Kerrie Atherton talks about the importance of connecting with your children during the crucial tween years when they can be exposed to so many negative influences. As founder of Empower Life Solutions, Kerrie has worked extensively with adolescence at risk in schools on the Sunshine Coast, Australia, for the past nine years. Kerrie has a wealth of experience to offer individuals and families going through challenging and difficult phases in their life.
My passion for helping teens started many years ago after I endured a very troubled childhood. I grew up in a house with two alcoholic parents. I carried a lot of shame and developed very low self-esteem. Life was extremely difficult for me as a young person and I became very depressed. At 18 I had totally lost hope and didn’t want to live anymore. I planned to commit suicide. Then I heard a loud voice say, ‘Don’t do it, if you hang on a bit longer you will find happiness one day’. Since that day, I have had a passion to save lives and to save every young person from having to go through the pain I endured. I wish I could save the world, but that would be impossible. But what I can do is help one young person at a time, and you just never know what a world changer that person is going to go on to be. Having worked in schools for the past 12 years and having worked alongside those suffering with addictions for the past 30 years, there is so much pain, trauma, and rebuilding once the damage has been done. That is why I am so passionate now about prevention and early intervention.
These days the things our young people are exposed to before they even reach high school is disturbing to say the least. Statistics show that two hours of gaming has the equivalent effect on a young brain as snorting one line of cocaine. We are living in a 'pornified' culture where the pressure placed on girls by the media and their peers and the repercussions of boys viewing pornography is horrifying and extremely destructive. In general, all of the girls I have surveyed say that they suffer from extreme stress and anxiety in relation to body image and bullying and that these are the things that they worry about the most. These girls are as young as 11 and 12 years old.
For boys that age, bullying is also a major concern to them. Due to the way their minds are wired, the first time they view pornography can also have a huge impact. On average, statistics suggest this happens at around 12 years old. What they see and are exposed to after 15 seconds of typing in the word pornography is horrifying for young eyes. By the time boys reach 15 years of age, experts in the field agree that it is mainly addiction to pornography and peer pressure that causes them the most anxiety.
This generation is bombarded by an image based culture where their identity is always at question, threatened and challenged. In my programs* ‘Don’t Lose Yourself In The In-Between’, for year 6, 7 students and ‘Don’t Lose Your Teen In The In-Between’ for the parents of year 6-7 students, we look at these types of topics and other difficult situations that they may have to face over the next two years of their lives. We try to give them and their parents the tools and knowledge to equip them if these situations arise in the future either in their life or the lives of their friends.
Connection with parents is of utmost importance to help tweens navigate their way through these times and situations that are so uncertain. Some of the signs to look out for that your child may be struggling in some of these areas are the following:
- A change in mood and if they have a low mood most of the time, or they are showing repeat signs of anger;
- If they start isolating from the family and spending a lot of time in their room;
- Wearing long sleeves on warm days can be a sign of covering self harm;
- Loss of appetite;
- Sleeping more than usual; and
- Not wanting to go to school suddenly and saying they are sick can often be a sign of bullying.
Many young people I have surveyed wanted to give their parents the following message; "please make time for us and ask us how we feel". When children are in primary school, parents still have a huge influence over what their child does and how much time they spend on technology.
The first place a child hears something is likely to be what they will believe. Parents, if there is something you want your child to hear from you first before they learn incorrect information off their friends or what they see online, don't put off the chat. If you are not connected to your child they most likely will not come to you if they face a problem. Victory lies in vigilance and that vigilance starts at home.
For help or more information on my Counselling Services or Workshops please visit www.empowerlifesolutions.com.au
*All thoughts, opinions and views expressed in this article belong to the author. Somewhere Between has not used the services of Empower Life Solutions and therefore is not in a position to endorse the programs offered.