Over the last few years, our community has suffered far too many losses.
I feel very much empathy for the family members. I am not even capable of comprehending what they have been through.
I’m afraid they were focused on thinking way too much about what they might have done wrong, what they might have done differently or what might have changed the outcome.
Friends, family members did the best they could in the circumstances they were faced with, I believe.
With that being said, it is far from me to blame anybody.
Furthermore, it’s also unrealistic to pull simplistic explanations about cause and effect.
On the other hand: if we really want to be sure to support our children and teenagers to reach their full potential with a reasonable emotional balance, we need to understand what they are facing.
When I was working in a Crisis Response Team, I worked with suicidal people on a daily basis. Oftentimes they admitted that they did not want to die. In reality, they hurt so deeply that they wanted to escape from the pain. Death seemed to be a form of relief.
Naturally, I have no way of knowing what was in the mind of our teenagers who took their own lives.
But one thing is obvious: they were suffering tremendously from something.
.Where does that pain originate from?
It is as simple as that:
When our needs are fulfilled, we are happy and content.
When our needs are not fulfilled, we are suffering.
Let me ponder about their needs for a bit.
There are some basic, biological needs including oxygen, food, water and sleep.
It is easy to understand that we need to breath, eat, drink and sleep.
Or is it? – I’ll get back to this question shortly..
In addition, there are our psychological needs of being loved, being heard, being appreciated, and being acknowledged.
According to Jeffrey Young, the founder of scheme therapy; there are 5 basic emotional needs of children that have to be fulfilled in order for them to be able to adapt in a healthy way to their environment.
1/ Need for secure attachment
2/ Need for autonomy and competence
3/ Need of free expression of their need and feelings
4/ Need of spontaneity and playfulness
5/ Need of boundaries and self-control
It is worth investigating how need fulfillment occurs in the families, and how we – as a society – support the individual families to fulfill the needs of their members.
I skipped talking about how we feed (and how we nurture) our children and how we teach them to respect and take good care of their body. Although this is a very important part of our health, it is not my expertise. Currently, there are many areas of thought about these issues.
What I find deeply troublesome is that we all are very well aware that sleep deprivation is a form of torture. The media is quite open about the new researches that show teenagers require at least 9 hours of sleep. Furthermore, they are in “sleep phase delay”. In other words, they fall asleep typically 2 hours later than children and adults.
Many want to blame the electronics. However, that would not explain that research found the same delay in many mammalian species in the same time of their development. There is a vague explanation about the hormones. There is a more precise explanation that for whatever reason, melatonin secretion begins about 2 hours later during the teen years than in adults and children. Furthermore, there is a relative disconnection between the light and the circadian rhythm regulator: suprachiasmatic nuclei.
Whatever the reason is, we know that they cannot fall asleep as early as we would like and this is not their “choice”. We know that they need more hours of sleep than adults need because of their rapid bodily, hormonal and mental development.
Therefore; what do we do?
We put our teenagers into the earliest possible school start time usually around 7:20am.
In comparison, we do not start elementary school children who are wide awake anyway at 6-7!
We begin with the teenagers that are complaining that they are moody, irritable, cannot focus, snooze during class, turn to drugs to eliminate malaise, and struggle with mood swings.
If you read the symptoms of sleep deprivation, you will find this same exact list.
In states where school administrators experimentally put teenagers in later school starts, – including Seattle – studies found higher admittance, less tardiness, improved grades and overall mental health.
It should be noted that the CIA uses sleep deprivation as an effective torture technique for detainees.
Many US school administration uses sleep deprivation as an effective torture technique for teenagers.
Reason? I haven’t heard a convincing reason yet.
BASIC CHILDHOOD EMOTIONAL NEEDS
1/ NEED FOR SECURE ATTACHMENT – OR EMOTIONAL SAFETY
We are born with an innate tendency to form bonds with our caregivers. At the end of the first year, we already have certain patterns of how we are attached to them.
Scary, isn’t it? The most important things are happening before a word can leave our mouth!
Attachment theorists found 4 distinctive patterns in how we behave with our care giver. Moreover, we take this attitude into our other relationships.
The attachment types are:
Secure – Insecure – Avoidant – Fearful
The regular pattern is more flexible than we originally thought, not to mention we might have more distinct attachment types to our different care givers. We can “re-learn” attachment if we have a good teacher, mentor, friend, or counselor.
It is very important to get positive, affirmative, inclusive feelings from the peers as they are the “new family” and the reference points for teenagers.
Being seen, being heard, being acknowledged, being heard, and being understood – not to mention being loved – are all essential to our emotional safety.
2/ NEED FOR AUTONOMY AND COMPETENCE
The level of autonomy is changing throughout the years. Every phase needs a different approach.
Babies do not have and do not need autonomy. In the first year, all we have to do is fulfill their dependency needs. When it is done, their autonomy begins to flourish in their toddlerhood.
The “terrible twos” are the times when the first opposition arises based on the autonomy need:
“NO means YES” – as one of my friends’ daughter interpreted her brother’s behavior. Actually “NO” means the vague realization that I am not you.
In the preschool and school years, developing competence requires freedom of exploration and encouragement rather than reward.
Forget about correction and criticism, it undermines the confidence of competence.
Independence comes with responsibilities. This is why the Montessori schools are developed to a higher level. According to their philosophy, they control the environment not the child. Children have more independence than in traditional schools, and take a larger portion of responsibility for their actions.
In the teenage years, there is another spurt in autonomy, the second phase of growing independence. This is the time when they wean from their family and turn toward their age group in interest, and in attachment as well.
Be reassured. Although it is not as obvious as before, the family support, acceptance and love is equally important and remains intact.
Do not worry about the “NO”-s. It’s not personal! (At least not always.) One of the assignments of this age is to establish a unique personality. It begins with: “I am not you.” (Meaning: I am looking for my own style, values, likes and dislikes.) Figuring out who they really are takes time. The “No! I am not you” phase is the necessary first step in this process.
The teenage autonomy phase brings another challenge which is the ongoing balance between the rights and responsibilities. Teens and parents have to participate in developing workable compromises.
Parents, who had controlling parenting style up until now might experience difficulties. Inevitably, we gradually lose control over our young adults. Trying to force control is not only useless, it backfires.
Whoever raised their kids with physical punishment might backfire and result in a slam to the face.
I prefer the democratic style from the very beginning, although it might take disproportionately more time than the authoritative style. Children who grew up accustomed to the cooperation and negotiation have an easy (easier) transition to adulthood.
3/ FREE EXPRESSION OF NEEDS AND FEELINGS
This is the area where the water gets murky because we operate largely from our unconscious level. We tend to unknowingly pass over what we were exposed as children.
In general, in our culture, boys are not supposed to express fear, sadness, pain and anxiety, but they are allowed to express anger. (No wonder we have so many angry birds.)
Girls are not supposed to express anger but they are allowed to show fear, anxiety and sadness.
Expressing positive feelings are rather welcomed for both genders, maybe less for boys than girls.
In healthy relationships, the expressing needs are fundamental for the functioning of the relationship. Our happiness is dependent on it. Expecting our partner to figure out what we need by using a manipulative expectation, “If you loved me you knew…” is unreasonable. We need to express our needs firmly, but calmly.
Unfortunately many of us were raised with restrictions that did not allow us to express our needs in order to “not to bother” others. In some families there is a kind of “reluctance” or negligence fulfilling others’ needs. Rejection of the expression might come in the form of mocking, labels, put downs, and belittling.
Learning how to communicate our needs and wants needs guidance and practice: What are they? How do we express them? How we can let them be fulfilled? Repressing them is the possible worst training we can give. That is the parents’ responsibility to teach their children to communicate about their needs and feelings.
4/ THE NEED OF SPONTANEITY AND PLAYFULNESS
We don’t even know what that is, do we?
Free play? – When?
Doing what we want? – Are you kidding me?
In middle/high school, they spend 35 hours per week, homework is about 11-20 hours per week – at least it was in highly capable classes – not counting practice time on the instruments and the other extracurricular activities like sports, volunteer work, school programs. They experience 46-55 work hours.
May I ask the policy makers how many hours per week you are working? 40? Really?
What’s the reason we push our children over our limit?
But it’s only the official policy.
On the side note: a myriad of studies proved that homework does not correlate with academic achievement.
Afterwards, the pressure from society comes as we did not realize they are overloaded already anyway.
“You have to volunteer!”
“You have to play sports!”
“You have to participate in church!”
“You have to have extra music lessons!”
At the end, the infinitely exhausted children have no time, no motivation and no practice to reflect things of their own. They are unable to figure out what they want for themselves let alone how to entertain themselves or structure their time when no authority tells them what to do. We deprive them the opportunity to learn how.
Spontaneity and playfulness has no time or place in their life.
By the way reflection: Goldie Hawn and Daniel Siegel initiation to bring mindfulness meditation to school produced very promising changes in school children’s mental health.
5/ THE NEED OF BOUNDARIES AND SELF-CONTROL
There are 3 categories usually used for parenting styles:
Authoritative, Laissez-Faire and Democratic.
In the authoritative style, the parent sets and enforces the rules regardless of the will and feelings of the children.
In the Laissez-Fair method, children are free to do whatever they like, regardless of the will and feelings of their surroundings.
In the democratic style, there are flexible rules and boundaries. Everybody’s request is considered, everybody’s will and feelings are taken care of.
Surprisingly, children who were raised without regulations or boundaries are not as happy as children raised by rules. Limitations, as well as predictability, help us to feel safe and secure.
They need to know what is expected of them. They need to be sure what to expect from their family members as well as from the wider environment.
Structure seems to be essential for mental health on many levels.
What we expose them to in structure, rhythm and discipline, they internalize and it becomes their inner structure, rhythm and self-discipline in their adulthood.
When I was a child, we had 45 minute lessons and 10-15 minute breaks. I mean breaks. Not passing times. We had to pay full attention to the work in the classroom. We were not allowed to use the bathroom, eat, or talk unless we were asked to. After each class, we had time to go to the restroom and talk with our friends. We had one long break to eat.
Let’s see the structure of a typical middle school, high school day today:
Typically they have 52-55 minute classes. In Middle school they have 4 (four!) minutes of “passing time”. In high school they have 7 (seven) minutes of passing time. During those minutes they have to:
1: go to their locker that is sometimes located in the opposite end of the campus than where their classes are.
2: open-close locker, change gears according to the classes
3: get to the next classroom
If they are 1 (one!) minute late, they are deemed tardy.
What do you think fits into those 4 or 7 minutes? Bathroom? Talk? Give a break to the brain? No way.
What does this rushed rhythm set them up for? Not being able to focus on the next class; less and less as time goes by. Ask the teachers how they are doing by the time they reach the 5th, 6th period! It usually amounts to repeated requests to go to the bathroom, drinking and so on.
Of course! The natural rhythm of their body does not allow them to follow this unforgiving regime.
Is this rushing stress provoking? – Pretty much.
I asked the teachers about it.: They state that they can do it. Yes. I know. This is not the point.
Knowingly, purposefully causing them stress is my problem.
On the contrary: if the teacher did not fit into the 52-55 minutes timeframe, some of them keep their students longer; taking away further by 1-2 minutes from the 4 or 7 without any consequence. Is it not the deprivation of an incredible short rest time?
Some do not let them out for restroom break. Is it not deprivation of the need for secretion?
Sometimes teaching stretches into the lunch break. Is it not the deprivation of the need of being fed?
Not having the right structure to internalize harms their future sense of scheduling as well.
I know how much I rely on my elementary school rhythm.
I schedule a one hour long session with my clients, and a 15 minute break in between.
It serves multiple purposes. They do not bump each other in the doorway, it gives us the possibility to clarify insurance or other things to arrange, schedule another appointment and the like. But my main reason I need to have those extra minutes in between sessions is that
I need to process what I have heard. I need to reflect on it, I need to let it sink in order to turn it to helpful interaction whenever I need it.
This is not only necessary, this is doable.
Most of the areas in how we treat and school our children need thorough improvement.
FULFILLING BIOLOGICAL NEEDS:
A lot more sleep – different school start schedule (See Seattle Bell Times.)
More resting – recuperation time
FULFILLING PSYCHOLOGICAL NEEDS
1/ For secure attachment: acknowledgment, understanding, acceptance.
2/ Need for autonomy and competence: negotiation, cooperation, balance of rights and responsibilities, encouragement.
3/ Expression of needs and feelings: empathy, acceptance, raising awareness about our own needs and feelings.
4/ Spontaneity and Playfulness: less rigorous schedule, more free time, more “let go”, paying attention to the “big picture”: lessening the accumulated demands of the school, families and different organizations.
5/ Boundaries and Self-Control: modeling clear boundaries, respectful behavior toward others, manner, encouraging empathy.
By only using this approach, we will be able to ensure that the next generation will become healthier: physically, mentally and emotionally.
I’d be happy to help you or your teen!
Please contact me! 425.280.2643
Free Initial Consultation