GLENVIEW – Far more children and teens are experiencing anxiety today compared to a decade ago. Why is that?
Renee Z. Dominguez, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and the executive director of the Family Service Center of Wilmette, Glenview, Northbrook, and Kenilworth, will address the issue of “well-intended parents, unintended consequences” at Glenview District 34’s Parents in Partnership seminar, a free program led by experts in the field of stress and anxiety, social emotional learning, and technology. It takes place on February 10 from 8 a.m. to noon at Attea Middle School in Glenview.
As a preview, Dr. Dominguez shared her professional insight on parenting in today’s world:
DailyNorthShore: What factors have contributed to the debilitating anxiety many children and teens suffer from today? Is it worse now than it was a decade ago?
Dr. Dominguez: There are significantly more children and teens experiencing anxiety than there were 10 years ago. Part of the explanation lies in significant cultural factors. Today’s children and adolescents seem to be protected from exposure to small, manageable levels of distress, and therefore have not had the opportunity to develop basic skills to manage emotional discomfort when they experience it. In addition, at increasingly higher rates, children and adolescents are learning how to connect interpersonally through social media, and they are often not equipped to manage and navigate these domains.
DailyNorthShore: Technology use is a key factor in determining the social emotional health of young people. Since there’s no stopping the technology juggernaut, and new (more sinister) apps pop up every day, how can parents protect their children from lasting harm?
Dr. Dominguez: While parents are digital immigrants and children are digital natives, parents still have a great deal to offer their children when it comes to managing technology. First and foremost, parents and their children need to have open dialogue about technology and clear expectations about its use. Included in this discussion should be set times that technology is utilized, where the devices can and cannot be used, where the devices will be housed a bedtime, acceptable internet content, and the process of downloading acceptable apps. Providing children with social media “training wheels” can be very helpful.
DailyNorthShore: Teens often push boundaries in their search for independence. How does a parent differentiate between age-appropriate rebellion and problematic behavior?
Dr. Dominguez: It is most important to consider the risk of the behavior and to choose wisely about which behaviors parents address. Developmentally, adolescents tend to push boundaries and attempt to establish independence, while parents often react strongly. I encourage parents to pick the important battles. Engaging in power struggle over behaviors that are irritating, but harmless (e.g., dirty bedroom), runs the risk of diminishing the importance of issues parents really need to address.
DailyNorthShore:Your keynote address alludes to the unintended (negative) consequences of parents with good intentions. Parents today are starting to wake up to the notion that children need to learn grit and self-reliance. How does a parent in today’s world support and love their child without enabling and hovering?
Dr. Dominguez: The overwhelming majority of parents intend to help their children have the best life possible. They often do so by creating environments that minimize their child’s exposure to discomfort. Increasingly so, parents are doing more for their children. Not only does this strip the child of an opportunity to learn a skill to manage the situation and the negative effect that goes along with struggle, but it also communicates that the child is incapable of doing this on his/her own. When I work with parents, I recommend they take a look at their own reaction to their children’s experiences and work on tolerating their own discomfort while watching their child struggle. They are actually helping their child by giving him/her the opportunity to struggle and learn from the process.
DailyNorthShore: Why is it important for school districts to create a discussion and dialogue around the issues presented in this seminar?
Dr. Dominguez: Parenting in isolation makes parenting exponentially more challenging.
DailyNorthShore: A wide range of subjects will be addressed at the upcoming seminar, including illicit drug use, anxiety, bullying, suicide, social media use, academic pressure, and college. How will your morning keynote address synthesize these disparate topics into one coherent message?
Dr. Dominguez:One of the key threads that weave these disparate topics together is that all parents have the potential to experience these various challenges with their children. I believe there are ways that the parent-child relationship can serve as a protective process for children who face these challenges, and that parents can support their children in developing the skills to navigate these challenges optimally.