A big part of my job is in supporting children with their mental health. This is not an easy thing to do for a number of reasons. Firstly I am not a clinical psychologist, although that would certainly make things easier. And secondly, there is a growing number of young people requiring support so the demand for help can be a little overwhelming. According to the Mental Health Foundation, statistically now in the UK mental health problems affect about 1 in 10 children and young people. These figures account for those receiving specialist support for a mental health issue but do not take into account those who are not receiving specialist support or those who are simply struggling to manage their emotional wellbeing, so in the end, the numbers become quite alarming and are closer to 1 in 4 than 1 in 10.
The Mental Health Foundation states that ‘good mental health allows children and young people to develop the resilience to cope with whatever life throws at them and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults. From experience, a lack of resilience is a big part of where the additional numbers are coming from and causing a shift from 1 in 10 to 1 in 4. While some conditions may be unavoidable, the increase in eating disorders has often been linked with social factors and influences. similarly I would argue the increase in anxiety disorders and behaviour disorders might well be to do with the environment, the experience and the resilience of the child. Despite all we hear on the news about the dramatic rise in mental health conditions in young people, I am not sure there has been such a major increase in depression, schizophrenia, or OCD. The experience of those of us who are offering non-specialist support would certainly say that the numbers of those cases has not increased in quite the same way.
I don’t mean to devalue what we are doing here either, I just wanted to make the point that while we may complete a wealth of specialist training in order to use strategies to support the youngsters day-to-day, mental health is not our primary profession and for me as an educator, it can be a pretty large step at times and also take its emotional toll. Fortunately, I have a very supportive home environment and good levels of personal resilience and I think that a lack of these in our children is partially responsible for some of the reason for the increase. There is not always a lot we can do to change someone’s circumstances although we can support them with how they manage them. For many though, that is not the issue and I think that part of the problem is the increase in parents who are projecting their own aspirations and anxieties onto their offspring.
Helicopter parenting was not really a thing when I was growing up. If you got in trouble at school then you were punished at home too. The chances of my mum going in to school to sort it out were slim to none. Instead she sorted me out and we just all got on with it. These days so many parents hover above their children, watching their every move, ready to swoop in and fix things for them whenever it goes wrong. While this comes from good intent, it leads to young people who never really learn how to manage situations of difficulty themselves. They learn that they need help, that they need to be looked after and they learn that there are no real consequences to their actions.
Even more dangerous than the helicopter parents are the snow plough parents who move along in front of their children, clearing the path of anything which may be even slightly hazardous. This can lead to a young person who never has to cope with anything difficult at all. Everything becomes anticipatory and so even when things would have been tricky and then turned out fine, they are never allowed to evolve. This sort of overcare can lead to the child never experiencing any sort of adversity. In fact, they are never aware that there could have been anything adverse in the first place. Putting a child with this experience into a busy, unpredictable world (or even a school) where very occasionally bad things happen, is going to be completely overwhelming.
Now I don’t want to do down parents. I am a parent myself and, although far from perfect, I do try my best, but sometimes we just need to stop and think. A desire to protect needs to be balanced with a desire for offspring who are confident and independent, so that needs to be practiced and modelled in a safe environment. If you don’t model trust and respect, then your child will not learn trust and respect. If you don’t model and encourage resilience and self-regulation then they will struggle to learn those things too. And if you hide your emotions and feelings instead of modelling some coping strategies, then your child will also struggle to articulate and demonstrate their thoughts and feelings.
I see examples around me quite often of people who are sending messages, albeit subconsciously, which really are not helpful to the child in question. I have found myself doing it at times when caught off guard and my thinking aloud has revealed some of my own anxieties. I remember quite clearly an occasion where this went on to influence my son who made a decision based on a sense of not being safe, which ultimately I had created. I am guilty too of not always practicing what I preach and if you aren’t modelling what you teach then of course you are teaching something else. Although I try to show good examples, we are all only human and so when I mess up, I try to explain what has happened and use it as a learning experience for all of us.
When I first had my girls it was important to me that I didn’t pass on my own unhealthy attitudes about eating. I tried very hard to eat normally and not to make it, or my body image an issue. It wasn’t until we are at an eating disorders clinic with my daughter that I realised how unhealthy my ideas still were. It was inevitable, I suppose, that some of that would come across and perhaps there is nothing I could have done to stop that. We pass on many of our positive traits to our children and so it makes sense that sometimes the not so great aspects will also have an impact. It was upsetting for me to realise not only that she had an eating disorder, but also that I was probably part of the reason she was susceptible. On the plus side it did make it easier for me to understand and support her, so I guess every cloud and all that.
I think what I am saying is that as parents we should try out best to love our children and support them to be independent and confident enough to leave us. If they are happy and resilient then I think we have done a good job. I do think what we need to do is to look at what we have become on a social level and ask if the way our society is, influences some of these rises in poor mental health in our young people. I know there is a push to bring in extra resources which I cynically think will mean they are cuts elsewhere, but what can we change so that young people are more able to develop the resilience to cope with whatever life throws at them and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults?
Living in a full-time D/s relationship when you have a family means that inevitably they will pick up on some of what you do. I know this is a worry expressed by those who don’t understand that our kids are not routinely made aware of the kinkier parts of our life. While sex and sexuality is discussed openly enough, the personal details of our sex life are not. It remains a behind closed doors thing and we have no plans for that to change. What it has meant is that the open communication is being modelled much more at home than it might have been otherwise. I think that this has been positive as they are now much more aware and more emotionally attuned to what is going on. They have also seen us deal with things which have been difficult and unpleasant and watched us bouncing back.