Sunday, September 21st9.2°C
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Andrew Portwood

Nature deficit disorder

Although we are in the midst of a potentially lengthy teachers' strike, it does not take away the fond memories I have of this past summer. Truly, even by Okanagan standards, it was exceptionally hot, sunny, and full of opportunities to be comfortably outdoors at almost any hour. As the last of friends and relatives visiting from afar made their way home, it provided some time to reflect upon the great summer of 2014. It didn't take long before I asked my two young children about what their favourite part of the summer was, and allowing them do their own reflection, whatever form that takes for six-year-olds!

Invariably, both immediately brought up a game or activity from one of our two camping trips this summer. For me, it was sitting up late one evening with my wife and two good friends, playing cards by the lantern light in a silent campground. Thinking back to some of the most significant events in my life, it was easy to recall canoe trips, week-long and overnight hikes, learning to fish with my father long ago, and so many more. The trend became clear, and I had an epiphany: could it be true that as human beings, our greatest memories will often take place in the outdoors? If so, is there something magical or therapeutic about being outside that we need to be aware of?

Richard Louv, author of a book I recently came across entitled Last Child in the Woods, would not be the least bit surprised by my observation. He makes a convincing argument that any human spending sufficient time outdoors, especially during the childhood years, will be much healthier on not just physical levels, but also emotionally as adulthood is reached. Further, the epidemic-levels of ADHD and depression we have become accustomed to in our society have shown through many scientific studies to have a high degree of correlation with spending a great deal of time indoors, and seldom venturing far from home, especially on foot. Though we are near many great lakes and outdoor activities, there is certainly no shortage of young people who come through my office and report (very matter-of-factly) that they spend much time gaming by network, on social media, or generally and unintentionally avoiding sunshine.

There is clearly something very good that happens for each of us who regularly engage in some sort of activity outdoors, even if it is simply walking to the store, or choosing to eat lunch on a bench outdoors, rather than at one's desk at the office. The fact that science now largely backs this idea makes it all the more vital to ensure our children and teens have healthy structure and boundaries around "screen time" at home. That does not mean declaring all tablets and smartphones off limits or unplugging the internet for all but three hours per day, for example, which would likely damage trust and connection if it was done too autocratically. However, it may mean that a family discussion takes place about how much screen time is healthy on a given day, and creating some mutually agreeable rules to help ensure the attraction of staying inside all day remains minimal.

I am often asked by parents the degree to which I believe medications have an important role to play in someone receiving counseling therapy. To be honest, and this may surprise some, I fully accept the necessity of carefully prescribed medications at times to help with the therapeutic process. However, I am also very open to the idea that even pharmaceutical assistance may not provide the ideal "chemical balance" in the brain and body; the natural endorphins that are created through breathing fresh air and moving in the outdoors, along with the vitamin D created with exposure to the Okanagan sun, and reduction of cortisol (a stress hormone) through a natural relaxation of the mind that can take place by simply being fully present in the outdoors, may actually produce the most potent chemical intervention possible in reducing the often-intense effects of ADHD and depression. It is a natural part of the solution that has been scientifically proven - an attractive combination in challenging times.

 

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/





Can you be responsible, for once?

We live in an age where parenting and family life look far different than they did not only several decades ago, but even just a few years past. There was a time (ask someone who grew up in the 1950s or 60s) where large families with several children were commonplace throughout society. I have often wondered what it might have been like to have 5 or 6 siblings, rather than the 3 I have in real life; would we have all got along, how would my mother have coped, and most of all, in what ways would I have turned out differently as an adult based upon that upbringing? One idea seems certain - there is no way my mother would have been able to meet the needs of a large number of children without some of them taking on some significant personal and household responsibilities; in short, some of us would have had to "grow up" a bit faster than might be expected today.

Today, parents are far less concerned about having all their children survive their early years (quite literally), and much more interested in what sort of lessons and legacy they will be leaving with each child. For example, at one time a developing sense of independence might have come from helping with chores on the farm, or looking after one's younger siblings, since the mother and father were often preoccupied with earning income and family duties. Personally speaking, I can remember when seemingly every paper route was run by an enterprising young person that I probably knew in middle school. Not anymore of course - this urban opportunity for youth independence disappeared 20+ years ago, and now requires adulthood, a vehicle and a willingness to be up at 5:00 AM!

In the 21st century, pre-teens and teens appear to have fewer clear opportunities to fill their natural need for independence than has been true in the past. Let me add one further challenge in getting this need met: more parents than ever are unwilling to allow their children to experience meaningful responsibility, the kind that allows a natural growth of independence, and where the young person is depended upon in healthy ways to complete the jobs required of them. In addition, many are also unprepared to allow them to "fail" in meeting a responsibility, and will go to great lengths (and aggravation) in preventing a fail from occurring. This can include personally ensuring all a child's homework is done and tests studied for, or regularly driving a teen to work after he/she has chosen to sleep in and miss the last bus providing a ride there.

All young people, in my opinion, are actually enriched through being allowed to fail in various ways from time to time. How could this be? First, it sends a clear (and loving) message from one's parents that it is important to be in control of one's own affairs. Failure to do so will not result in immediate and consistent emergency actions on the part of parents or guardians to prevent lateness at work, to use this common example. Rather, this message in fact invites any young person to plan for success! Instead of being okay with failing to catch the bus to get to work on time, knowing that the cavalry (i.e. a parent) will reliably ride in to help, he/she must plan for a positive result: "How late can I arrive at the bus stop, but still know I can catch the bus almost every time?"

When we, as parents, choose to allow for the possibility of failure, we also send a critical message that every young person needs to hear: "I trust you". When a sense of independence is honoured, it means that we feel the confidence of others important to us that we can and will meet our responsibilities. It is still possible to fail repeatedly and lessen this degree of trust of course, but through years of working with youth, I can tell you that very few truly wish to disappoint others, while being willing to sacrifice an authentic sense of trust with a parent or guardian in order to do so. Rather, most will gravitate toward those who treat them with respect, and challenge them to show personal ownership and responsibility while still leaving the choice to succeed or fail in young hands. This is intimidating for many parents, and I understand this.

Parents and guardians of today seldom have the time and emotional energy required to ensure homework is all done, events and work shifts are arrived at in a punctual manner, and chores around the home completed, and all on a daily basis! It is a frustrating endeavour to embark upon, and is likely to result in frustration and hurt feelings with all involved. Done with love, allowing our children to fail at an activity but still supporting them with connection and investment is ironically one of the greatest gifts we can give them. Not only does it free up some time and energy for other important endeavours (including enjoying a warm Okanagan evening on the patio!), but it honours a critical need for independence that each growing child or teen has, through standing on their own two feet, and doing so with the confidence that only authentic experience can bring.

 

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/



Don't treat anger with band-aids

There is a question I have been asked countless times by parents and others, and it goes something like this:

“My son is currently taking medication to help him control his anger, and it helps. But how long will he need to take it?”

In this day and age, I am continually amazed at just how many people, including children, teens and young adults, are taking medications to control behavior. Frequently, these behaviours are anger or depression-related. The medication is prescribed during a visit to a physician with the understanding that the behaviour being treated should see a reduction in intensity over the next few weeks. There is a lingering belief among many in our society that the role for medication in treating anger, depression, or other similar challenges is to keep these feelings at bay, and thus a minimum of effort is required in feeling "better". If an edge can be taken off the extremes of anger and depression, it may be easier to ignore them - for a time.

However, this can leave parents and others wondering if there will now be a long-term need for pharmaceuticals in place. In other words, will the parent need her son to continue renewing his prescription indefinitely, or at least until he graduates from high school? This is obviously an important question, and forces us to decide what true health actually looks like. Will long-term medication for behavior allow a young (or young at heart!) person to become their true selves, and live a healthy and vibrant life? Or does there come a time when the medications have reached the limits of their effectiveness, and more sustainable methods for achieving health are screaming to be utilized?

In my experience and work with parents and their children, there are two widely-accepted truths that stand out:

  1. Almost nobody WANTS to become reliant on behavior-control medication for a number of years, especially during the transition into adulthood.
  2. These medications are never enough to create sustainable, vibrant, and natural health by themselves.

All behaviours are purposeful. When we choose to ignore the true underlying reason behind someone's anger, for example, then medication in effect becomes a ‘band-aid’ solution: we treat the symptoms without addressing the problem. Yes, there is an unlimited supply of band-aids available (though there is perpetual cost involved), but the ‘wound’ those band-aids are intended to treat is never invited to actually heal. Medications can have an important role in the healing process, especially in reducing the intensity of feelings enough that one can authentically start to examine the cause of anger.

My answer to parents asking about medication is often this: what might be causing your son or daughter to be so angry that a visit to the doctor was required? It often marks the beginning of a process where we unravel the root causes of the anger, which are usually connected with someone or something taking away physical and/or emotional safety on a significant level. With commitment and support, the process will soon lead the young people to a place where they can truly stand on their own two feet and feel the empowerment of taking full responsibility for their own physical and emotional health.

 

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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How the 1970s can help your summer

You may have seen recently a viral article on social media entitled "How to help your child have a 1970s summer". If not, feel free to have a look! Like many others, this article was particularly intriguing for me, mainly because I myself was a child of the seventies and had those summers of boundless energy unique to 8 and 9 year-olds, in 1978 and 79. However, I would never suggest that growing up at this time made me any more special or unique than anyone else reminiscing about their childhood. None of us choose the years we are children any more than we choose our families or our hometowns. As I reflected on this article, it nonetheless became clear to me that there was something unique about the 1970s that may contain some important wisdom for parents and young people more than 30 years later.

 

1.  Connection

The 1970s were a decade in which social connection played a much clearer and important role in our society. It was almost inconceivable (and impossible) for a child or teen to spend an entire summer to themselves, whether hibernating downstairs or otherwise spending a great deal of time engaging in independent activities. Even if one wished to, remaining reclusive on this level would likely mean watching much television, reading, or listening to music, and little else. Possible, yes, but common? The activities most common to the era tended to be much more socially-based, such as bike riding, walking to the store, building treehouses with friends, or even helping a friend with their paper route. It was natural, and playing interactive video games for days on end, with its invitation to solitude, was still more than 20 years away.

2.  Technology

While technology was on the move in its own way, it was nowhere near providing an alternative to social interaction. The closest society came at this point was the relative importance of owning a large colour television, and preferably with access to American channels that naturally carried all the "best" programming. Nonetheless, there were few programs most young people would have been interested in during those summer afternoons, and there was no way to view programs on-demand, as is taken for granted now. I suppose I could have spent every afternoon watching The Jeffersons hour on the Detroit network affiliate we received in my hometown in Alberta, but it hardly filled any real need for entertainment or connection I had. Even if it did, television had the capacity to become a social activity as well, with friends coming over to share viewing.

 

3.  The Power of Community

 A tangible sense of community was also far more commonplace back in the 1970s than it tends to be today; and while neighbours do still talk to each other occasionally and you can even find the odd block party in some areas, the reality is still clear - there are no longer a large number of kids to "go call on" in one's neighbourhood. That does not mean there aren't kids or teens around nearby, but rather that they tend to be so much busier! Summer now often means weeks of lessons of various kinds, daycamps, family vacations (which can be amazing times together by the way, but I digress), or even an opportunity to watch plenty of Youtube and Netflix videos, in addition to hours of interactive video games, often played with people your child has never met from around the world! A sense of being a part of a group of kids running like roving caravans to each other's homes for fort-building, popsicles, and the occasional sleepover appears to have been reduced to an anomaly at best.

What does all this mean? Fundamentally, each of us as human beings has needs to belong, to feel emotionally safe, and to connect with others. The more we seek to have these needs met, the stronger our resulting emotional health will be. At one point (i.e. the 1970s, and likely some decades before it), it didn't require a lot of effort from parents to help ensure their children received this valuable growth, as our society naturally provided many opportunities for it. Today is a different story. Allowing our children to have more unscheduled days over the summer, with boundaries placed upon television and video game time, can be one support that helps them to seek out entertainment through connection. Kids and teens can still be shockingly creative when challenged to live like it's 1979!

 

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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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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