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Protecting Your Children’s Mental Wellbeing in the Modern World

protecting children's wellbeing

 

Here at Will Williams Meditation, we’ve helped many people deal with the cumulative effect of years of stress and worry, and it’s been my observation that the particular pressures of the modern world are weighing most heavily. Unfortunately, this increasingly seems to be impacting our children. Whether it’s social media, exams, appearance pressure or some other theorised trigger, it appears that modern life is having a negative influence on the mental wellbeing of many young people.

This is borne out in the series of worrying statistics below. Parents must now wonder what they can do to ensure they protect the mental wellbeing of their children, in an environment that seems to be very hostile to young people’s happiness.

  • More than a third of girls aged 10-15 in the UK are unhappy with the way they look, while one in seven are not happy with their lives overall.1
  • The rates of depression amongst young people aged 12-20 have increased in the US.2
  • 20% of UK adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year. 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24.3
  • The American College Health Association surveyed 100,000 college students at 53 US campuses and found that 84% of US students feel unable to cope.
  • In the UK, the number of children and young people turning up to A&E with psychiatric conditions has more than doubled since 2009 and, in the past three years, hospital admissions for teenagers with eating disorders have also almost doubled.
  • Mental health issues in the USA are, in general, on the rise, and are a leading cause of disability.4

With the happiness and health of their children already being a huge worry for parents, this paints a pretty bleak picture. To complicate matters, it can also be very hard to recognise the difference between the usual childhood ups and downs (there aren’t many of us who didn’t write a melodramatic teenage poem or two) and problems that a young person needs help with.

Say your fourteen-year-old hasn’t talked to anyone for a week, snaps at you, and spends most of their time morosely listening to sad music — is that normal teenage behaviour, or do you need to start worrying? Enforcing a constant state of happiness is both impossible and potentially damaging – all teenagers need the space to be their natural hormonal, moody selves – but on the other hand, you don’t want to be complacent. Like everything else in parenting, it’s something of a minefield.

Disclaimer: there’s only so much you can do. You are never going to able to guarantee your children won’t become unhappy. Neither can you completely shield them from unpleasant experiences (nor should you – in small doses, they are an important part of our experience as we grow). There’s also regrettable pain in life that you may not be able to prevent your children from encountering, such as a beloved family member passing away, or the parental relationship ending in divorce.

It’s difficult not to, but you shouldn’t feel guilty for not creating the perfect environment for your children to grow up in, because doing so is an impossible task – all you can do is your best. However, there are ways you can try to help your children be the happiest they can be.

Prioritise you, where you can

All parents know that their wants and desires (like wanting to get a couple more hours sleep rather than waking up at 5:30!) tend to get put on the back-burner. This is inevitable because you have a little person in your life whose needs invariably trump yours.

However, being happy and content yourself is a big factor in how your children are feeling. Dr Christine Carter, a sociologist and the author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, said that:

“Extensive research has established a substantial link between mothers who feel depressed and ‘negative outcomes’ in their children, such as acting out and other behaviour problems. Parental depression actually seems to cause behavioural problems in kids; it also makes our parenting less effective.

“Although the study did find that happy parents are statistically more likely to have happy children, it couldn’t find any genetic component.”

Even though the quote above specifies mothers, the sentiment applies to both partners. If you are prone to depression or anxiety, don’t neglect self-care, and get as much support from your partner and wider family as possible. Also, if you aren’t already separated, take some time to focus on your relationship. Becoming parents can add a lot of strain, so putting effort into maintaining your partnership (such as organising date nights or sitting down with a coffee together every morning) can make a big difference.

Safe and Loving Environment

Kids can feel a huge amount of pressure these days, from lots of different sources. Social media means that they can quantify, through the competitive lenses of ‘Likes’, ‘Follows’ and ‘Friends’, just how socially successful they are. Exams and schooling have them constantly graded for their intelligence. And in an appearance-focused society, they believe they know exactly how they need to look in order to be loved and accepted by others.

Your home can be a sanctuary from all of these things. Creating a stable and loving environment gives them a point of calm (even if the presence of kids can make a family home seem rather chaotic!) from which they can build the resilience needed to face these pressures. A lot of this is making sure they know that within your four walls they are accepted and loved for who they are. It may seem obvious, but avoid mentioning their appearance, don’t make it seem as though your love or appreciation is purely dependent on them doing well at school, and actually listen to what they have to say.

Avoid piling on the pressure, especially academically. Dr Carter concluded that “parents who overemphasize achievement are more likely to have kids with high levels of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse compared to other kids.” Furthermore, the pressure of being labelled ‘smart’ actually puts some children off attempting harder challenges, lest they fail and lose their status.

Try not to focus on wealth and materialism

Steve Taylor, a senior psychology lecturer at Leeds Beckett University, UK, wrote a paper that goes some way to explain how materialism makes us unhappy:

“No matter how much we try to complete or bolster our ego, our inner discontent and incompleteness always re-emerges, generating new desires… No matter how much we get, it’s never enough.

“As Buddhism teaches, desires are inexhaustible. The satisfaction of one desire just creates new desires, like a cell multiplying.”

Associating happiness with material gain, and putting too much store in the “right” clothes or items, could make your children vulnerable to becoming unnecessarily discontented.

Be aware of the effects of social media

Social media has very quickly become a big part of our lives. The cat is out of the bag, and how you choose to deal with this is up to you as a parent.

Both Facebook5 and Instagram6 have been linked to feelings of depression, envy and loneliness in major studies. It’s also important to remember that the longer children stay on their devices, the more they are exposed to both blatant and subtle advertising – which, in its nature, encourages feelings of dissatisfaction and even insecurity.  

Furthermore, younger children could find it harder to distinguish between what people post authentically and social media content that is sponsored by advertisers. Even media-savvy kids can internalise these artificially orchestrated, photoshopped images, believing that they reflect a reality which they are failing to live up to.

In this, arguably the best you can do is explain. Make them aware of how people use social media. They should know that their peers and even celebrities choose highly curated photos, and leave out the bad and boring parts of their lives. If you can encourage them to view it more as a compelling story, than anything to do with “real life”, it can lose some of its power.

Allow for emotional expression & teach optimism

One of the other significant things about social media is that it has led to our “public face” infiltrating even our most private moments. In this, even adults can feel like they are unable to be their authentic selves, and you can contend that children are even more sensitive to social pressure.

Furthermore, we may have been bought up to push down or belittle our own emotions (“Boys don’t cry”,  “there are kids starving in Africa, you know”, “it’s not that bad, cheer up”) and might not be sure how to approach them when it comes to our kids. Alternatively, we may find seeing our children upset so heartbreaking that we instantly try to fix the problem, distracting them with treats or turning to other temporary solutions.

An alternative method is to allow your children to express themselves, attempt to empathise with them and validate their emotions, and help them understand what they are feeling. Although you should do this for both boys and girls, boys in particular can benefit from feeling that there’s nothing wrong with talking about how they feel.

You can also teach them, through example, to be optimistic. If they are feeling bad, remind them that although you understand their feelings, it won’t be long until they are feeling better. Communicating a generally “glass half full” view of life can be hugely valuable, and allow children to view the world in the most positive light possible.

 

https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/news-and-blogs/press-releases/girls-in-distress-%E2%80%93-report-reveals-rise-in-unhappiness

http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/11/10/peds.2016-187

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/statistics/mental-health-statistics-children-and-young-people

https://www.antioch.edu/auonline/2017/03/03/mental-health-issues-america-rise-2/

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0069841#s3

https://www.rsph.org.uk/about-us/news/instagram-ranked-worst-for-young-people-s-mental-health.html

 

 

This entry was posted in blog.

Three Ways Donald Trump Could Benefit From Meditation

 

It’s undeniable that Donald Trump is already a capable and impressive man. With the thick, flowing locks of a Disney princess, a brain which could beat up Albert Einstein’s in a bar brawl and thick thighs like mighty oaks, he’s the president that the USA both wants and needs.  But that isn’t to say there isn’t any room for improvement. Sometimes even the most beautiful Donald-Trump-shaped lily can benefit from some gilding, and that’s where meditation comes in.

 

It’ll help him stay in fine physical form

 

When a man oozes as much masculinity as Donald Trump, there is the ever-present danger of over-oozing, draining him of his precious essence and leaving him depleted and weak. Even Thor, the Norse god of thunder, has to take time off every now and then to replenish his energy in the space-city of Asgard, and Donald Trump is no different.

It seems clear that his man-off with Kim Jong-un, watched from a distance with a mixture of fear, admiration and (let’s face it) arousal by the general public, will soon reach its inevitable conclusion. Before long, they’ll tear off their shirts and, roaring mightily, take to the ring for a wrestling match that will once and for all decide which of the two of them has the most monumental balls. It’s imperative for the future security of America that Donald Trump is at his physical peak at this moment, and utilising the energy-boost that meditation can give him.

why donald trump should meditate

 

It will sharpen his formidable intellect

 

As we all know, Donald Trump is very highly educated and has all the best words, words he uses to devastating effect when tweeting famous actresses, former muscle men and heads of state to take them down a peg or two. Whether he’s interacting with other intellectual heavyweights like the leaders of Britain First and those people who think the world is controlled by intergalactic lizards, or carefully explaining that his hands are actually very large and he doesn’t have a problem in “that area”, he often astounds us with his challenging and innovative thinking. But with meditation, his already enormous brain could grow further, like a terrifying soufflé with its hands on the nuclear codes.

Women will find him even more attractive

As a confident, powerful and good-looking man, Donald Trump already knows he is extremely attractive. “All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me – consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected,” he once explained – and it’s true. Whether they realise it or not, women are intoxicated by Trump’s presence, even if their minds are saying silly things like “I do not fancy this man”. His appeal is simply so powerful it actually skips past their conscious brain and grabs straight at their hearts 💖

But with meditation, his skin will improve, his physique will refine and he’ll stand even taller, glowing like a beautiful lava lamp. Melania’s obvious attraction to him will go through the roof, and it’s possible she’ll have to be restrained for her own safety, while other women will be doomed to admire him from a distance, tortured by the knowledge that he’ll never be theirs.

And there we have it! With just forty minutes of meditation every day, the noble and thick-skinned president will become (if possible) an even better leader and family man. However, it isn’t only handsome business moguls that can be improved with the practice of meditation. While we may have written this piece with tongue in cheek, the benefits of meditation are very real, and you can find out more on one of our free intro talks. See you there!

This entry was posted in blog.

Why We’re Trying Veganuary 2018

 

What we eat is important in so many different ways. In a world of 7.6 billion people, (825 million of which are still undernourished) how our species is going to keep itself fed and healthy is an increasingly complicated question. Environmental pressures are becoming ever more profound, ethical concerns are creeping inexorably into the public consciousness, and the fact that many of us are consuming much more than is good for us is increasingly clear. For some, the answer is a vegan diet, which is why we’re trying Veganuary 2018. 

 

We believe there are some compelling arguments that support the case that this is indeed one of the alternatives that can really make a difference to the planetary cause:

 

Veganism and the environment

 

Rearing livestock for human consumption has a profound environmental impact, contributing to deforestation, soil erosion, fresh water scarcity, climate change, biodiversity loss and many other pressing issues. In 1990, the World Hunger Program at Brown University calculated that harvests could provide a vegetarian diet for 6 billion people, while the meat-rich diet of wealthier nations is only feasible for 2.6 billion.

 

This demonstrates that it simply isn’t possible for the whole human population to consume meat as freely as many of us in wealthy countries currently do. The Earth’s capacity for livestock, with its finite resources, is severely limited if we all expect to eat meat at the current rate. This has social and moral implications when we consider the millions of people who are, and could potentially be, left unprovided for.  

 

As more people begin to eat more meat in countries such as China (something their government is attempting to tackle) and India, the environmental pressure will continue to grow. This has the potential to accelerate environmental damage and make it harder to produce food of any kind in the future, as climate change threatens crops and water supplies.

 

The increase in meat consumption globally is linked to positive developments in socio-economic, environmental, and health conditions, along with changing dietary patterns (in short, more people being lifted out of poverty – clearly a good thing). Yet these factors suggest that over the long term, it could push more of us into food poverty and undernourishment as environmental factors take their toll and result in a net negative.

 

The ethical question

 

These days there are more and more people becoming vegan purely for environmental reasons, but traditionally, the raison d’etre for many vegans was the cruelty of mass meat and dairy production – or indeed killing any animal, in any fashion, for food – it’s simply too troubling for them to contemplate eating meat. It’s human nature to empathise with other creatures, and few people could walk through an abattoir completely unfazed. Many industrial farming practices are extremely efficient and streamlined, but uncomfortably oblivious to the needs of the living animals involved. And with 277,000 animals slaughtered for meat production every minute, it does seem reasonable to not wish to participate in that if your conscience is troubled by it.

 

A story that highlighted the issue for one couple and their hundreds of thousands of social media followers is that of Esther The Wonder Pig. On discovering the “micropig” they adopted from a friend was in fact a commercial breed and destined to become 650 pounds, Steve and Derek became animal advocates. They realised the personality, intelligence and sensitivity of their not-quite-micro friend and were horrified to think of her fate as a caged breeding sow (and after 3 years, food) had she not have been bought as a potential pet. Their work has convinced many to go vegan.

 

Esther the Wonder Pig. Image Source: How One Pig Convinced Thousands to Go Vegan.

A vegan diet and health

 

Vegans have (for the most part) a diet that is far higher in fruit, veg, cereals, nuts and seeds than those who rely more heavily on animal products. This is a great starting point for a generally healthier lifestyle, full of the stuff that is good for us. Additionally, by cutting out meat and animal products, those embarking on a vegan lifestyle can dramatically cut their consumption of saturated fat, which is linked to increased cholesterol levels and a higher risk of heart disease. There is also the issue of long chain fatty acids, which have a very negative impact on your gut health, which is increasingly being shown to be such a key driver of our overall wellbeing.

 

Because meat and animal products are often calorie-dense, vegans tend to regulate their calorie intake more naturally. As a result, statistics show that vegans have a lower BMI (height-to-weight ratio) than meat eaters. While it’s true that vegans have to be a little more conscious in sourcing nutrients such as vitamin B12, and sometimes may choose to take supplements, this is in reality not that different from the general population, who can find they are consuming more than enough calories but are nutritionally falling short.

 

As veganism becomes more mainstream, supermarkets and restaurants are making more efforts to accommodate those with a meat, dairy and egg-free diet. Many towns and cities even have dedicated vegan cafes and restaurants, and having a varied and healthy diet as a vegan is arguably easier than ever.

 

These are just a few of the reasons we are trying Veganuary this month, and we would love to hear from you if you are joining in too. Get in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with your hints, tips and recipes.

This entry was posted in blog.