There is a silent tragedy that is unfolding today in our homes and concerns our most precious treasure: our children. In a recent article from written by Dr. Luis Rojas Marcos, a psychiatrist, for Valuing Children Initiative, he unpacked some alarming facts. Much of the content below is taken from his findings in this report.
Our children are in a devastating emotional state! In the last 15 years, researchers have given us increasingly alarming statistics on a sharp and steady increase in childhood mental illness that is now reaching epidemic proportions:
Statistics do not lie:
- 1 in 5 children have mental health problems
- A 43% increase in diagnosed ADHD
- A 37% increase in adolescent depression has been noted
- There has been a 200% increase in the suicide rate in children aged 10 to 14
From an article in Becker Hospital Review on Jan 16, 2022, suicide in very young children continues to rise in alarming rates. From January through September 2021, children’s hospital cases related to self injury, suicide ideation and attempts in kids ages 5 to 17 rose 53 percent from the same period in 2020.
What is happening and what are we doing wrong?
Today’s children are being over-stimulated and over-gifted with material objects, but they are deprived of the fundamentals of a healthy childhood, such as:
- Emotionally available parents
- Clearly defined limits
- Balanced nutrition and adequate sleep
- Movement in general but especially outdoors
- Creative play
- Social interaction,
- Unstructured game opportunities
- Time to be bored
Instead, in recent years, children have been filled with:
- Digitally distracted parents
- Indulgent and permissive parents who let children “rule the world” and whoever sets the rules
- A sense of right, of deserving everything without earning it or being responsible for obtaining it
- Inadequate sleep and unbalanced nutrition
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Endless stimulation
- Technological nannies,
- Instant gratification
- Absence of boring moments
What to do?
If we want our children to be happy and healthy individuals, we have to wake up and get back to basics. As Christ followers, we deeply desire to inspire our children to grasp the personal life-giving relationship they can have with all of their life our Creator Father God. To grow children spiritually, the first priority daily is to read the Bible and demonstrate how to live out the truths in God’s Word. As the spiritual stewards of our children, it is our privilege and responsibility to guide our children in their spiritual development.
It is still possible to raise positive, well-adjusted children. In response to the startling statistics highlighted above, the suggestions below have been carefully compiled. Many families see immediate improvements after weeks of implementing the following recommendations:
• Set limits and remember that you are the captain of the ship. Your children will feel more confident knowing that you have control of the helm. I often remind myself that I am the grown up. I am the parent. Sometimes in the heat of a situation, it is easy to lose perspective. Establish boundaries before a situation occurs and stick with your plan.
• Offer children a balanced lifestyle full of what children NEED, not just what they WANT. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to your children if what they want is not what they need.
• One of the most important daily activities that all children need from the time they are infants until they are getting ready to go to college is daily reading time with a parent. Obviously, when they are young a parent should read out loud to them. Reading to a child who is snuggled on your lap creates a sense of belonging in addition to growing the child in literacy. Reading early in the day and before bed would be a doable routine. Many parents stop reading with their child and to their child once they are independent readers. Childhood development experts all agree that parents should carve out time daily to read to a child and listen to them read out loud. Not only does this habit build a love for reading, it keeps the parent current with the child’s reading competency and reading level. At our house we read the Bible out loud with the children every day. We select quality books to read together. My older children and I take turns reading to each other. Reading together daily should be one of the daily consistent activities that you and your child share.
• Provide nutritious food and limit junk food. This is best followed if a child’s parents embrace healthy choices in food and exercise. If you aren’t motivated to do this for yourself, do it for your children.
• Spend at least one hour a day outdoors doing activities such as cycling, walking, fishing, bird/insect watching, playing active games and just taking in the fresh air.
• Enjoy a daily family dinner without smartphones or distracting technology. Let everyone feel valued. Protect the togetherness and conversation that occurs when you carve out time with the family each day.
• Play board games as a family. If children are too young for board games, select other stimulating activities that encourage teamwork. Board games encourage learning to strategize, to win graciously and to lose politely. These are great life skills.
• Involve your children in some homework or household chores according to their age (folding clothes, hanging clothes, unpacking food, setting the table, feeding the dog, etc.) Check out this Age Appropriate Contribution Chart.
• Implement a consistent sleep routine to ensure your child gets enough sleep. The schedules will be even more important for school-age children. Keeping a routine or schedule provides stability and security as children know what they can expect.
• Teach responsibility and independence. Do not overprotect them against all frustration or mistakes. Misunderstanding will help them build resilience and learn to overcome life’s challenges.
• Do not carry your children’s backpack, do not carry the homework they forgot, do not peel bananas or peel oranges if they can do it on their own (4-5 years). Instead of giving them the fish, teach them to fish.
• Teach them to wait and delay gratification. Provide opportunities for “boredom”, since boredom is the moment when creativity awakens. Do not feel responsible for always keeping children entertained.
• Do not use technology as a cure for boredom, nor offer it at the first second of inactivity.
• Avoid using technology during meals, in cars, restaurants, shopping centers. Use these moments as opportunities to socialize by training the brains to know how to work when they are in mode: “boredom”
• Help them create a “bottle of boredom” with activity ideas for when they are bored.
• Be emotionally available to connect with children and teach them self-regulation and social skills:
• Turn off the phones at night when children have to go to bed to avoid digital distractions.
• Become a regulator or emotional trainer for your children. Teach them to recognize and manage their own frustrations and anger.
• Teach them to greet, to take turns, to share without running out of anything, to say thank you and please, to acknowledge the error and apologize (do not force them), be a model of all those values you instill.
• Connect emotionally – smile, hug, kiss, tickle, read, dance, jump, play or crawl with them.
“We are complex combinations of strengths and weaknesses. There are things that we can do with ease. There are other things that are painful and arduous.”
― Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart
As we search for opportunities to develop our children in their strengths and weaknesses, we also pursue the expansion of our maturity as parents. Leaning into a true heart of love for our children and focusing on the shepherding their spiritual development offers an insightful perspective. So, as Christ followers, our deepest heart’s desire should be to see our children understand the gospel, love the Word of God and find the joy that comes from living a life as Christ follower. Much of what creates risks for our children can be eliminated if they embrace the fullness of what God created them to be in their own unique lives.
As parents we have so much we can do to eliminate the potential of these silent tragedies in our own children. Much of what I share is directed at nurturing our homes. These simple, practical, everyday ideas offer hope to our children.