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Parenting and Mental Health

24th February, 2023

Father and Child
“A father and child” by Andrey Karelin

Parenting or child rearing promotes and supports the physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood. Parenting refers to the intricacies of raising a child and not exclusively for a biological relationship1.

Parenting is the process of raising children and providing them with protection and care in order to ensure their healthy development into adulthood2.

Parenting is a particularly challenging issue especially in today’s world where children have multiple sources of information at the tip of their finger.

Children are keen observers and learners, and they are exceptionally good at picking verbal and nonverbal cues from their surroundings and people around them.

Children being children they learn what can be termed as healthy behavioral patterns as well as unhealthy behavioral patterns.

Parenting practices around the world share three major goals: ensuring children’s health and safety, preparing children for life as productive adults, and transmitting cultural values. A high-quality parent-child relationship is critical for healthy development.3

During our clinical practice, we frequently come across children who have a lot in their mind that are unshared to parents and are contributing significantly to their distress. Lot happens in the schools, colleges, with friends, colleagues even relatives that go unnoticed by the parents. In fact, parents are the last one to know the major adverse experiences children go through and suffer. There are cases of bullying, cases of physical, social, and sexual abuses even incest that are never talked about to parents, which carries a lot of psychological burden and stress to the children.

Moreover, in today’s competitive and full-of-rush era parents find it difficult to manage time for their children. Children are either looked after in school, or by a caretaker at home or mostly left alone to engage in social media and the internet.

Even when at home it has been found that mostly, parents are busy with their own matters and to keep children quiet, they are provided gadgets while both parents and children are happy to be engaged in their own worlds.

This type of parenting is characterized by rearing children by engaging them with materialistic things (mostly gadgets) and not by providing quality time to children or to interact and share ideas and views. In many families, it is a very rare affair that children are taken to outings, nature, or to malls and movies. These things are farfetched when sharing dinner time is a rare incidence in most families.

The concept of family is disintegrating within the families and merely a group of children and adult live in the house. It may sound like an exaggeration, but we are rapidly moving towards it for sure.

The distance it brings to the parent child relation degrades the bonding and later forms a foundation for non-engagement.

In clinics most of the children we encounter complain that they do not have a healthy relation with their parents and are more connected either to their friends or gadgets. Most of these children spend time alone by locking themselves in their own rooms and doing what best pleases them.

Away from home some find shelter in the darkness of their locked room and some seek refuge in the company of their friends. In both instances they are guided and many times misguided, learn and mostly mis-learn, develop habits good and bad, learn things that are more detrimental to their emotional wellbeing than good and get accustomed to live in a make-believe world, away from the eyes and ears of their parents only to fall victim to the all the ill virtues of today’s reality.

Living in a world created by children and then children being children, many start feeling judged, left out, shamed in various ways, learn to hate themselves, start disliking their body and self and eventually feel that they are burden to all. Some find refuge in the illusional love affairs and many in the smokes of cigarettes and weed. Yes this is the reality of today’s children which we become a witness to as therapists and counsellors.

In addition, the virtues they fail to learn, which they would in a more secure and non-judging environment, makes a crucial difference to how they feel about themselves and how it affects their wellbeing. Surrounded by a world that is critical and harsh and judging, their sense of integrity becomes shattered and deskinned. The wounds that they collect until they become adult burns them with no relief had they had a caring hand and lending ear. Many of them fail to develop a healthy outlook towards other people, towards themselves and the world. The healthy social and interpersonal skills, the productive personal competencies, ability to regulate emotion, impulse control, stress management issues, interpersonal issues then all become evident in myriad of disorders such as Depression, Anxiety Disorders, OCD, Conduct Disorder, Eating Disorder, Learning Disorders, and definitely not forgetting, Borderline Personality Disorder.

CDC estimates that 1 in 6 children aged 2-8 years has a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder.4 Added that a child has undergone an Adverse Childhood Event (ACE) (such as parental neglect or absence, bullying, physical and/or sexual abuse, racial or ethnic discrimination) are associated with increased mental health conditions (28.9% versus 17.8%).5
Studies suggest that Depression, Substance use and Suicide are emerging as important concerns for adolescents.6
Despite the findings it is still hope in the horizon. At one point, we need to realize how vulnerable children are to psychological ill-health and how important parent and family stand as factor in this, we should also be aware that children, if provided care and support, are strongly resilient. One of the earlier quoted study showed that indicators of positive mental health are present in most children.

Parents reported that their child mostly or always showed:6
• Affection (97.0%), resilience (87.9%), positivity (98.7%) and curiosity (93.9%) among children ages 3-5 years
• Curiosity (93.0%), persistence (84.2%), and self-control (73.8%) among children ages 6-11 years
• Curiosity (86.5 %), persistence (84.7%), and self-control (79.8%) among children ages 12-17 years


References:
1. Abraham H. A Family Is What You Make It? Legal Recognition and Regulation of Multiple Parents.          Published online March 1, 2017. Accessed February 24, 2023. https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2925886
2. Parenting | Britannica. Published February 22, 2023. Accessed February 24, 2023. https://www.britannica.com/topic/parenting
3. Parenting. https://www.apa.org. Accessed February 24, 2023. https://www.apa.org/topics/parenting
4. Cree RA. Health Care, Family, and Community Factors Associated with Mental, Behavioral, and Developmental Disorders and Poverty Among Children Aged 2–8 Years — United States, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2018;67. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6750a1
5. Hutchins HJ, Barry CM, Wanga V, et al. Perceived Racial/Ethnic Discrimination, Physical and Mental Health Conditions in Childhood, and the Relative Role of Other Adverse Experiences. Advers Resil Sci. 2022;3(2):181-194. doi:10.1007/s42844-022-00063-z
6. Bitsko RH. Mental Health Surveillance Among Children — United States, 2013–2019. MMWR Suppl. 2022;71. doi:10.15585/mmwr.su7102a1

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