- This feature is for parents who are dealing with children and/or teens experiencing high anxiety, depression, hostile or withdrawn behavior, and/or are addicted to devices or drugs.
- And these insights will also help counselors, therapists and addiction treatment specialists who are interested in educating parents as to how they can support treatment and improve wellness outcomes for child/teen clients.
- The main education goal of part one: raising awareness — help parents identify their own anxieties that inhibit their capacity to be perceived as a trustworthy advocate for healing.
(To make a referral for parents to seek support while their child is in treatment and/or in recovery, or to inquire about private sessions or staff trainings, contact Joanna.)
Last month I delivered a training at a Sierra Vista Hospital (South Sacramento campus) lunch and learn community event on the topic of The Role of a Parent in Healing a Suffering Child: Insights about Love in Response to Anxiety and Addiction as a Family Disease (Affair). Continuing Education Units for counselors was sponsored by Center for Discovery. This training expands upon the key concepts about restoring the power balance in the parent-child bond essential for connection and healing. This segment, part one, focuses on helping the parent to understand their child as a fellow human being having a human experience, and recognize how their their own anxieties are not helpful. And the next segment (to be published within the next week) offers a restorative paradigm for authority in the parent-child bond to help parents strengthen their role as a trusted advocate for healing a suffering child.
Flawed systems of care
Let us first consider that it has always been true that children are born into flawed systems of care. They are called families. The science of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) drives home this point. Based upon a comprehensive long-term study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Kaiser, ACEs identifies very specific childhood trauma associated with these adult issues, including anxiety, addiction, domestic violence/bullying, sexual exploitation, divorce and incarceration, that can result in hypervigilant states of mind (fight, freeze, flight) altering the biochemistry of a person to give more energy to fighting a threat and less energy to the immune system. Hence the greater the number of ACEs you have as a child is a predictor of chronic illnesses, like cancer and heart disease. Behavioral health issues are therefore most definitely a public health matter.
ACEs also tells us that these adult issues are learned behavior, passed down from generation to generation, and it does not recognize social, ethnic or economic boundaries. The good news is that we all have the power to learn how to break cycles of hostility. This for me is the hope. We have the power to learn how to become better versions of ourselves as individuals and families.
This hope requires parents to open their hearts and minds to learning how to parent differently in this hyper-connected environment. The things we learned about parenting from our own childhood experiences will not be effective nor sufficient in a world transformed by internet connectivity.
Meeting the new demands on parenting in this cyber-powered world requires us to embrace this simple truth that children are exposed to adult issues (anxiety, bullying, sexual exploitation, and addiction) with great intensity and at earlier ages.
And it is also true that no amount of parental controls and parental oversight will shield children from being exposed to these experiences because the pace of innovation in the cyber-social realms is so rapid and prolific it is not possible to stay on top of technology changes impacting your child. So more important than parental controls (which are important) is the understanding of what interests your child and how their own life experiences are informing them on and off-line. And that is a lot easier said than done because it is easy to believe and act on things that are not true. A lie really can become a real experience that murders the truth if you allow it in your own mind.
It is important to understand that these issues our children are facing today are first learned in the home and are experienced online with great intensity – and we are all equipped to respond well.
What makes it possible to respond well?
First it helps to consider how the science of addition and recovery inform us about the human condition. That every human being is prone to error and is fault-tolerant, or resilient.
Prone to Err. In the slide above, we can categorize “error” as the brain being unduly influenced by external stimuli. For example, the science of addiction teaches us that addiction is a pathological relationship with intoxication, wherein the brain convinces the person that the only way to stop the pain and feel okay is to pursue the short-term “feel good” hits associated with the brain’s reward system stimulated by drugs and/or alcohol. Unchecked, these short-term dopamine hits can become the only important thing in life and will be pursued at all costs – hurting important relationships (family, friends and work), health and in some cases can lead to death. These external stimuli can be drugs or alcohol, shopping, devices and gaming, eating…anything that gives a sense of temporary relief and inspires a person to focus on those activities to maintain a level of intoxication that will never fulfill or sustain.
The developers and purveyors of devices and apps understand this truth about our humanity; that the brain will respond to the external stimuli (notifications and vibrations) designed to tap the short-term feel-good hits from biochemical reward center. These products are designed to keep you giving your attention to the technology thus putting human relationships at a lower priority. In this way when our brains are conditioned to ignore the people in our physical orbit and give undivided attention to the devices it is robbing us of affection that come from being fully present in the company of one another. In this way, your attention is your power.
Resilient. The slide (above) about the human condition also points to evidence that we are resilient in that science tells us the brain also responds to internal stimuli from the mind. This resilience refers to the powers of self-determination (i.e., memory, intellect and will) that enable us to choose to focus on wisdom thoughts which are eternal thoughts that bring about peace, empower self and others, and transcend religious dogma. In this way, the mind is able to change the brain by thinking about thoughts that are hopeful. And so recovery happens.
This is how I understand love as thought leadership which makes it possible to respond to anxiety and addiction with confidence and to advocate for healing.
It is therefore important to understand that your feelings, while they are real experiences, are not the facts unless you choose to agree with them. It is so important to teach ourselves and our children to challenge the hopeless and anxious thoughts that accompany negative feelings in response to what is happening in life. Otherwise, a lie can become a real experience that murders the truth if you allow it in your own mind.
How many children suffering from anxiety and depression have chosen to believe that their parents could never understand their experiences and accept them?
Emotional traps of parents
At the same time, parents are vulnerable to believing and acting on the fearful and powerless feelings they experience in response to the issues youth are facing in their childhoods and teen years. I like to call it “malware” of the parent heart and mind. We have a tendency to worry and call it caring, to punish and call it discipline, and insist that our own opinion is the only understanding and call it wisdom.
This is where spiritual intelligence can make all the difference. (Note: spiritual awareness, or connection, is acknowledged as a dimension of wellness by the Boston University Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation). Spiritual intelligence relies upon wisdom, which I understand is the thought leadership of love, to more fully inform our response to anxiety and behavioral health issues in ways that bring about peace to experience and respond to the pain and advocate for healing (i.e., choosing hopeful thoughts).
Consider this definition of wisdom: eternal thoughts, that bring about peace to self and others and transcend religious dogma. (See examples in slide below).
Embracing this idea that our opinion is not the same thing as wisdom can be challenging because we have spent a lifetime informing our opinion with lived experience and some wisdom. When we accept that at any point in time human opinion is always limited understanding about a person, a situation or a thing and carries some form of judgment, while wisdom enables us to keep an open mind to hearing how another person’s perspective is informing them so you can both learn something and find a new path together. It is a collaboration. And when a parent seeks to be an advocate for healing a suffering child, it is important for the parent to learn from the child how their experience is informing them (i.e., their experience with depression, anxiety, addiction, being exploited, bullied, etc.), and seek to better understand their condition working with the health care professionals, and then you can impart wisdom by offering hope that you believe they can learn and grow stronger from the experience. This is what it means to foster resilience.
The main objective is to be mindful that your feelings in response to adversity, anxiety and addiction are not the facts unless you agree with them. This objective is important because your child will experience your presence as hopeful or condemning based upon your reaction to their affliction (symptoms, behavior and consequences). Look for the next segment to explain further how in response to what is happening you can reconcile your anxious feelings with wisdom and how this makes connection and recovery possible. To request the Core Connectivity 5-step guide for parenting a suffering child and learn more about creating a culture of connection and healing at home, contact Joanna.
About: We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device.
Peace on earth begins with peace at home.
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Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and consultant on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.
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