What can we do as parents:
Don't panic and get in front of it. Use this as an opportunity to have a conversation with your child about it.
So for teenagers say something like
“I’m sure you’ve heard that there is some footage from Friday going around online. “Have you seen it? Or has it come up in your social media at all?"
For younger children – go back and check the restrictions on their devices, tell them to check with you if they see something scary online.
If they haven't seen it or say no they haven't seen it, then check in with them that they
1) know it is illegal content,
2) what to do if it does come up in their social media (flag it, report and close it).
3)also, highlight that every time the video is watched the perpetrator achieves his goal a little bit more.
Most young people won't have seen it, and most will not want to see it. Be factual without sensationalising and therefore glamourising it. Be mindful that we don't perpetuate it. If we make a big thing of it, it makes it more appealing.
If they have seen it or you find out that they have seen it:
Don’t panic and don’t judge and say something out of shock like “why on earth would you do something like that” – You want to be in their corner for this and if they have seen it you want them to be able to talk to you about if they need to.
Teenagers brains are wired differently, half way between maturity and a sense of invincibility, they are wired to take risks more readily and don’t necessarily think of the consequences, especially if peers are involved. FYI, it isn't just teenagers who have watched this material either.
Remember not everyone who has seen it will be impacted in the same way.
If they have seen it talk about how they felt and listen – there is no wrong feeling around this and you need to be as neutral as possible. Most will probably reveal a mixture of curiosity and revulsion but nothing is wrong and all feelings are valid. Listening to them and how it made them feel gives us some insight into what sense they made of it and what to do in order to support them.
Do not get drawn into a conversation about the details of what they saw. Reliving it in a conversation with you isn't helpful as the brain relives it as they recall it. You also don't want to worry them about something they may not have been that worried about.
Again not all people who watched this will be traumatised, but as we cant unsee things be mindful that this may be something that crops up later on even if there isn't an obvious impact now.
Use this as a time to have a conversation about good digital citizenship and safe internet usage and also if relevant a conversation about using the internet that promotes mental health and well being. That includes choosing to consume information about Friday's attack that focuses on how NZ has come together in rejection of these ideals, shown true aroha, manaakitanga and kotahitanga.
There is an obvious link between first person shooter gaming and the live stream, and perhaps there may be a desensitising impact of this upon that material that may perversely be a protective factor if they have seen it. This is pure subjecture though on my part.
Signs that this has affected them:
Your child may become withdrawn, have difficulty sleeping, or be talking about the details over and over, they may also find watching news stories about the details of the attack stressful.
Strategies that can help:
breathing and grounding exercises,
The fear part of the brain that is there to protect us, doesn’t differentiate between a real threat and a perceived threat – so we need to give them strategies to take back control of their thoughts and emotions. We need to remind them that although that was tragic, it is over and that they are essentially safe.
Breathing - We can do this by focusing on the breathe and getting out of our head.
The purpose is to ride out the stressful feelings and restore a sense of calm. Try breathing in for four and out for four
Grounding – so again aimed at bringing them out of their own thoughts and into the present – take a deep breath and name:
or simply say to yourself what you see "I am sitting in my chair, it is green, I can see my window, the curtains are open and outside I can see the green garage door".
This brings us back to where we actually are and out of out thoughts.
Connecting with the good that has come out of this tragedy - Focus on the outpouring of love and support that has been prevalent in the wake of Fridays events. Take positive action to restore a sense of balance.
Know when to seek help
There are many available resources being set up to support people who feel affected by this.
Take away: just because your child has seen this, doesn't mean they will be traumatised and even if they are this probably wont have a life long impact. Don't panic as there are things you can do to protect our children and also support them if they have been exposed to this material. How you respond will also play a key part in how they respond.
Dr Emma x
Practical advice for parents. How to support our children's mental health through the aftermath of the attack on Friday
Last night I went onto The Project to talk about how we can support our children during the aftermath of Friday’s terror attack. You can watch the segment here. As always time was short so I wanted to write more comprehensive information for parents.
As the days pass and more information comes to light here are some practical tips and advice to support maintain your child's resilience and mental health in the days and weeks to come. Most of it is common sense but often when we are shocked we need help to remember what we already know.
Thankfully, most children and young people will not be that adversely affected and at most might display a bemused curiosity. As I mentioned last night, they will mainly be looking to us for clues as to how concerned they need to be about this event. So the first thing we can do is check in with ourselves about our own reactions.
If your child is particularly aware, has heard something in school or are older and you want to be the first person to share information with them, here are some ways in which you can frame that conversation.
Some ways in which you can talk with your child about what has happened:
Younger children don’t need to worry about grown up issues, and we need to take the lead in maintaining their sense of the world as a safe place. When talking to younger children (early primary age) simply be factual in a way that they can understand, for example:
“Somebody did something bad and some people were hurt and some died. The police have caught that person and doctors and nurses have been helping those who were hurt”
Older children and Teens will have access to sources other than us at home and we need to be mindful of what sense they have made of it all from the information that they have come across. Try asking open ended questions such as:
“What have you heard? What do you think about that? How does that make you feel?”
Really listen in to their answer to check that they are responding in a mentally healthy way to the news. You can use this as an opportunity to explore how they have made sense of what is going on and remind them that they can talk to you whenever they have questions.
If Friday’s events have had a significant impact on your child (but they were not directly involved):
Some children may be more affected than others, this is because they may be closer to those who were attacked and see similarities between themselves and them. They may be worried what has happened could also happen to them. If your child needs reassurance give it to them in the form of physical closeness, maintaining normal routines and responding to their emotional needs.
For example: if your child is asking lots of questions about specific details, understand that this is an attempt to try and gain certainty over a very uncertain situation. Try not to get caught up in answering these questions and try saying something like:
“I think you are asking lots of questions because you are worried, that is natural as it was very shocking. I was shocked too. This is what I am doing to make myself feel better and safer (see some tips below)”.
This acknowledges their feelings and also gives them a sense that they can manage them and regain control over their own safety. You need to empathise and be honest but respect that their brains are still developing, and they don’t yet have the ability to rationalise and think things through like you. Your job is to model that scary thoughts and feelings do not need to control us and we have the power to manage them.
Ongoing Media Coverage
Humans tend to seek to make sense of tragedy by poring over the details. There is no reassurance to be found in the details of the attack, only in how we now come together to overcome it. Therefore, you might need to be more proactive in supporting older children and teens who have access to social media or have more insight to make sense of what has happened and also the continued news and media stories.
Regaining a sense of order and control
Terror attacks by their very nature, make us feel powerless and vulnerable. Some people deal with those feelings by getting angry and looking for someone, or some group of people, to blame. Other people become anxious and overwhelmed by this sense of powerlessness. The healthiest way to deal with this is to come together as families, communities and as a nation to stand against the ideals that do not represent us as Kiwis. We have seen many examples of this in the news over the weekend.
Some practical ways in which you can do this are:
Livestream of the attack
Prepare your children who have access to social media and the internet that this material is out there online. Let them know that our brains are not designed to watch material like that without being adversely affected. You might also highlight that each time it is watched we give more power to the perpetrator. Ensure your child knows what to do should it come up on their feed.
No-one is immune to this, a recording of the live stream came up on my Facebook feed. I reported it and it was removed within six minutes. This is a small way we can personally restore the balance.
If your child or young person (or even you) have seen the livestream
Talk about how it has affected you. Do not go over and over it in great detail, this can cause more damage than good. Simply acknowledge that you have been exposed to potentially traumatising material and take steps to manage your mental health and well being in relation to this.
Despite what some media outlets have been reporting, the perpetrator did not undertake this atrocity due to having played violent online games. Whilst there is a multitude of research as to the impact of first person shooter games on the developing brain (which is a separate issue in itself), games like Fortnite and Halo did not cause that person to commit this atrocity, hatred and extremism are to blame.
Remember to access help if you need it
Dr Emma x
NB: This is meant as a general guide for parents and not specifically meant for parents of children who were directly impacted by Friday's events.
Last week I was invited to speak on the TVNZ Breakfast show in response to a controversial statement made by a UK based sociologist Ellis Cashmore. Ellis Cahsmore’s upcoming book “Screen Society” challenges the common train of thought that screen exposure is damaging for our children. Instead, he warns parents against banning the internet at home, claiming it’s “tantamount to child abuse”.
You can see the interview here:
As I said on the show, this statement is controversial but it acts as a conversation starter for a much-needed discussion about constructive technology-based experiences and routines for our kids.
There is no doubt we are in the midst of a technological revolution and we need to be thinking about how we prepare our children for their digital future.
There are definite social - and educational - advantages to the internet and also screen time. The internet has exposed many areas of life previously unknown; opening opinions, dialogue and discourse about human rights and progressing civil liberties. All of which are exciting and necessary landscapes for our children to be exposed to.
A complete ban on screen time is incredibly unrealistic. But, screen time also has its own consequences.
The truth is that there is no clear information because technology, and our interaction with it, is moving much faster than we can research. Society itself is moving at a faster pace than any other period in our human evolution and we are - to some extent - playing catch up.
However, there are some health and social risks associated with technology. We do know there is a link between increased screen time and childhood obesity and type two diabetes.
From a neurological standpoint there is also a potential difference in brain chemistry due to higher levels of dopamine being released while using screens during critical brain development periods. Our current understanding of this risk is limited. But erring on the side of caution is safest practise.
With regards to social skills and children, there is research highlighting the impact of excessive screen time on attention span, being able to delay gratification (basically wait for things as most things in screen world are instant), and the ability to read nonverbal cues and nuances in face-to-face social interactions. These are critical skills for children to develop to get what they need from their ever-changing environment; connection, attachment and attention.
Additionally, children’s language development, specifically their expressive language development is significantly impacted by increased exposure to screen time.
So. Do I advocate for a totally tech free childhood?
No. A totally tech free childhood comes at a cost too. A child may not be unhappy with what they don’t know they are missing out on. But they won’t necessarily learn the skills the current environment expects from them including digital literacy. I’m reminded of the M N Shyamalan’s movie “The Village” where villagers are happy in their little “safe” bubble, but are totally unprepared for real life.
The lure of screens...
In order to weigh up the pros and cons of screen time, it also helps to understand why we are drawn to screens.
There is a powerful neurotransmitter in our brain called dopamine which is released when we see something novel – it is also involved in our brain’s reward pathways and indicated in addiction.
In truth we spend so much time connected to screens because we find it gratifying and enjoyable. Humans also crave connection as we are social animals. Screens provide instant connection and reward. However, screen use is not the only way in which this should be experienced.
Excessive internet use and screen time could come at the cost of other slower-paced experiences and being present in the moment with others. These are also known to be crucial for our social development, mental health and well being. So. What can we do?
Mentor rather than Monitor:
It’s not as simple as providing an exact period of time for parents to enforce. Screen use, and our teaching of it as parents isn’t a passive process. We have to actively promote a mindful rather than mindless use of technology. We need to teach our children how to use the internet safely and respectfully of others while also developing the critical skill of self-awareness. If our children are self-aware they are more able to know when something is wrong. This means they are more protected against cyber-bullying or indeed self-monitoring their own screen time use and whether this is to the detriment of other activities and experiences.
It can be helpful to build in trust milestones around their usage which is based on maturity rather than chronological age. Just because a child is of a certain age, does not mean they are ready for different aspects of screen time.
Alongside these strategies, teaching our children how to delay gratification and enjoy the small things in life is important. It’s about giving them a well rounded childhood. For time spent on screens, there should also be time spent playing outside, riding their bikes and being bored so they can develop imaginative play.
With the world becoming more interconnected and instant the internet can perpetuate a sense of increased individualism, so we need to teach our children how make reflective, right and ethical choices not just for themselves but for the good of others. I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say perhaps the future for a harmonious humanity depends on it!
Modelling appropriate balance in screen time.
It’s maybe an uncomfortable exercise, but reflect on your own screen use and ensure the beep of your device doesn’t cut short your own social interactions. Think how differently you parent when you are distracted! A recent study in 2016 showed that 70% of the kids surveyed felt their parents used social media too much.
If your get tantrums and meltdowns when asking your child to come off their screen, one really helpful strategy is to use the is the:
build a bridge technique
Next time that they are in the zombie zone sit next to them and engage them in conversation about what they are doing to help their brain to transition from screen world to real world.
So how much screen time for children?
The simple answer: not much and none for children under two. The experts suggest that babies and toddlers are kept away from all screens. Screens aren’t really needed for the brain development of very young children under two. They get their needs met through social connection with other loving human beings.
Children aged 2-5 years should have no more than an hour of non-structured leisure-based screen time hour a day.
The American Academy of Paediatrics goes on to recommend that parents of two- to five-year-old children:
Lastly, children aged 5-18 years should have no more than two hours a day. I understand that’s a tough call for teenagers, especially with homework often requiring computer time. But remember that the real issue is non-educational, leisure screen time, so you may want to discount homework screen time.
Parents should be able to decide if these guidelines are too harsh, and allow some screen time flexibility, but not caring at all about the amount of time your children spend in front of screens, especially when we have no clear evidence on the impact -good or bad - could be risky.
We need also to remember like anything else screen time for fun should potentially be seen as a privilege rather than a right. Education is a right, an extra half an hour browsing through YouTube or building a minecraft village is a privilege.
So what does all this mean?
I agree with Ellis Cashmore, that we would question a parent who totally restricted their child’s access to books, toys or interacting with other children, so why totally restrict the internet?
However, as much as the internet provides an amazing learning resource, children also need to have a space to make their own fun and learning using their own imagination. It’s a skill I think children really need, because we live in such a hyper-connected environment. This is especially important regarding the way in which our brain responds to screens and the internet and how this can potentially be at the cost of engagement with other experiences.
Children need time to disconnect and be children and let their little brains catch up with themselves.
The internet and screens are a way of life but so is playing in the mud and climbing trees – and all have a vital part to play in the skills today’s children need for a successful tomorrow.
The key takeaway from this topic is to try and ensure balance, knowing that excessive screen time can come at a cost. There are many ways in which we can connect and learn, the internet and screens are a simply one of these ways, not the only way.
The internet is just a thing, it’s how we use it, or let it use us, that is perhaps most important.
Bullying in Schools
Earlier this week I was interviewed on The AM show about bullying in New Zealand schools. The topic is huge and has widespread implications for not just our tamariki, but our family wellbeing and the culture of our schools. It’s a big topic and 3 minutes barely scratches the surface, so I have written a blog to expand on the topics we touched on during the interview.
If you would like, you can watch the interview here:-http://www.newshub.co.nz/home/shows/2018/04/is-your-child-being-bullied.html
In 2017 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development - or the OECD - published a report on student well being. The report highlighted that New Zealand has the second highest rate of student reports of bullying across the 34 countries that took part.
This rate was 26.1 %, meaning over a quarter of our children will experience some degree of physical or psychological bullying during their school years. The OECD average was 18.7%. It is still alarmingly high, but nearly 10% lower than the New Zealand figure. Other first world countries including Canada, the US, Australia and the UK all have lower levels of reported bullying.
This is not just problematic for the person being bullied. Bullying has profound consequences for everybody involved; those who are perpetrators, those who are bullied and those who witness it. Given the current figures, there will be no child in New Zealand who hasn’t been exposed to some element of bullying during their schooling.
So, what is bullying?
Bullying can take on many forms and common examples of bullying include:
Bullying also involves a repetition of the behaviour including threats of repetition that are designed to coerce, dominate or intimidate through fear.
Bullying targets our biggest need as a human, social connection. The impact of bullying damages our self-esteem and stops us from us from reaching our true potential by making us feel worthless and ashamed.
So, why do people bully?
To begin to tackle the issue of bullying it can be helpful to ask why people bully in the first place. Understanding the different circumstances that lead to bullying can help us to create a wide range of strategies to combat it within a school environment.
There are several key reasons that might cause a child to bully another child;
So, what can we do in schools?
The adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is particularly apt for the issue of bullying. A culture shift needs to happen. What we can glean from the OECD report on bullying is that countries that scored the lowest - such as the Netherlands with a figure of 9.3% - also tended to have a greater focus on wellbeing and belonging in schools.
One place we can start to impact our national bullying rate is to look at the culture of our schools. Schools that actively value and model inclusivity, belonging and student wellbeing alongside academics and sporting achievements tend to have lower levels of bullying.
If you are unsure about the culture of your child’s school, ask to see their anti-bullying policy and their wellbeing policy. If you are unhappy with how your school appears to deal with bullying, offer feedback and suggestions to help cultivate a proactive relationship between the school, families and pupils. Chances are if you’re unhappy there will be other families in a similar boat. Often it’s just starting the conversation that is needed.
If you are happy with your schools anti-bullying policy, reinforce the same rules and values at home.
So, What can we do as parents?
I don’t think there is a parent in New Zealand who isn’t worried about bullying. It’s hard enough supporting children with their academic, sporting and social activities without adding the worry of friendship connections and the corrosive threat of bullying. As I have stated, the best approach to bullying is to take preventative measures with your children, rather than waiting until they are involved in bullying.
It is really important to not label a child with either the word bully or victim. It is far more effective to talk about the behaviour not the person. If a child is labelled as something, this then becomes part of who they are rather than what they do and becomes more fixed and more difficult to change. Sometimes the the only difference between bullying or being bullied is a matter of circumstances.
What if your child tells you they are being a target of bullying?
This can be every parent’s worst nightmare, however it’s important to stay calm and reassure your child they have done the right thing by talking with you.
How do you know if your child is being bullied?
Some children may not report that they are being bullied. If you are worried your child is being bullied, signs to look out for include:
What if it is your child is bullying another child?
As I have mentioned, there are also serious implications for those doing the bullying. If your child is bullying another child they will also need a huge amount of love and support.
Remember, it is a difficult issue to navigate with children and as a parent it’s easy to feel out of our depth, or to let our own emotions or concerns impede the process. To help, I’ve listed some excellent resources to help you:-
If you have any concerns or queries, you can contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org