At a recent parenting Skills course that I facilitated, a really interesting question was asked by a mother; ‘was it easier when we were young?’ This question got me thinking and I wondered if the world had indeed become a more complicated place to grow up in.

In the 1990’s the term ‘Screen-ager’, was coined to describe a generation of people born into the technological age. From infancy through to adulthood a new generation have become accustomed to interacting with an electronic screen which absorbs and entertains. While this has many benefits in terms of accessing information and increasing our technological know how – there are inherent problems with this trend for human development. Human beings are inherently social creatures but with the rise of technology we have entered a fundamentally lonely era. Communication is now commonly via text message e-mail or various social media sites. People are literally loosing the habit of interacting with each other face to face. This has consequences when it comes to developing real, as against virtual relationships. Young people are becoming conditioned to relating through screens and one of the new tasks that faces parents and guardians is to teach young people how to establish and cultivate authentic relationships. Through interaction with others young people establish their own identity and become self confident and autonomous individuals. This is the ultimate task of adolescence. Equipped with a strong identity and personality, individuals can cope with the trials and tribulations of life.

Research in the field of neuroscience demonstrates that interfacing with technology increases the activity of the frontal cortex in the brain. These changes can affect behaviour and mood leading to hyper stimulation, aggressivity, impatience and low mood. The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain undergoing great development during the period of adolescence (11-23 years). Prolonged and overextended use of technology results in the development of neural pathways which seek pleasure and instant gratification and ultimately affects the individual’s decision making processes.

How can we counter act this? Can we as parents and guardians promote the development of reasoned decision making processes, aid identity formation and encourage the formation of character traits, such of self belief and determination, empathy and compassion within our young people?

Yes we can and the way we do this is through building fantastic relationships with our young people through real Communication.

Parents often make the comment that they notice that the young person in their life never talks to them anymore or that when they ask them a question, the response is usually one word; ‘Fine’. In my experience young people are always eager to speak and are usually trying to communicate all the time. Real communication only happens when we are comfortable with someone and trust them. Parents and guardians can become people young people trust, by spending time with them. So why not ensure that each week you make time to spend time together doing something enjoyable and relaxing? You can use these times together to find out your young person’s views about their life, what are their opinions? What do they like, what do they dislike? Remember that you might not like the answers, so be prepared to receive answers and opinions that you won’t always agree with. It is vital to remember that this is another individual who is trusting you enough to express their preferences. Every conversation is an opportunity for each of you to get to know each other better.

When we cultivate authentic relationships with each other we lay the foundations for good mental health throughout life.

Remember that ultimately the golden rule is to remember to Listen

  • Link in with young people on a regular basis
  • Develop an Interest in their lives and friends without being prying
  • Spend quality time together
  • Trust yourself and trust the young person
  • Encourage independence by remembering to give choices
  • Nurture a loving relationship by remembering to tell a young person that you love him/her
  • Praise often! catch those moments when things go well

When a young person feels isolated and lonely and feels that they have no one to talk to about their concerns and worries, they can end up feeling unable to cope with life and become depressed and anxious. Depression and anxiety is a very real problem for some young people and should never be minimized or dismissed. Some signs and symptoms that can be a signal of deep upset can be:

  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Irritability and unwarranted displays of anger
  • Tearfulness or frequent crying
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Consider how long the symptoms have been present, how severe they are, and how different the young person is acting from his or usual self. Ask the young person about how they are feeling. If you are really concerned then seek help from a professional.

Young people need people around them as mentors, confidantes and co- pilots as they negotiate the stormy seas of adolescence. Parents and guardians are the best placed to fulfill this role. Their destination is independence and strong identity and other human beings provide the co- ordinates for arriving at these ports: sat nav or other technological devices are of limited use if the battery goes!

Fostering a positive and strong relationship between you and your young person means that if they feel overwhelmed, worried or stressed by aspects of their lives, they will speak to you about it rather than keeping it bottled up and becoming more upset. Building strong relationships with young people ensures that they will develop into creative, productive and compassionate individuals.

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