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Parenting

Packing for School Survival

By Dr. Scott Hamilton
August 9, 2019

When I was in third grade, one classmate, Jack, was incessantly bullied. Jack was heavy-set and wore thick glasses. Even worse, when he got teased, he shrieked at his harassers, rewarding them with a show disrupting the whole class. The teacher seemed unequipped to deal with Jack and his teasers, wringing her hands every time Jack was set off. This went on for weeks before Jack moved to a different school. 40 years ago episodes like this were rare, and few teachers knew what to do.

It’s time to get the kids ready for school- uniforms, backpacks, notebooks, etc.  It’s also time to get kids ready in their heads. I was always excited for the new school year; September and fall weather still make me happy, but I loved school. Many kids don’t, and dread another year of bullying, isolation and drudgery. The unluckiest kids are those starting a new school, becoming “the new kid” without friends and those with underlying anxiety, mood, or behavior issues.

When those psychologically vulnerable kids get bullied, particularly if they are new in school, sometimes these kids become suicidal. They begin to think that anything is better than this, even death. Suicide is on the rise, including Lafayette parish.  Our suicide rates are comparable with those of New Orleans and Baton Rouge.This fall more unhappy children will come to our Emergency Department, their parents seeking help before it’s too late.

Thus it’s time to get your child back into counseling, before the offices also become flooded with the September rush of stressed kids. Sometimes kids who are on anti-depressant or mood stabilizing medication stop them over the summer, because things have been stable. First, you shouldn’t stop these medications without talking to your doctor. Going “cold turkey” on them can be medically or psychologically dangerous. Second, with school starting, now is the time to really be on them, before the perfect storm of depression, isolation, and bullying begins. Finally, good mental health starts with getting enough sleep. Time to walk back bedtimes until your kids are going to bed around 8 pm, for a 6 am wake-up.

Willie Geist, co-anchor of the Morning Joe show on MSNBC, discusses parenting in his book "Good Talk Dad: The Birds And The Bees…And Other Conversations We Forgot To Have". Sometimes when his kids behaved badly, Willie would take them to the local New York Police precinct. He’d made friends with the desk sergeants over the years, and enlisted them to scare his kids straight. Playing their part, the officers would stare down at the child and in stereotypical Brooklyn accent, say something like “Hey, whaddya wanna act like that for anyways?”  This got them to behave, for a little while at least.

This episode highlights opposite poles of parenting styles. One end theorizes that kids need respect for authority, and a little fear of adults helps them behave. The other end is parents who feel that children need to learn behavior themselves, with the parent as co-raiser with the kid himself, rather than the all-knowing authority. In this scenario, the parent is more friend than disciplinarian. Willie Geist gets to have it both ways, delegating the fearsome adult role to his local cops, while remaining his kids’ friend.

Some think the increasing child depression and suicide that we discussed above is due to this more recent “child-centered” parenting, and a waning of the older, sterner method. The nicer parent style lets kids make mistakes, and then maintains their self-esteem when they fail. The kid learns from mistakes without the emotional trauma and depression that might ensue from failure (as the theory goes). The older method holds that kids aren’t the emotional center of the universe, that there’s people more important than them (like parents and other adults), and the sooner they learn this the less disappointing life will be. Some ego bruising is a good thing in this model, since recovering from failure leads to emotional resiliency.

I’m with the old model. As a perennial little league disaster, I spent a lot of my childhood feeling like Charlie Brown, not measuring up. I rarely got an award for achievement. Perhaps this has given me emotional stability in a career where death and tragedy are constant worries and occasional outcomes. If this parenting style doesn’t suit you, perhaps look to your local police precinct for help!

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