Tag Archives: Behaviour

Ariana Grande

Changing the script

Before my child was born, I attended a women’s retreat with my mother.  During our reflections, I admitted that I wanted to have a daughter so that I could teach her to be strong, independent and able to defend herself against any and all forms of misogyny.  The facilitator looked me in the eye and asked, why not wish for a boy so you could teach him not to be a misogynist?

It’s an important question.  So often we think of what we can do to teach women not to be victims or at least empowered enough to fight in the face of violence.  There are seminars offered at universities that teach women how not to become victims of sexual violence.  We teach girls how to keep an eye on their drinks at parties, to be aware of their surroundings, to avoid certain places and situations.  We arm girls with tools throughout their lives and yet #metoo.

The world was watching Aretha Franklin’s funeral.  When Ariana Grande took the stage, Bill Clinton enjoyed the performance from behind.  Afterward, Pastor Charles Ellis III called Ariana back onto the stage, wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close.  The pastor later apologized for being ‘too friendly’.  Still, the photos remain a catalyst for conversation.

The reality is that most women have experienced this very situation.  We know what it is like to be in public and feel like some man has held us too close and in a way that has us walking away feeling uncomfortable, questioning what has just happened, wanting to say something but expecting that it would be pointless.  Should we teach our daughters that this is the reality, men don’t typically mean anything by it, just let it go?  Or, is there another possibility?

Among the many tweets #RespectAriana about this moment are comments that affirm the length of a dress does not indicate an invitation.  There are messages confirming that Ariana’s body language clearly showed discomfort.  There are statements that say having your wallet open does not mean anyone can take money from it.

Conversations about women’s bodies are shifting, highlighting that we can’t simply rely on women to protect themselves, rather we need to teach men that women are not objects for their consumption.  Imagine what might happen if parents and teachers used the photo of Ariana Grande and the Pastor to teach boys that when they see that look, when women appear to be wanting to move away – that is a clear signal! They have crossed the line! LET GO!

We need to teach boys the importance of respecting women.  We need to teach boys to take responsibility for the ways they view and treat women.  We need to help boys and men recognise that they have the ability to be allies to women, helping other men recognise the ways in which social expectations about gender continue to undermine the agency of women and perpetuate the belief that women are objects for men to enjoy.  We need to teach boys and men to not rape and/or sexually assault women.

#metoo has helped to bring to light the many ways in which women suffer the consequences of a culture which reinforces norms where male sexuality contributes to perceptions of masculinity.  Parents and teachers can use these tools to help provide an alternative script for relationships.  It is an important opportunity.  How has this been used in your experiences at home and at school?  Do you see a shift happening?  To what extent have you participated in these kinds of conversations?  Let’s talk.  Share your thoughts in the comments.

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/

 

House Party!

While on vacation from work earlier this summer, hubby and I went to a B&B on the lake for a couple of nights to enjoy the local wineries and some quiet time together.  During our absence, we allowed our 18 year old teen to have a friend sleep over and host a dinner party.

Teenage House Parties

Many teen movies over the years have included scenes of the ultimate taste of teen freedom: a parentless home, alcohol and friends.  On screen, this combination often results in out of control behaviour that can become risky and even violent. This can happen in real life too.

Our B&B hosts, shared with us that the reason their daughters never had this kind of house party was that a classmate held a party while his parents were out of town. Those who attended vandalised the home and eventually the police had to be called.

I also remember a similar incident with people I know while in my early teens.  The youngest in the family was left alone for a weekend and held a party.  As things got crazy, his oldest brother was called for help.  Eventually, however, the police had to be called to send the kids home.

Trusting our teen

It’s hard not to think of these possibilities when negotiating with a kid who will be home alone for a couple of nights.  At the same time, I can sympathise with the anxiety that may happen for a kid home alone at night.  So, we encouraged a sleepover and a dinner party because we know the friends who would be invited and trust our teen to be smart.

We also know our neighbours and my parents aren’t far.  We set limits and emphasised that if one person takes a sip of alcohol, smokes, takes drugs or even if someone shows up who was not invited, there is no going back, it is time to call for help.

The result

As we expected, there was no movie worthy house party.  The sleepover was filled with music (they are both musicians and had fun playing the music of “The Piano Guys”), conversation and fun.  The dinner party provided some interesting moments when the group realised making pasta from scratch wasn’t as easy as they thought, so, instead, they ordered pizza and enjoyed playing air hockey, throwing darts, playing other games and music.  It was all very tame but again, we know these kids and recognise that these are trustworthy teens.

Would we do it again?

Since that time, we encouraged the kid to try another dinner party, this time while hubby and I went out for a wine and cooking class at the LCBO.  Again, the group had fun.  There was no damage done (except perhaps a new hole in the drywall when someone missed the target on the dartboard).

This is the value of being familiar with our kid’s friends.  We know who they are.  We are familiar with how they behave in our home.  We have come to trust them as we trust our kid.

So what about you?

What has been your experience?  Would you allow your child to have friends over when you are not home?  Have you had a positive or negative experience when this has happened?  What do parents need to trust their teens in this way?  How does this level of trust nurture and strengthen the relationship between parents and teen?  We would love to hear from you.  Add your thoughts in the comment section.

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/

Go Play Outside

There are multiple memes and posts floating around social media which compare the youth experiences of older generations to a perceived sense of youth today.  Typically these comparisons highlight the wonder of being outside as compared to an assumption that today’s youth are technology obsessed.

It’s Complicated

It is easy to point to technology as the reason young people do not go out and play as has been the reality for children across the centuries.  While technology does provide options that engage young people, it is important to avoid assuming that this is simply a cause and effect equation.

Fear of outside

A plethora of information has fed concerns of parents since the 80s when public service announcements talked about ‘stranger danger’.  The result has been parents are more reluctant to allow their children to play outside citing multiple concerns including traffic, the possibility of being snatched by a stranger, the attitude of neighbours and more.

Added to these concerns are environmental concerns that have been raised recently including the possibility of getting Lyme disease from tick bites  and the increased risk of getting West Nile virus from mosquito bites  These realities help to feed our fears creating a space in which some are beginning to wonder if we are becoming nature phobic.

Scheduled Kids

The prevalence of scheduled activities has also increased significantly over the years enabling parents to enroll their children in everything from sports to music to science programs and more.  Windsor’s Activity Guide provides opportunities for young people to remain active throughout the summer.  While these opportunities can be beneficial for the development of children, a case has been made that scheduling activities makes it harder for children to engage in creative, spontaneous play.

What is meaningful?

In the end, perhaps the more important question to ask is what is meaningful for young people?  The tools available to today are significantly different from anything experienced previously and young people are finding ways to make meaning through technology, programming and quiet time.  While these opportunities may not fit with how we experienced or understand childhood, that doesn’t necessarily mean young people can’t learn, develop and grow through these opportunities.

The key is balance – ensuring that our children are physically and mentally active in ways that make sense for them.  How does this work in your family?  We want to hear from you. Share your thoughts in the comments.

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/

Health Curriculum in Ontario

There seems to be an unending stream of commentaries, opinions and news related to Ontario’s Health curriculum and what will be taught in September.

Why this has become an issue:

Following consultation with the ministry of education, parents, students, teachers, faculties of education, universities, colleges, and organisations including the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the Healthy Schools Coalition and the Ontario Public Health Association, the Provincial Government of Ontario released a major update to the Health Curriculum in 2015.  This new curriculum included information about mental health, online safety, and bullying as well as information about sex and gender variations and the impact of these on relationships.

Some conservative groups did not like this new curriculum and complained that they hadn’t been adequately consulted in its development.  To appeal to these groups, Doug Ford promised to repeal the curriculum and develop a new one with greater consultation.  Thus, one of the first acts of the newly elected government has been to repeal the 2015 curriculum and ask that boards use the same curriculum that was used in 2014 in the classroom until the new curriculum has been developed.

What is at stake?

The curriculum used in 2014 was actually developed in 1998 – before today’s students were even born.  As further discussed in this post, in the twenty years since that curriculum was introduced:

  • we have seen major shifts in the rights and privileges given to the LGBTQ2+ community;
  • Mental health is gaining in understanding and acceptability;
  • The prevalence of technology and social media has opened the way to new issues including cyber bullying, sexting and phishing which place young people at risk;
  • The #metoo movement has highlighted the importance of learning about consent;
  • Research has shown that children are entering puberty at younger ages than ever before.

These are the realities of students today.  Do we really want to leave it up to the media to give young people the tools they need to navigate this new environment as highlighted in this post.

How are people responding?

A lot has been said about the importance of sex education and updated tools students need to stay safe, feel included and make healthy decisions.  Some have shared their personal experiences including this person who was kept out of sex education and suffered abuse and this father who believes his daughter would be alive today if the updated curriculum were taught in her school.

School boards are also concerned.  As of writing this post, more than 20 school boards across the province have delivered statements highlighting the importance of providing up to date tools to navigate health, sexuality and relationships in today’s world.  In this regard, the Director of the Greater Essex County District School Board, Erin Kelly has stated:

“I assure parents, guardians, staff and community members that, regardless of the Health and Physical Education Curriculum being used, the Board will emphasize respect, inclusion and safety for all. We will continue to celebrate the diversity of all our students, support our LGBTQ community and teach about gender issues and acceptance and educate students on internet safety, cyberbullying and the importance of building and sustaining healthy relationships.” (https://www.publicboard.ca/Board/DirectorsMessage/default.aspx#/view/26)

What next?

There is still a lot of ambiguity around what might be taught in regards to health and physical education in September.  There are strong opinions expressed throughout the province about what should be taught and shouldn’t be taught.  Thrive! is a program which seeks to provide tools to help families navigate through the challenges and struggles of today’s world.  So we want to hear from you.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section and/or join us live on Facebook Tuesday, Aug. 7th at 7pm as we talk with a recent graduate about their thoughts on the health and physical education program.

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/

Lessons from SVU

My teenager has been binge watching Law and Order: Special Victims Unit this summer.  This has provided an interesting juxtaposition of life and art in a time when the Sexual Health Curriculum in Ontario is a major topic of conversation as the government seeks to repeal and replace it.

No real person or situation…

Each episode of the series includes a disclaimer that no real person or situation is depicted in the storylines.  At the same time, this show clearly touches on real issues regarding gender, sexuality, consent, bullying and the Internet – all themes that are in the updated curriculum that has now be repealed.

Example 1 – “A Misunderstanding”

The storyline depicts two teenagers who converse via text and then find themselves in the darkroom during a school dance.  The male, wanting to be memorialised as part of the “Cherry pickers’ club”, becomes aggressive despite the pleas of the female for him to ‘slow down’ and ‘don’t go down there’.

The investigation and trial becomes a he said/she said battle that is complicated by teenage insecurity and parental assumptions.  I suspect there are those who could easily relate to and sympathise with the characters on both sides.  As a result, we are reminded that, all too often, young people are not equipped to navigate sexual relationships appropriately leaving them vulnerable to the consequences of ‘a misunderstanding’.

Example 2 – “Transgender Bridge”

A transgender teen is bullied by a group of teenage boys and falls off a bridge.  When the transgender teen dies, the District Attorney decides to try the 15 year old assailant as an adult with the hate crimes statute attached.  The defense argues that a teenager’s impulse control is not fully evolved and that, presented with someone who contradicted his understanding of maleness, he reacted out of confusion and the fear that he didn’t want his friends to think he was gay.

This premise seems to suggest that education about the transgender community could have changed the outcome of such an encounter significantly.  Protection from discrimination based on gender identity and sexuality are provided in Ontario and Canada. Ensuring that young people are taught about these individuals could reduce stigma and the possibility for bullying and violence.

In real life…

Rehtaeh Parsons was 17 years old when she killed herself after having been assaulted by four teens at a party and finding photos of the event online which led to bullying and harassment.  After reviewing the updated Ontario curriculum, Rehtaeh’s father suggests that if that particular curriculum had been taught at his daughter’s school, she might well be alive today because the curriculum “…talks about mental health, it talks about suicide and it talks about consent.”  He goes on to say: “I think the young men involved in Rehtaeh’s case don’t believe what they were doing was sexual assault or rape.  They don’t believe that whatsoever, and I think a lot of the kids in Rehtaeh’s school who victim-blamed her had no idea around issues of consent. If they had, they may not have been so willing to torment her.  If there were courses at school about sexting and sharing an image like that of her – people would have said this is child porn, this is against the law.  And other kids would’ve come to her defence, or they might have confronted the ones who were victim-blaming and calling her names.” See here

There is much to learn…

As mentioned in this post, a lot has changed in the past 20 years.  Art has highlighted these changes through programs like Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.  In Ontario we are currently confronted with the question: what will be taught in schools come September?  What tools do you think our children need to ensure they can safely navigate through the realities of life in 2018?

We want to hear from you: Would you allow your children to watch Law and Order: Special Victims Unit?  How might this program become a springboard to talk with young people about sexuality, gender, relationships and consent?  To what extent do you think these topics should be discussed in schools?

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/

What has changed?

1998-2018

“What were phones like in 1998?”  The question from my teenager could have been viewed as another opportunity for a young person to roll their eyes at ‘Stone Age’ technology from the time before they were born.  It could have been, but, in this case the question arose out of a sense of urgency when it was revealed that the new Provincial Government was rolling back the health curriculum twenty years, fulfilling an election promise.

Twenty years may not seem long for some.  In reality, there are many twenty year periods during which there was not significant changes that would require updating school curricula.  The introduction of a new curriculum in 2015, however, suggests that there were at least some people who felt an update was important.  So, what has changed in the last 20 years that might be useful to include in a health curriculum?

The Toronto Star reflected on this in a 2009 article which looks back on the previous decade and identifies 50 significant changes.  Other notable changes that embrace the two decades include:

  • Google was founded in 1998 and became a recognised verb in dictionaries in 2006 as more and more people used this search engine to discover answers to any question they could ask
  • Legalisation of same sex marriage in Ontario on June 10, 2003 and in Canada on July 22, 2005
  • Gender identity and gender expression have been protected from discrimination in Ontario since 2012 and in Canada since 2017
  • In Sept. 2010 “Bell Let’s Talk” began a new conversation about mental health in Canada in an attempt to raise awareness and funds to support programs that address mental illness.
  • Facebook was founded in February 2004, Twitter in March 2006, Instagram in Oct. 2010 and Snapchat in Sept. 2011
  • Cyber bullying has increased significantly with 1 in 5 young people reporting they had experienced cyber-bullying as early as 2014.
  • The death of Jamie Hubley on Oct. 14, 2011 led to the Ontario Legislature mandating school boards across the province develop tougher anti-bullying programs and offered legal protections for gay-straight alliances in the province’s schools.
  • The deaths of Amanda Todd (2012), Rehtaaeh Parsons (2013) and others, highlighted the vulnerability of young people to exploitation and abuse through the Internet.
  • Time’s person of the year for 2017 was “The Silence Breakers” the women whose experiences of sexual violence led to a renewed awareness of the need to better understand boundaries and consent through the #metoo movement.

These are only a snap shot of the significant things that have happened in the last 20 years.

Parents will always be an important resource for children especially in regards to determining morals and values.  With all that has changed, however, I wonder how many parents feel appropriately equipped to address these changes with our children?  How confident do parents feel about talking about health, gender, sexuality, bullying and relationships in an era when there has been such a significant shift in how we communicate and understand who we are?  If schools limited the health and sexuality content to a curriculum that was written 20 years ago, are parents prepared to fill in the gaps so that our children have the tools to effectively navigate relationships, community and sexuality today?  What do you think?

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/

Screen Time

Fun fact: there were a couple of years when our television mysteriously ‘broke’ during summer and my parents were ‘too busy’ working to get it fixed.  In reality, my parents had simply cut power to the television in an effort to ensure that we would not spend our summer in front of it. 

Unplugging today

As a parent, I didn’t have the opportunity to ‘pull the plug’ on television in the same way.  While we have only ever had one television set in our home, we have accumulated computers, a tablet and cell phones.  The number of screen options has grown exponentially over the years making it very difficult to surreptitiously eliminate the possibility of screen time.

That being said, following the pediatric guidelines we did try to minimise screen time while our child was young.  We have also taken a technology-free vacation where only one cell phone was allowed for emergency purposes.  This led to a particularly wacky weekend where board games had us laughing uncontrollably.

The reality of Screen time

With a cell phone and computer readily available, our teenager spends a lot of time in front of a screen.  During the school year, (as I wrote about here) we recognise that technology is a vital tool for research and development of projects and notes.  I know from my own experience that a fair bit of my work is spent on the computer – researching, writing, connecting with people and so on.  We would not want to get in the way of our teenager developing the necessary skills to use technology.

The challenge of summer

Summer, however, provides a time away from the rigours associated with school and thus the use of technology changes.  For our teen, some time is spent reading and being creative on Wattpad or writing music with MuseScore activities which we think should be encouraged.  We also know there are social media accounts to review including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.  We seek balance in the process but recognise that there is still work to do, including regarding the importance of validation via impersonal social media accounts.

Modelling balance

Balance is encouraged when it is also modeled by other members of the family.  Parents who are overly focused on technology and zone out while watching television or working on the computer, validate these actions for their children.  Banning technology during meals and at other meaningful opportunities can create space from which interpersonal interactions can take place reinforcing these skills as well.  This doesn’t require a special pepper mill to do so, but does need a commitment from family members to use this time together for conversation.

What do you do?

So then, how does it work at your house?  Do you place limits on technology and screen time for your children?  How do you balance positive use with potentially problematic usage?  What advice would you give to others in regards to the use of technology in youth?

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual

Failure

What is it?

At its core, failure is a lack of success.  Whether we like it or not, it happens to everyone.  Most toddlers fall down before learning to walk.  Few pre-schoolers learn to tie their shoes on the first try.  Not everyone has legible printing from the first time they pick up a pencil.  We all struggle to stay in the lines when colouring from time to time.

The challenge…

Unfortunately, in a highly competitive world, failure is often treated with distain.  We tend to hide our failures because we tend to link our value to our successes.  The more success we have, the more we feel accomplished.  Admitting failure, might rob our sense of self-worth.

Reclaiming failure as opportunity to learn

Still, we shouldn’t be afraid of failure.  When we fail, we have an opportunity to learn.  We might learn something about ourselves – including that perhaps there are things we are not so good at.  We might develop persistence – a willingness to try, try again.  Or we might simply learn that it is OK to let go and move on, we don’t have to be perfect at everything.

Everyone fails.  It took Edison some 10,000 attempts to create a lightbulb.  “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” was rejected 12 times and J.K. Rowling was told “not to quit her day job”.  Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, dropped out of college after 6 months because of the financial strain on his family.  To fail is to be human.  As a result, failure is on the curriculum at Smith College as highlighted here.

Helping children accept failure

There is comfort in numbers.  When we are honest about our struggles especially with the next generation, they can then recognise that failure is not an end but can be an opportunity.  What is really important in life?  Will a single test, project, attempt at a sport or messy picture really destroy a person’s future?  What can be said when we look back on the past in regards to those moments that really made a difference?

When we ask our children to simply try their best and accept that there are areas in which they may struggle, we free our children to explore who they are, to be who they are.  This may mean that we discover our children don’t have the same abilities as we do.  This may mean they pursue areas that feel foreign to us.  This is OK.  As long as they know they are loved and supported, they will have the courage and strength to accept failure as a stepping stone to real success.

Want to explore this topic more?

Our next Thrive! Dinner will be June 3rd at Essex United Church beginning at 5pm when we will be making quesadillas and eating together and then breaking off in groups for parents, teens, tweens and children as we explore Stress, Anxiety and Failure in playful and meaningful ways.  All are welcome!

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/

Anxiety

What is it?

Anxiety word cloud on a white background.

Anxiety is an umbrella term for intense, troubling feelings that can overwhelm someone at any time.  These feelings can be based in worry of what might happen in the future or fear in reaction to current events.  When these feelings become persistent or chronic, anxiety moves into the realm of a disorder that may require treatment.

How is anxiety experienced?

Among the most researched forms of anxiety is the presence of phobias – which are defined as a persistent and excessive fear of an object or situation.  We’ve seen phobias depicted in movies and television shows.  This has helped to normalise the extreme reactions some people have to spiders, clowns, heights, enclosed spaces, germs and more.  Whether as part of a drama or a comedy, we have become familiar with the emotional and physical reactions including extreme fear, racing heartbeats, shortness of breath, nausea and numbing that we now accept are characteristic of a panic attack.  For who have anxiety disorders these reactions can be debilitating, affecting the ways in which they engage with the world.

For children and youth, Kid’s Help Phone’s provides a simple breakdown of signs and symptoms of anxiety along with ways to cope with panic and anxiety here .

What can be done?

Research into anxiety disorders is growing as we gain more and more understanding of the importance of mental wellbeing.  As a result, through counselling, techniques can be learned to develop an awareness of anxiety and panic and thus take steps to minimise their impact on life.

Mindfulness

When someone begins to feel their body tighten, breath quicken and heart start to race, they are challenged to stop and look around.  Name 5 things they can see; five things they can smell; five things they can touch; five things they can hear and five things they can taste.  By focusing on their senses it becomes possible to reorient their awareness to practical things around them rather than the source of their anxiety.  This article highlights other mindfulness activities that can help reduce anxiety.

Distraction

If possible, when anxiety is felt, removing oneself from the situation – going for a walk, calling someone on the phone, going to a safe space can all be helpful ways of settling down and refocusing.

Breathing

Sometimes it simply helps to stop, sit quietly and breathe.  Counting as you breathe in and out, helps to relax the body before it completely tenses up into a full blown panic attack.

What can families do?

Anxiety happens in people of all ages.  As with everything else, it is important for us to know our loved ones and be open to recognising when symptoms become persistent and chronic.  It is vital to accept that it is not only OK but healthy to ask for help.  Indeed, accessing the right help can make a big difference in the extent to which anxiety becomes something manageable.

Local resources to assist children and teen struggling with anxiety disorders are available through the Regional Children’s Centre, Teen Health and Maryvale.

Want to explore this topic more?

Our next Thrive! Dinner will be June 3rd at Essex United Church beginning at 5pm when we will be making quesadillas and eating together and then breaking off in groups for parents, teens, tweens and children as we explore Stress, Anxiety and Failure in playful and meaningful ways.  All are welcome!

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/

Stress

What is it?

According to this article in helpguide.org: Stress is our body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat.  When we sense danger – real or imagined – our body automatically responds with a ‘fight or flight’ reaction.  It is this reaction that pumps us with energy and helps us focus.  This response can actually help save us when faced with real danger, giving us the strength to fight back, the endurance to get away, and the focus to make the right choice.

Stress is what allows us to take on challenges in appropriate ways: Pushing us to put aside distractions and study; sharpening our concentration when we are under pressure to succeed; keeping us on our toes when we are performing.  Stress can be a healthy thing.

When should we be worried?

Unfortunately, our stress response does not have the capacity to determine whether its invocation is due to emotion or a physical life-or-death situation.  As a result, we can get stressed about relationships, work, school, conversations, impending assessments, what happened yesterday, what could happen tomorrow and so on.  The more we feel stress, the more our stress response kicks into gear and thus creates the possibility for long term health consequences including depression, anxiety, sleep problems, digestive problems, heart disease and more.

Looking for signs of stress overload?

How do we know when stress is veering into overload?  Unfortunately, it is hard for us to recognise this ourselves as it tends to creep up on us and feel normal.  Meanwhile, others might see changes and recognise that we seem more moody, agitated, overwhelmed, isolated or depressed than usual.  We may also show difficulties concentrating, memory problems, excessive worrying and negative thoughts.  As stress increases we become more susceptible to illness and we may even start to withdraw, procrastinate or use alcohol or other substances to self-medicate.

What about children and youth?

Stress is felt regardless of age.  If young people feel an increased sense of having to meet demands, are confronted with difficult situations or feel overwhelmed by their ‘to do’ lists, they too can develop stress overload.  It is important to know our children, to keep the lines of communication open and be prepared to recognise signs that children and youth may be overcome by stress.  Check out these articles for more information on stress in children and youth.

What can we do?

Some stress is natural.  Learning how to manage stress in our lives is important to maintain balance and physical and mental health.  Some common approaches include:

  • Connecting to others – a good laugh and an embrace daily is said to be good for the body, mind and spirit.
  • Learning to relax – put things into perspective and intentionally choose to not “sweat the small stuff”.
  • Play – opportunities to let loose and have fun can be healthy for all members of the family.
  • Practice healthy routines – proper nutrition and sufficient sleep can help create balance in life.

Want to explore this topic more?

Our next Thrive! Dinner will be June 3rd at Essex United Church beginning at 5pm when we will be making quesadillas and eating together and then breaking off in groups for parents, teens, tweens and children as we explore Stress, Anxiety and Failure in playful and meaningful ways.  All are welcome!

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual.