becoming more commonplace.

There was an outstanding commercial on television a few years ago, and it illustrated this point very well. It showed a boy, roughly 12 years old, describing how his brother used marijuana, but did not "start using cocaine or heroin, didn't hit me, and didn't get in trouble with the law". The ad appeared at first to be a defence of its use! The key was the last line the boy said: "In fact, he doesn't do much of anything", revealing a picture of his 20-ish brother sitting in the basement watching cartoons, eating snack foods, and annoyed that others apparently just won't leave him alone. The message was clear - while it may be debatable whether pot use is a gateway to intense drug use, or engaging in obviously harmful life choices of other types, it is not debatable that its use saps a person of their willingness to move forward in healthy ways, including solving problems with methods that we can learn and grow from.

As a counseling therapist, I have learned that the fastest and most effective way to help someone generally is to empower them to deal with their anxieties and difficulties head-on, and come to a place where they understand that staying put will bring only cold comfort. This process can be slowed or totally stopped when drugs are part of the picture, including not just marijuana, but also alcohol, and certainly any number of narcotics one can take. There may be a legitimate need that starts the drug use in the first place, and the more ingrained its use becomes, of course, the more difficult to move past it. Moving past any reliance on drugs of any kind will be a necessary component to moving forward in one's life in a healthy way, and creating a new and wonderful reality with enriching relationships and clear, meaningful purpose.

 

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/



From small things...

Surely we have now come to a place where saying one is a fan of Bruce Springsteen automatically assigns that person (me) to being a member of Generation X or Y, and certainly not one with current, dynamic musical tastes. I have to confess, I continue to enjoy his music and artistry, even as it continues its slow fade from pop-culture awareness. Nonetheless, I was reminded this week of one of my favourite tracks of his, though a lesser-known one: it is called "From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)", and makes me think of an important fact for us all to be aware of as young people around us are growing up.

A massive new study conducted on nearly 2000 teens and young adults in Australia between 1992 and 2008 found that teens experiencing mental and emotional difficulties, such as anxiety and depression, often carried these into young adulthood. The study recorded all episodes of difficulty, including those which persisted for less than six months, and may have appeared only once during that young person's teen years. The results provide a startling insight into the degree that such problems can affect adulthood as well: just over 50% of all young women (defined here as those in their 20s) and about 30% of all young men who experienced a defined mental health disorder ALSO experienced at least one instance of this same disorder when they were in their teen years!

Let's think about the implications of these findings for a moment. In essence, any teen who is experiencing mental or emotional difficulties that go beyond having a tough day or two, and in fact reach the level where counseling has been required or where you know something just hasn't been right for a number of months, has a significantly heightened chance of those same difficulties being present into the early years of adulthood. A young adult who already has the stresses of developing a career, dealing with the ups and downs of relationships of all kinds, and discovering a true sense of self, may in fact be fighting an uphill battle when combined with anxiety that first appeared back when she was 16, for example, and never really been dealt with effectively. This is especially true for girls, as it turns out.

Young people have a number of ways to let us or people in their lives know that all is not well with them, and it's also important to be aware of what this might look like. As parents, the messages we will receive are often much different than those our teen's peers might get. We might observe such behaviours as extreme reclusiveness or, conversely, our teen never being at home, and apparently regarding the home as little more than a place to sleep and eat. Falling marks at school with no easy explanation can of course be a clear sign as well, or even a short temper that seldom if ever reared its head previously.

Though I could go on for a few more paragraphs with signs to watch for, let me give you a guideline that I often provide for parents: if there are unmistakable signs that your teen is just not who you know them to be, and have not been for a period of weeks or longer, there is a good chance something significant is occurring for them. Yes - interests, friends and preferences naturally shift with age, particularly through the teen years, and that needs to be accounted for. However, changes that are more sudden and having an "unhealthy" feel to them could well be indicating something more going on. The all-important question then becomes how to find out the real story. Do you believe your connection and relationship with your teen will allow them to feel comfortable sharing this insight with you? If not (and it's okay if you conclude that it does not), then who might be able to do so? Siblings, relatives, and teachers can all provide important clues for you in helping to decide what sort of assistance might help moving forward.

Everyone in their teen years faces problems that seem to drag them down, and make life less enjoyable than it should be. Indeed, part of the challenge in growing up is in learning how to face tough times and stresses, and developing a personal resilience that serves us well as we reach adulthood. Allowing our teens to grow and make mistakes, while stepping in with healthy and support at the right times, is a balance that we all benefit from. The wisdom from Bruce that small things turn into big things someday is very meaningful: small problems can become far bigger ones later, or alternatively, dealing with those same small problems well today can make a huge positive difference years later.

 

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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Someone is watching you

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 came across this week 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, crushed and disappointed.

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".

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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