Setting healthy expectations is challenging in a time where all things seem possible (‘facetime’ with grandparents who live far away) and yet for some also impossible (finding gainful employment in a transitional, global economy). In our lifetime we have seen the rapid advancement of communications technology making the world a smaller place in a “voila!” point-and-click world, and all the while the realm of heart and mind appears more like a foreign land. Indeed it is true that all of our smarty-pants technology and communication does not yield prosperity for all.
In the network culture, it is easy to believe things that are not necessarily true and to focus on things that don’t matter. And parents feel very real pressure; experiences range from the financial insecurity that comes from unintended consequences of major economic transitions leaving many people struggling to make ends meet in a state of poverty that can be relentless, to inflated costs for college education seducing children and parents to incur huge sums of debt with little immediate payout on the other end with job income.
Much of the media and other official commentary about the labor statistics indicate that the overall health of the economy is not appearing strong. We hear statements from talking heads in the media that include: “It is an anemic recovery”, “Job growth is slow,” and “It is not a robust recovery.” A recent press release by The Conference Board, Kathy Bostjancic, Director of MacroEconomic Analysis typifies that consensus. “A gain of only 113,000 new jobs in January, on the heels of the even slower gain in December, likely sparks uncertainty about the strength of the labor market and direction of the overall U.S. economy…”
The unemployment rate at 6.6% (as reported in the New York Times Feb. 7) does not mean much for a parent struggling to raise children in a single parent home, working one or two part time jobs. We don’t need the experts to tell us what is happening with statistics about that which we are witnessing and experiencing in own families and communities. Many folks, especially children, are encountering valleys and gulfs in the realm of heart and mind that seem impossible at times to traverse because we are not yet able to see new employment opportunities.
Hope can at times feel elusive.
Mentors can help parents by encouraging their children
Dr. Susan Weinberger, President of the Mentor Consulting Group in Norfolk, Connecticut, specializes in developing mentoring programs for youth. She is concerned that youth today have a greater need for mentoring – beyond what many parents are able to provide in the current economic environment. “Many parents are financially stressed with two income households and single parent households with only one income,” she said. “And young parents aren’t aware they can reach out and get help with the children through mentor programs, like Big Brother/Big Sister, which can help reduce the cycle of poverty. The idea is to keep hope alive in very stressful circumstances.”
Dr. Weinberger’s concern is rooted in her experience working with school communities across the United States. Her observation is beautifully illustrated in a recent CBS report on teen stress which indicated that while today’s adults remain stressed about finance and is consistent with past generations, modern teenagers are more stressed than ever causing concern for long term health. According to the report, a recent survey by the American Psychological Association indicated that teenagers are experiencing more stress than adults, and just as important, they report not knowing what to do about the stress: “Teens during the school year averaged a 5.8 out of 10 on a stress scale, far above the 3.9 score considered to be a normal level of stress.”
And the teens that do take time to manage stress, report going to sedentary activities rather than sports or physical exercise. A significant number reported using the internet (43 percent) and video games (46 percent). This is concerning because physical exercise is one of the important ways to manage stress, as the report indicated that teens who indicated they were exercising once a week had stress levels of stress 4.0, compared to 5.1 levels reported by teens who exercises less frequently.
“More than half (54 percent) of teens with high stress say they surf the Internet or go online to manage stress, compared to just 24 percent of teens with low stress.” – American Psychological Association
According to Weinberger, the issues parents and children face today can be monumental. She concludes that the needs of youth today are greater than ever before and it is her hope that parents may consider the tremendous benefits when mentors step in to relieve families of some of the burden. Some youth have the ability to seek and surround themselves with mentors on their own. Others would not unless we reach out and find mentors for them.
“Simply stated, I am talking here about formal youth mentoring,” she said. “It is defined as a structured and trusting relationship that brings young people together with caring individuals who offer guidance, support, and encouragement aimed at developing the competence and character of the young people.”
Weinberger’s tips to find a mentor for your child
How do parents go about the process of finding a mentor for one or more of their children? Begin the inquiry with programs in your own community. The list may include:
- Local school district
- Boys & Girls Club
- United Way agency
- Voluntary Action Center
- Big Brothers Big Sisters agency
- Churches or Synagogues
- After school programs
(Mentor finder: go to the website of MENTOR. Insert your zip code under the “find a mentor” section and learn what is available in your town.)
Weinberger wants parents to be assured that mentoring organizations offer great benefits for them and their children. “When contacting one or all of the agencies listed above, ask each potential organization if it incorporates the Elements of Effective Practice, the quality assurance standards that govern all great and safe mentoring programs,” she said. “The principles are also outlined on the website of MENTOR. These include that the mentors are carefully screened including criminal background checks, personal references, employment history and places of residences. The agency trains and matches mentors with youth and provides on going monitoring and supervision.”
What can parents expect from a mentor for their child?
- Properly trained mentors will serve as a youth’s advocate.
- Talk to the youth’s family about how the youth is doing in school, researches opportunities that would benefit the youth and family, helps the youth to sign up for after school activities, and talks to other people who are or could be important in the life of the youth.
- Make sure that youth have the things they need to be successful and to explore their talents and interests.
- Help youth to improve their self esteem, peer relationships. and academic performance.
- Provide important assistance to families as they meet the challenges every day of raising their children.
- Mentors have advice, experience, resources and contacts to benefit the youth.
Over the past decade I have come to appreciate that one of the most important things parents can do for the sake of our children and ourselves is to put aside shame. Let us consider the things that show up in dramatic, cyber-powered fashion that impart shame:
- Loss of a job
- Loss of a home
- Prolonged unemployment
- Poverty conditions
- Addiction to drugs and/or alcohol
- Being different – sexual orientation & identity, college-bound or vocational tracks, etc.
- Sexual exploitation and/or abuse
In all of these circumstances, the individual sees herself or himself as being isolated or unworthy to be in the company of the crowd with whom they choose to identify. And the most shame-inspiring experience can be poverty conditions, which Dr. Weinberger acknowledges (above) are increasingly difficult.
Empowering parents, empowers kids
Lisa Velarde is the Chief Executive Officer of Kids First, a Roseville, California non-profit dedicated to help families overcome circumstances that inspire hopelessness and abuse. “We are a resource hub for children and families,” Velarde said. “We serve families from all socio-economic backgrounds because parents and children are in crisis for a lot of reasons; it is more than a financial circumstance; it is also an emotional and spiritual condition resulting from stress that can lead to abuse.”
Velarde wants parents from all communities to know that there is no shame in seeking help.
Do you have a teen that is acting out of control? Are you having a hard time finding a job and securing decent childcare? Are you in a housing crisis? Are you depressed and just don’t know where to turn? Is your spouse abusing you or the children? Have your current circumstances made parenting your children a goal that is out of your reach?
Kids First focuses on strengthening the parent-child relationship by helping the parent navigate the myriad of services available for families and parents in crisis in Placer County. “Our family service includes parent advocates, called ‘navigators’ who assist the parent in assessing their own situation objectively and identifying the services in the county that can help.”
Kids First also makes parent training available because when we are in a state of crisis, it is easy to become abusive. “Our training includes an observation room where we give parents an opportunity to interact with their child while we are observing from a one-way mirror,” Velarde said. “Then we are able to give instructive feedback on how to be more effective in guiding children’s conduct.”
In addition to helping parents, Kids First offers mentoring for older teens who suffered trauma from abuse. Last January, Kids First was awarded a grant by KaiserPermanente to mentor youth in the Sacramento area who suffered abuse in their childhood grow into a healthier adulthood.
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Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.