Panel asks the question: How are our kids doing? 0
DEEP RIVER - Parents, educators and support services are assessing the state of today's youth and how they are coping with the societal struggles and challenges they face.
Mackenzie Community School hosted a special forum focusing on youth issues Wednesday night called "How are our kids doing?"
While the session highlighted the programs and services that parents, caregivers, teachers and the kids themselves can access, it also attempted to truthfully answer that question.
Counsellors who observe students on a daily basis painted a conflicting picture of how youth perceive the world around them. Kelly Miller, with the Mackenzie student support team, explained that youth want to be listened to and treated with respect but feel liberated to talk openly about relationships and comfortable holding adult-type conversations. They also believe they are entitled to make major decisions for themselves.
The flip side of that confidence, however, is that they have no fear of the authority figures in their lives, namely teachers and parents. Unlike years ago when adults took more interest in what trouble kids may have been up to, today the community has backed off from those responsibilities, contended Steve Madigan, also with the student support team.
"Students tend to be risk takers but they also tend to have things they excel in," said Mr. Madigan adding parents are reacting to situations rather than being more proactive.
Depression and anxiety rate high among the challenges facing teenagers and it drastically impacts their behaviour, he added. They also can't handle the pressures of adult-like emotions that can occur in relationships. For example, a girl at age 13 may feel like it is the end of the world if she breaks up with a boyfriend.
"They don't have as many coping skills as perhaps in past generations," noted Mr. Madigan.
Many of the social problems that befall today's kids, including depression, bullying, eating disorders and relationship breakdowns, fester within peer groups. Social media plays a major role in making matters worse for youth.
"Teenagers are not very discreet," explained Kelly Hawley, with North Renfrew Family Services. "There's an increase in an availability to harm one another. The boundaries have been skewed."
Either to use as a coping mechanism or to gain favour with their peers, youth are turning to substance abuse. While marijuana was common among the high school crowd 10 to 20 years ago, new drugs such as cocaine, Ecstasy and crystal meth can be found in high school hallways. According to Constable Marek Brela, Deep River community youth liaison officer, what is more frightening is that the awareness of what drugs are available on the streets can come to students as early as grades seven and eight.
Lack of respect for authority and an abdication of responsibility by parents came up as common themes among the speakers. Many kids learn their behaviour from those who are meant to be their role models, their parents. Patti Smith, with the Renfrew County District Public Health Unit, noted that 20 per cent of adults, ages 20 to 35 are living with high stress and 30 per cent are considered heavy drinkers.
In the area, families and troubled youth have access to the support services and resources they require, said Ruby Dimayuga, co-chairwoman of the Mackenzie Community School Council, however it remains a parent's choice. In this day and age, things like Facebook, Twitter and other social media avenues have made things tougher for parents to deal with their kids.
"Information technology, being as good as it is, has just thrown more complicated and sophisticated variables out there for parents," she said.
The key to building a sound relationship with your child is establishing a bond with them within their first five years of life, she explained.
Kids want to grow up too fast, Ms. Dimayuga added, and they can't deal with the accelerated pace of responsibilities that go with adulthood.
"Up to the age of 18 or 19, we still need to parent our kids. We're in the thinking that the more independent they are the better they are. Not necessarily," she explained. "They still need those limits, they still need those boundaries and we have to set those for them because we are the adults."
The forum was funded through a Parent Reaching Out grant from the Ministry of Education.
Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist