On Thursday, October 28, a partnership project between Whitecourt, Woodlands County, Whitecourt R.C.M.P., Indigo Counselling and Consulting, and The P.O.W.E.R. Hub (People of Whitecourt Encouraging Resiliency) put forward a free workshop for area parents. The event entitled A Parent's Guide to Prevention for Kids provided candid information on youth's concerns.
Sharon Mailloux of Indigo Counselling and Consulting and Constable Kallie Barker spoke to the crowd and shared experiences they have come across through their respective careers. "The biggest thing that I see in our youth is they are struggling with an epidemic of anxiety. It's different than when I was growing up. The difference is that they are no longer just messing up and having it be forgotten about next week. Now, if they mess up, it's being recorded. It's been sent out on YouTube, Instagram, and Snap Chat," explained Mailloux.
"These youth are then getting messages from parents and teachers and adults that what we put on the internet stays on the internet forever. While that may be true, that sort of exacerbates the feeling. They think, I did this thing, or I said this thing, or I tripped on the sidewalk, and it was recorded and posted with some music added to it, and when I go to apply for a job when I'm 40, it's still going to be there, and I'm not going to get hired because I look like an idiot."
She feels that the massive spike of anxiety she sees in youth is because their actions are no longer temporary. "I had kids who wouldn't even turn on their camera when we did things by Zoom because they were so anxious about someone seeing them cry or be upset or struggle. They were so afraid of looking stupid, and they are so afraid of putting themselves out there that they are hiding, or they are in their phones, and their lives exist online in this very measured way."
Mailloux said that in her practice, parents would often ask her about gaming. "When I listen to these kids and that their lives are under the microscope and they are vulnerable all the time, gaming provides a safe way to interact with other people. If someone makes them feel uncomfortable, they can just shut it off and start a new game. They feel this sense of, not only connection, which is so important but of control of what is happening in their world."
She said the number one thing from her perspective is for parents to take care of their own stuff. "If you have mental health struggles, if your relationship is not good, if you are struggling with medical issues, if there are things in your life where you feel like you are hitting the edge, take care of your own stuff. Your kids are watching you to figure out how to navigate through life. They are reading all of those queues from what you do."
Mailloux said that parents are adding to the anxiety epidemic by not allowing their children to struggle. "Parents are often so scared for their child's mental health that they take care of all the things. There are fewer consequences, fewer responsibilities, and fewer challenges where your kid can fail. We need the ability to reflect on a situation and say, well, that sucked. What could I have done differently? That's a big part of our development. Watching your kid cry and go through heartbreak sucks, but it is a necessary part of growing up and learning how to handle disappointment, failure and also learning how to own it when we mess up."
One of the best ways to help alleviate anxiety in youth is conversations, including the hard ones. Mailloux said the kitchen table is a great place to create a routine of talking to each other. "Eat meals together at the table as often as you can. There is good research that shows that eating one meal a day at the table with your kids without any distractions and having a conversation reduces the risks of being involved in many things. Do it as often as you can."
She said above all, parents need to try. "Be kind and role model that for your kids. The world is a scary place, and we need grace more than ever. We need the ability to be compassionate. Have rules and expectations in the house that you are included in. You do not get a pass for being the parent. Be respectful to your kid, your partner and the other people in your life. Role model to your kids what that looks like."
Another big one is boredom. Mailloux said that kids need it. "We are so afraid to let our kids be bored. But boredom leaves room for imagination. We need to be ok with boredom, and that applies to us as parents. We need to be able to put our phones down and not have every moment with something in it."
Do you check your child's technology? Mailloux said it's vital. "Please check your kids' phones and their iPad. Sit with them when they are gaming. Listen to what they are saying and who they are interacting with. You might say, I trust my kid, and that's good, but don't trust the whole world, and that whole world is on that screen."
Most importantly, Mailloux said if parents tell their children that they can talk to them about anything, parents need to follow through on that and listen while suspending their judgment. She said the same goes for parents who promise that a late-night call from their child who is at a party, or somewhere they maybe shouldn't be, will result in a safe ride home. "You cannot say call me, and then make it the most painful thing and lecture them because your kid will never call you again. How you respond in that one situation, your kid knows to generalize to every other risky decision they are going to make. If you are saying you will be that person for them, then be that person."
Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press