by TRACY HOGG *COM0011
I was fortunate to attend a free seminar this week, the topic of discussion was “Teenage Mental Health 101“, presented by Dr. Stan Kutcher, psychiatrist, at a local school in Whitby.
Clearly I was not the only parent concerned about the what seems to be ever-increasing teenage suicide rates and the social pressure teens face today.
Many parents asked Dr. Kutcher about today’s suicide rate and I personally was surprised by the stats. He first asked the audience, what do you think it is? Feverish parents threw up their arms and offered 5, 15, 25, 30 or even 40% of the teenage population as answers. The real answer will surprise you; according to Dr. Kutcher, teenage suicide has actually dropped 35% over the last 3 decades; and that only 5 out of 100,000 teenage deaths or .00005% are attributed to suicide. Although he did qualify it by saying that in the last few years the numbers of teenage girl suicides has started to trend upward, but it is still a very low number in the general population.
So why do we as a society think the rates are increasing? Easy, SOCIAL MEDIA. We get so many plays, tweets, and shares of these alarming cases that to our untrained eyes and ears the amount of them is going up. And what is the underlying catalyst to a lot of these suicides; social media, bullying, public humiliation, shaming, depression, social isolation….but ultimately, a teenager unable to cope one more day.
So how do parents raise teenagers with good mental health? Dr. Kutcher’s formula for raising a healthy teenager was pretty simple; they need a lot sleep (9-10 hour minimum a night during the school week, uninterrupted sleep I might add, 12 hours on weekends is okay; they’re catching up). Kids don’t learn well, can’t make good decisions, or have a positive frame of mind; without good restorative sleep.
The other ingredients – healthy nutrition, a trusted parent or adult to rely on when the going gets tough, healthy peer relationships (activities with real humans, not reaching out to people on social media), and regular daily exercise. It is just that simple!
Good mental health as it was explained to me, is about being able to cope, being adaptable, and learning to handle everyday life. It is not about being perpetually happy, life can be ugly and tough, mental health is about how you handle the bad times. Being strung out all night, lacking in sleep, perpetually on social media; much of it often negative, can’t give our kids the arsenal they need to protect themselves.
As older and admittedly stricter parents, we have tried hard to establish good sleep habits with our kids and limit the number of hours they spend online. Every night in our house, each shiny piece of technology sits in a ceramic bowl on my night stand. The kids regularly file by and empty their pockets on the way to bed. This includes phones, iPod, portable gaming systems, tablets/iPads, you name it. I do an inventory to make sure it’s all turned in, occasionally, I have to go to my son’s room and ask for a missing piece before he turns out the lights. He smiles but always antes up. He wouldn’t be a teenager if he didn’t test the boundaries once in a while.
But from the audience reaction, my husband and I are clearly odd duck parents. My best guestimate from a show of hands was 80-90% of parents in the seminar allowed kids to sleep with phones or tablets. Even worse than no tech, as the “cruelest parents ever don’t you know“….(words spoken more than once at our house), we still make our 12 and 14-year-old go to bed at 9:45pm on a school night, without fail.
The vigorous discussion in the room caused me to flashback to my own childhood and the rules my parents set. Replays of TV public service announcements when I was young and living at home like “It’s 10 o-clock, do you know where your kids are“? commercials, Youtube 10 oclock come to mind. Back then, many of us were still out roaming the streets in the early evening, and you went home when the streets light came on, which was pretty close to 10pm in the summertime. But you had to be home by 8 or 9 pm on a school night or you were grounded. And when we went to bed, we went to bed to sleep, no electronics or devices!
These days, it seems kids barely leave the house on their own, and as parents maybe we need a reboot of those old commercials, something more fitting for the times like…. “its 10 o’clock, do you know what your kids are doing“?
My husband and I regularly talk about some of the things we have done wrong as parents, and believe me, we have much work to do in other areas. But maybe, just maybe, we got the sleep with no tech thing right, at least for our kids.
I have the old 1979 NICK LOWE song “Cruel to be kind” on repeat in my head as I write this. I regularly re-run it as my parenting mantra, whenever I hear a teenager groan about rules. But tonight, like every night, the TECH bowl beside me is overflowing with devices, it is 10 o’clock, and yes, I know what my kids are doing, they’re asleep!
DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR KIDS ARE DOING?
Free Photos courtesy of UNSPLASH – Tristan Colangelo & Luke Porter photographers
Based on group discussion and excerpts during Teenage MENTAL HEALTH 101, at Trafalgar Castle School, Tuesday February 13th, 7-9pm, by Dr. Stan Kutcher.