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Attach to me if you can: How modern society disconnects us from our youth and what we must do about it
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Attach to me if you can: How modern society disconnects us from our youth and what we must do about it



By Dr. Michael Cheng

By Dr. Michael Cheng



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  • “Attach to me if you can: How modern society disconnects us from our youth and what we must do about it” with Dr. Michael Cheng, Child and Family Psychiatrist, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.Today’s children and youth grow up with modern luxuries that no previous generation had, yet despite everything they seem to be more vulnerable than ever to stresses such as depression, anxiety, suicide, self-injury and bullying. Learn how our modern society (with internet, email, instant messaging, and a peer and youth obsessed culture) makes it harder to be a parent these days by disconnecting our kids from us, and what we can and must do about it before it’s too late…
  • Image iStockPhoto Purchased by Michael Cheng
  • Image iStockPhoto Purchased by Michael Cheng
  • Image purchased from photos.com by Michael Cheng
  • Image purchased from photos.com by Michael Cheng
  • Image purchased from photos.com by Michael Cheng
  • Image purchased from photos.com by Michael Cheng
  • Image purchased from photos.com by Michael Cheng
  • Image purchased from photos.com by Michael ChengThey increasingly turn Away from PARENTS, and Towards PEERS and THINGS to meet their needs… This has always happened, but is to an extreme in our peer obsessed, materialistic, consumer society
  • Image – Purchased from iStockPhoto.com by Michael ChengIts okay to have friends if you retain strong connections with parentsBut if a child turns to peers as the primary attachment, what is the danger…?
  • Image – Purchased from iStockPhoto.com by Michael Cheng
  • Image – Purchased from iStockPhoto.com by Michael Cheng
  • Image – Purchased from iStockPhoto.com by Michael Cheng
  • Image – Purchased from iStockPhoto.com by Michael Cheng
  • Image – Purchased from iStockPhoto.com by Michael Cheng
  • Image – Purchased from iStockPhoto.com by Michael Cheng
  • Image – Purchased from iStockPhoto.com by Michael Cheng
  • Image – Purchased from iStockPhoto.com by Michael ChengCoyne et al.: Game On… Girls: Associations Between Co-playing Video Games and Adolescent Behavioral and Family Outcomes, Journal of Adolescent Health, Feb 3, 2011
  • Image – Purchased from Photos.com by Michael ChengKershawAfter controlling for inflation, household incomes for young families today are barely higher than they were in the mid 1970s, despite the spread of dual income households.   With stalled household incomes and less time at home, housing costs take up 2-3 times more family income than in the 1970s. 
  • Image 1 – Source unknownImage 2 – Purchased from iStockPhoto
  • No obvious copyright photography source
  • Image sourceScreenshotFair use
  • Image sourcehttp://artatm.com/2011/07/60-outstanding-examples-of-conceptual-photography/ From lukreszja.deviantart.com
  • Image purchased on iStockPhoto by Michael Cheng
  • Image source unknown
  • Image from Flickr.com under Creative Commonshttp://www.flickr.com/photos/94018078@N00/6665196573
  • Image purchased on iStockPhoto by Michael Cheng
  • Image purchased on iStockPhoto by Michael Cheng
  • Image purchased on iStockPhoto by Michael Cheng
  • Image purchased on iStockPhoto by Michael Cheng
  • Image purchased on iStockPhoto by Michael Cheng
  • Image purchased on iStockPhoto by Michael Cheng
  • Purchased from Photos.com (Comstock image)
  • Image purchased on iStockPhoto by Michael Cheng
  • Image purchased on iStockPhoto by Michael Cheng
  • Image purchased on iStockPhoto by Michael Cheng
  • Purchased from Photo.com by Michael Cheng
  • Purchased from Photo.com by Michael Cheng
  • Image source - unknown
  • Image purchased on iStockPhoto by Michael Cheng
  • Bowlby, 1940; Ainsworth, 1979; Schore, 2001, Neufeld, 2005
  • Images of book covers from Amazon.caFair use
  • Image from Kitsuhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/kitsu/404092967/

Attach to me if you can: How modern society disconnects us from our youth and what we must do about it Attach to me if you can: How modern society disconnects us from our youth and what we must do about it Presentation Transcript

  • Disclaimer • This is a general discussion about mental health • It is not to be interpreted as specific advice in a specific situation • Every situation is unique and requires advice to be tailored and adapted to that situation • If you are looking for advice about a specific situation or child/youth with mental health issues, speak with a health professional!
  • Learning Objectives • By the end of this presentation, participants will be aware that: – Strong attachments/connections are necessary (but not necessarily sufficient) for mental health and resiliency – Modern society weakens attachments between children/youth and adults, which contributes to mental health and behavioural problems – What we can do as parents, professionals and society to (re)build our attachments with our children/youth
  • Britney’s Story • • • Background – 17-yo female who is having thoughts of suicide – Living with her mother; parents separated; no contact with father – Gr. 12 student Current resources – Seeing a therapist once weekly for 2-months with no improvement Symptoms – Depressed for past few months – Triggering stress • Boyfriend (of past year) broke up with her
  • Today‟s youth are struggling… • Mental health issues (e.g. depression, anxiety, suicide rates up 3-4X since 1960’s) • Behaviour problems (e.g. bullying, drug use) -- youth crime up 300% since the 60’s • Narcissism and lack of empathy (Twenge, 2011)
  • Depression Anxiety Suicide Behaviour problems Why are today‟s youth so vulnerable?
  • Q. Why do young children tend to be happier than older children?
  • A. Young children are happy because if all goes well, all their needs are met… Its easier with young children! Possible needs… • Hug? • Reassurance? • Food? • Nap? • Diaper change?
  • When you consistently meet a child‟s needs  Emotional security View of world: “World is a safe place… I can trust others…” View of self: “I feel better, thus I am competent…” Ainsworth; Bowlby
  • Attachment is the single most important „resiliency‟ factor for mental health • Resiliency – Ability to overcome adversity is known as “resiliency” – Not everyone exposed to stresses develops problems; many in fact, will thrive… – Secure attachments to caregivers and nurturing adults are the most important source of resilience (Bowlby, 1940; Ainsworth, 1979; Schore, 2001; Neufeld, 2004)
  • Q. What happens to parent-child attachments as children get older? A. They often weaken…. Young child Teenager
  • If our children/youth are turning away from parents, to whom are they turning instead?
  • Peers, technology, and material things Peers Child Parent Technology and Things Neufeld, 2005
  • Q. Why is it a problem for children/youth to turn to peers, technology and material things as their primary attachments?
  • A. Peers / things cannot meet your core emotional needs… • Peers /things are conditional • Friendships come and go / peers are still maturing and changing / Your BFF one day can be your worst enemy the next… • Only parents are unconditional • Only parents can reliably provide emotional support, acceptance and validation
  • Normal vs abnormal peer orientation… • Some peer orientation is normal. • Friends and social skills are good • But when a teen’s mental health is dependent on their peers, and when a child’s moods and suicidal ideation hinges upon relationships with peers, then this is a problem…
  • Orchid children are particularly vulnerable… • Most people are dandelions • Able to take root and survive almost anywhere. • Some people are orchids • More vulnerable than the dandelions • Fragile and needing special care • But capable of blooming spectacularly if given that special care!
  • Britney’s Story My boyfriend was the only one who understood me… Now that we’re not together anymore, I feel so alone… I have no one to talk to…
  • Why do today's young people turn away from parents as they get older?
  • Q. Back in the old days, what did kids learn about parents from these shows?
  • A. Popular media - What is the message about parents?
  • Media helps push our kids away... • Today’s kids (either your kids or your kids’ peers) spend several hours a day on average in front of a TV, or other screens • Media messages are that • Parents are lame • The secret to happiness and success is having friends, and turning to your peers
  • B. Decreased “expert” role: Where do young people turn if they want to find something out?
  • Q. A child is playing ball with a parent. Who is going to be more competent at it?
  • A. The parent and thus the child learns that parents are competent and to look up to parents… In traditional societies, the young learn from and thus respect their elders… (But not so in modern ones!) Margaret Mead, 1956
  • Q. In today‟s technology obsessed world, who is better with modern technology, our 1) children or 2) parents?
  • A. Our children know more about the technology than we do, which makes them think they are superior… Boy, my dad is terrible! Boy, I hate these video games!
  • Economic Factors: Housing costs 2-3X more than in the 1970s – 40% of Canadian couples divorce… thus both parents work outside the home.. Q. So who are the kids hanging out with when both parents are working outside the home? Kershaw, 2012
  • From an early age, our children spend more time with peers in daycare and school than they do with adults.
  • How modern technology weakens relationships
  • 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation Survey • U.S. children/teens • 7 hr/day • ”Entertainment screens" • Television, cell phones, hand-held games, iPads, Internet games, Facebook and video games • 2-hrs/day • Violent video games
  • Q. What‟s the big deal about video games?
  • Screenshot from Call of
  • Violence negatively affects children‟s brains • Violent video games are harmful – Research confirms numerous harmful effects of video games on behaviour, mood, relationships, physical health, sleep • Violence in media in general – Children/youth are exposed to violence in movies, televisions, popular culture – All of this desensitizes us to violence and cruelty American Academy of Paediatrics, Media Policy Statement
  • Dangers of modern communication and social media • Potential for addiction • Superficiality is not true intimacy • “I have 500 Facebook friends, but I can‟t really talk to anyone” • Promotes jealousy and insecurity • Cyberbullying Dr. Gwenn O'Keeffe, 2011; Dr. Sherry Turkle, MIT and TEDS Talk
  • Texting Destroying genuine human interaction two thumbs at a time
  • How to (Re)Attach to your Youth: Common Sense Principles from Attachment Experts such as Neufeld and Hughes
  • Classic view • Attachment as a fixed foundation for the future… all built in a child’s early years
  • Actually…. • Attachment is more like bathing – you have to keep up with it…
  • How connected are you to your child? • Do you and your child  1. Spend 1:1 time together?  2. Have things in common?  3. Prioritize each other’s relationship over other competing distractions and relationships?  4. Enjoy doing things and being helpful for each other?  5. Express affection to each other?  6. Does your child openly come to you to share how s/he is feeling, e.g. for emotional support? Adapted from Neufeld’s Modes of Attachment, 2005
  • Britney’s Story Yes, I do spend a lot of time with my mom, but I can’t talk to her… She worries too much… She nags me and lectures me…
  • Deep relationships are better than shallow Deep relationship * As should be with parents Superficial, shallow relationships * As is developmentally normal with peers
  • The Most Powerful Strategy to Connect: Empathy and Validation
  • Empathy and Validation • Every one has the core need to feel loved and accepted no matter what • • • • No matter how they are feeling No matter how successful/unsuccessful No matter how good/bad No matter how smart/dumb, etc….. • Parents can and need to be able to meet this need better than a child/youth’s peers
  • Even your spouses can’t meet this as well as only parents can…
  • For the men in the room… • Your girlfriend/wife/female friend tells you a problem she is having with a co-worker at work… • Q. Most of the time, what does she want? 1) Your brilliant advice 2) Your listening, validation and support
  • Listen for feelings, accept and validate (Connection before Direction) EMPATHIZE “I can see that you‟re feeling really sad about this…” (giving supportive hug) VALIDATE/ACCEPT “That‟s okay if you‟re feeling sad…” SOOTHE “We‟ll get through this…” “How can I support you?” “Do you want me to listen?” “Or do you want some advice?”
  • Avoid advice, minimizing, invalidating “You‟re feeling sad about that? Come on, there‟s a lot worse things than that… Don’t worry about it… Don’t cry… There’s a lot of fish in the sea…” “You need to just get over this…”
  • Crying is good because parents can then provide comfort • When your child is upset, explore your child‟s feelings so that your child can „grieve‟ about whatever the stress is • Crying with a parent is therapeutic: 1) It helps your child‟s brain process the sadness 2) It helps your child see that s/he can turn to you for support
  • Empathy and validation: Connection before direction • Its Monday after the weekend, and you need a favor from a co-worker • Q. Do you say 1) “I need you to do this for me right now!” 2) “Good morning!” “How‟s it going?” “How was your weekend?” “How are the kids doing?”
  • Other ways to connecting based on Neufeld’s Modes of Attachment
  • Spend 1:1 time with your child ▪ Invite your child to spend 1:1 time with you ▪ Have “dates” ▪ 1:1 time encourages deeper communication and connection ▪ Example ▪ Car rides together (good) ▪ Going for a hot chocolate together (better!) ▪ Warning sign is a youth that doesn’t want 1:1 with a parent
  • Connect through things in common • We feel closer someone when we are similar or have things in common • Find things in common with your child, such as – Interests and activities… – Shared memories – Warning sign is a youth that wants nothing in common with parents
  • Prioritize your child • When you are with your child, show your child that you value your attachment to your child over your cell phone, email, texting and other distractions… • Warning sign is a youth that does not prioritize parent, or vice versa Cats in the Cradle, Cat Stevens
  • Be helpful and useful to your child • Counter the tendency in Western society to encourage kids to be overly independent and not need us anymore • You WANT your child to be dependent on YOU • You do not want your child to be dependent on others, or turning elsewhere…
  • Be helpful and useful to your child • Surprise your child every once in awhile by doing things that your child should be able to do on their own – Driving them – Helping when they are short on time – Picking up stuff they need, etc. • Warning sign is a youth that refuses help or being dependent on parents
  • Express love and affection • Harlow‟s monkey experiments showed that monkeys required physical affection for development • Children and youth need affection, both physical and emotional • Warning sign is a youth that refuses affection from parents
  • Attachment tip: At every separation, talk about the reunion
  • Q. You‟re just had a great date with someone, and you want to see the other person again… What do you say? 1) “I had a wonderful time. Bye!”, or 2) “I had a wonderful time. Want to get together on the weekend?”
  • Whenever there is a separation, talk about the next reunion • If you as an adult would feel insecure about a lack of bridging, then think how insecure a child would feel...! • Children naturally feel more insecure because they are still forming their primary attachments with caregivers… Neufeld, 2005 Adult Child
  • Whenever there is a physical separation, talk about the next reunion • Before your child leaves for school – Parent: “See you after school” “Can’t wait until we go for our walk later after school” – Text your child during the school day – Give your child transition objects, e.g. notes in your child’s lunch box; special jewelry or possessions • Before parent leaves for an errand – Parent: “See you in an hour” • Before bedtime: – “See you in the morning” “What do you want for breakfast?” Neufeld, 2005
  • Whenever there is an emotional separation, talk about the next reunion • Parent: – “I really can’t let you talk to me that way. It is unacceptable. You need to go to your room and cool down.” (or, if that isn’t going to happen, “I need to go to my room and cool down.” • Bridge the separation – “Let’s get back together in 20 minutes if we’re both calmer then” – “I love you; we’ll talk about this later and work it out.” Neufeld, 2005
  • When there is a reunion, ensure there is a greeting • When the child wakes up in the morning – “Good morning!” • When child comes home after school – “Hello!” “Good to see you!” – “I was thinking about you doing your presentation when I was at work today” • When parent sees child after a longer than usual absence – “I missed you so much” “I was thinking about you” “It wasn’t the same with you gone” Neufeld, 2005
  • Summary and Call to Action
  • Attachment and Connection to our Children/Youth • Strong attachments (i.e. connections, relationships) of children to nurturing adults is one of the strongest foundations for mental health (i.e. resiliency factor) • Unfortunately, many factors disconnect us from our children/youth • The good news is that there are strategies that you can use to help strengthen your connection with children
  • Call to Action for Parents Spend 1:1 with your child Connection before connection (by listening, accepting, validating, and ideally avoid giving advice or judgment) Give hope by bridging all separations ▪ Every time a parent leaves a child, whether physically or emotionally, talk about the next reunion with the child Unplug and limit negative media messages Neufeld, 2005; Hughes, 2009
  • Call to Action for Society  Family friendly government policies – Mandating businesses institute family friendly policies – Quality childcare – Postnatal not just prenatal classes  Family friendly workplace policies – On-site, in-house daycare – Flex time, job sharing, temporary/permanent part-time, telecommuting, mandatory parental leave, family medical leave, family health benefits, childcare…  Family friendly media – Culture/media that promotes parents as important
  • References and More Information
  • eMentalHealth.ca: for information about mental health and help…
  • Questions?