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Stressed and Depressed Kids – What’s up?

Photo credit Dreamstime.comRecently, Jonna Spilbor and I had the pleasure of talking with Dr. John McGrail, clinical hypnotherapist and author of The Synthesis Effect on our talk show Happy Hour. This was our fourth time having him on, and I assure you, not the last. From the eyes of an obsessive student of self-improvement, his approach is by far, the most comprehensive and easy to understand I’ve seen. In a world becoming increasingly complex, he has a way of simplifying. This I love.

We chose the topic of teen anxiety and depression, as it seems to me that I see and hear of more and more instances where young people experience this. I asked him, “Is it just me, or is there really more of this going on?” Turns out, it’s not just me.

“There was a study done recently that indicated twice as many young people are seeking professional help for stress and anxiety as there were ten years ago.” said Dr. McGrail.

It’s hard to ignore those stats. So what’s up? Why are we seeing such a dramatic increase?

Acknowledging there are countless dynamics and no two children or situations are exactly alike, we discussed five areas of possibility. Dr. McGrail pointed out this is not an exhaustive list, and while numerous studies and behavioral experts don’t confirm causation, there is certainly a corollary between the following and the increase in incidence of depression and anxiety in young people:

1 – Excessive comparison with others and a focus on competing.

2 – Isolation caused by social media.

3 – Parents pushing their children too hard to achieve.

4 – Lack of play.

5 – Hovering, “helicopter” parents and a focus on instant gratification.

Before we go any further, let me preface the following by acknowledging the unquestionable love parents have for their children and the pure intention to do the right thing. This is a given. But if we take a topic of such paramount importance – the well-being of our children, we must be willing to look as objectively as possible at ourselves as parents and what we can do differently.

Let’s look at each:

Excessive comparison with others and a focus on competing.

A few decades ago, we only needed to keep up with the Jones’ next door. Today, our kids are inundated through social media with images and experiences of others. We’re not even immune as adults. There have been many times I’ve taken a look at my Facebook feed, seen how great someone looks, how much fun someone is having or the travel he or she is enjoying, only to reflect on myself and my life and think “I don’t look that good. I’m not having that much fun. You’re in Italy or Greece or the Maldives and my ass is in yoga pants in my home office.”

While nearly impossible to eliminate, there are a few ways to mitigate the practice of comparison, a competitive mentality and their negative affects on our children’s and our own self worth:

1 – Billions of people have roamed the face of the earth and no two are alike. Lose the fallacy of normal. It doesn’t exist. Don’t try to fit in, rather celebrate and honor your uniqueness. Celebrate and honor it in your children.

2 – Adopt a regular practice of kindness toward others. If your child is young, that much better, but the positive effects are immediate, lasting and applicable whether you are 4 years old or 80. As I wrote in a post for ESME.com, “In addition to the instant positive emotional benefits, a child who regularly practices kindness toward others is a more confident child. You feel good about yourself when you do good for others. It’s that simple.” This moves your child from looking how to compete to how to contribute. Nobody loses there. The serotonin released when being kind is a free and natural anti-depressant, and a consistent practice is a sure confidence booster. Excessive focus on extrinsic versus intrinsic goals is a known factor in eroding self esteem. Regularly looking for and acting on opportunities for acts of kindness is the perfect antidote.

3 – Practice gratitude. When we regularly look for what there is to appreciate about our lives, there is less time to focus on what’s missing. My favorite way to do this is with a gratitude jar. My husband and I have a jar we keep on our kitchen island. Alongside in a cup, we have pieces of colored construction paper cut up into rectangles . . . pink for me (of course,) blue for him and green for guests. Each day (mostly) we write down something we are grateful for, date it and put the piece of paper in the jar. Come New Years Eve, we sit down together, dump all of them out and read them together. It’s a wonderful trip down Memory Lane and inevitably results in both tears and laughter.

Isolation caused by social media.

The fallacy of social media is that it keeps us connected. But where are our kids when they’re on line “connecting?” Alone, primarily. “You’re posting and you have all these friends, but you’re alone,” says Dr. McGrail, “as opposed to being out with a group of friends.” And if they don’t get the validation or “likes” they seek, or worse, receive negative feedback or on-line bullying while sitting alone in their rooms, where is the human support one needs?

I’m not suggesting your child will shower you with love and affection if you ban his access to social media. I expect about the complete opposite would happen. I do think, however, an awareness of its effects and an effort to encourage in-person social interaction will go a long way. Make it inviting and easy for them to get together. What can you do to encourage hands-on participation in something? Can you invite your daughter’s friends over Saturday night to make home-made pasta? What about going on a kindness mission with your daughter and her friends? Can you put up a tent and build a fire pit in the backyard and have your son’s friends over for a camp out?

We get the answers to the questions we ask. Sometimes new results come when we ask new questions.

Parents pushing their children too hard to achieve.

“Often parents objectify their children and make the kids extensions of their own (dashed) hopes and expectations.” says Dr. McGrail. “Many parents base their own self-esteem on the achievements and accomplishments of their children, and therefore, push/force the poor kids into doing what they the parents want them to do rather than what the child might want.”

This is a sensitive topic. It causes us to look at our own feelings of lack. A little bit of reflection here could go a long way. Ask yourself, “Is what I’m about to do coming primarily from a place of fear or love?” A little bit of pause and reflection could be all you need. And of course, the courage to be honest with yourself.

Lack of play.

Adulthood and the responsibilities that come along with it will come soon enough. Says Dr. McGrail, “My belief is that if you want a healthy teen, you have to start right out of the gate, when your children are young, by reinforcing their innate feelings of self worth and self love; by encouraging them to develop their natural talents, by balancing organized structured activities with pure play.”

We fill our children’s schedules so full, that often when they pause to be silly or play, they end up criticized or punished for not being responsible enough. Yes, there needs to be a balance. And again, is this a fear-based or love-based response? “Behavioral experts cite free childhood play, without adult enforced rules, as an absolute necessity for developing critical social interaction skills.  Kids are kids for a reason; and we are making them grow up way faster than Mother Nature intended.” shares Dr. McGrail.

Play is good. Make sure your children have time for it. It’s healthy, reduces stress and fosters creativity. Even we as adults would be well served to give ourselves permission to play more.

As a matter of fact, Dr. McGrail’s mantra is “Life is supposed to be fun!” I agree.

Hovering, “helicopter” parents and a focus on instant gratification.

With the best of intentions, as always, our knee-jerk reaction when our kids are upset is to fix it. We love our children. We hurt when they hurt. We want them to experience the least amount of unpleasantness and upset as possible. But what are we communicating to them and what are the long-term ramifications of focusing on the moment of upset and the default mode of instant gratification? I love chocolate cake . . . especially cold with a glass of milk. It brings me instant gratification. I’m happy when I feed it in my pie hole. But if I do that repeatedly, only focused on the instant gratifications, what are the long-term effects? I look and feel like crap. Pleasure in this moment sometimes leads to sustained unhappiness. As with all things, there is a balance.

By consistently fixing the situations and circumstances for your kids, you are molding an individual not suited to cope and unable to look for solutions and leverage internal and external resources.

“Let them be kids, allow them to fall on their butt once in a while, and then gently remind them that “failure” is part of the deal, the process of learning.” shares Dr. McGrail.

Providing too many advantages to your child when he or she is young could very well result in a future disadvantaged adult.

About the message you indirectly communicate when you do run too quickly and too often to their rescue? “I don’t have confidence in you and your ability to handle this.”

How can you show confidence in them and at the same time, reassure them of your availability and support when truly needed? That’s the pause and reflect question.

And a final note, every second of the day, you communicate energetically and non-verbally what you think and feel. If you are stressed or depressed and believe the front you put on hides that from your children, that may not be the case. They are intuitive. They feel and sense what’s going on inside of you. I don’t share this to put additional pressure on you. My hope is this post gives you insight that results in the opposite. If you are stressed or depressed, take care of yourself. Put a guilt-free, higher priority on your frame of mind, happiness and joy. Where in your life can you make adjustments to take the pressure off? Sometimes the answer to enjoying life more involves less. And for goodness sake, if you think professional help will do you some good, by all means, seek it out. Dr. McGrail, via Skype and the telephone works with people all over the world. I’d place my confidence in him any day of the week.

OK, so a final, final note. Allow what I’ve shared here to sink in. Don’t add unnecessary pressure to yourself to apply everything we talked about immediately and in every moment. Allow it to settle in. Reflect on it. Trust that your intuition and new insight will guide you in the moment needed.

To learn more about Dr. John McGrail, his teachings and practice, visit www.drjohnmcgrail.com. His book The Synthesis Effect is available in bookstores everywhere and on line at Amazon.com.

You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter as @drjohnmcgrail.

If you feel this was beneficial and you know of anyone else who may benefit from reading it, by all means, please share.

You can watch our radio interview with Dr. McGrail here on blab. Fair warning, this was our first time simultaneously broadcasting our show on the FM signal and on the internet, and there is an echo we hope to have resolved by the next show.

I invite you to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (@kerylpesce) where I post daily inspirations, information about upcoming guests and topics on Happy Hour and additional blog posts such as this one.

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