Are the children okay?
Some residents of the Waterloo region may be asking this question after recent reports of threats to schools and a massive 150 youth brawl near the Kitchener market involving guns.
Dillon Browne is Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Waterloo and Canada Research Chair in Clinical Child and Family Psychology.
He joined CBC Kitchener-Waterloo’s The morning edition to talk about what parents should and shouldn’t tell their teens who might be feeling angry.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
CBC KW: We have recently seen acts of violence involving young people here in the community. It may seem to outsiders and observers that there is a lot of anger among our young people right now. From your perspective as a researcher, is there any indication of what might be going on here?
I don’t want to start by invalidating anyone’s point of view and certainly during the pandemic there is a lot of anger among young people, teachers and school staff and it looks like we are facing a little more. disruptions in the new year.
That being said, year after year, probably since the early 1990s, there has been a reduction in youth delinquency.
My initial tendency, therefore, is to caution people not to overinterpret a one-year increase outside the context of the decreases over the past several decades.
I hope parents, teachers and school staff can take comfort in the fact that over the past decades juvenile crime and delinquency has declined in Canada and indeed nationally. Ontario is one of the lowest provinces in the Canadian landscape.
CBC KW: But if we look at what has happened a few times here in the region. What role do you think the pandemic is playing there?
Well, if we were to focus on those numbers this year, I think it actually makes sense to view the pandemic as playing a role in its contribution. the possibility of youth violence happening in schools right now.
As we have seen in the past, I guess for almost two years now there have been a number of closures and disruptions in youth activities, youth clubs, neighborhood organizations, community centers. , all the things that social distancing has sort of gotten the way to.
So there is a framework in the psychological literature that young people seek free will and mastery and the ability to be good or to perform well in any area of life where there is an avenue.
When other things go missing, young people will find ways to organize themselves and be ‘good at something’ and unfortunately this can sometimes manifest itself in acts of aggression, or other times it can be manifested. act out of a TikTok challenge that goes viral and causes damage. at school.
So I think it’s really important for our elected officials and policy makers not only to consider the contagion of the COVID-19 pandemic per se, but also the secondary consequences for mental health, loneliness, depression, anxiety. , boredom and how this can have a ripple effect and show up in other areas of society, including school.
CBC KW: We have been in the pandemic for two years. Does research indicate that there are clearly more effects on the mental and physical health of children and adolescents?
Yes. So even before the pandemic in Ontario and across the country, there was talk of an epidemic of young people in mental health.
Now, considering what we’ve seen over the past couple of years with an increase in the prevalence of mental health issues among young people and children, I think we have pandemic upon pandemic in terms of health issues. mental health in young people.
That being said, I don’t want to exclusively paint a catastrophic scenario, as many young people, many children, many schools, many communities and many families are thriving right now.
And in fact, I was fortunate enough to do some research with an organization in Waterloo region called the Child and Youth Planning Table. And what we are seeing in data from a survey of 1,000 youth in the region in 2021 is that youth who report a sense of belonging to their community have the highest rates of mental health. and have higher rates of self-reported well-being. to be.
CBC KW: You’re an expert in trauma, how about the pandemic and what’s going on with all the things that you talked about – masks, closures, reopening, closures, etc. – could this be qualified as traumatic for young people?
I hesitate to use the word trauma lightly.
Sometimes people distinguish between uppercase T trauma and lowercase T trauma. And when we think of capital T traumas, that’s what we really think of in regards to post-traumatic stress disorder and in childhood things like child abuse, neglect, abuse, bystander. accidents and that sort of thing.
So certainly for a significant minority of young people during the pandemic, there have been events like this. We know that many families have lost loved ones, especially in the older generation. So it is certain that some of these great events have happened.
That being said, when it comes to tiny t trauma, there is a framework that currently exists that there is a collective trauma happening in society as we see a lot of things that we love go away and then come back and then come back again.
So I think with caution you could say that this season has been traumatic for a lot of our youngsters.
CBC KW: What kind of long term effect do you think the last couple of years are going to have on young people as they get older?
It’s hard to say and one thing I would like to point out is that young people are remarkably resilient.
They’re probably more resilient than you or me because we know this idea called neuroplasticity. And that even when young people are exposed to difficult and challenging situations where life can change and improve, many young people, if not the majority of young people, have the capacity to bounce back, as they say.
That being said, the implications of lockdown for early learning, early literacy, and socio-emotional development are cause for concern. And we’ve seen a lot of these big, disrupted teenage stages, things like graduations and proms and other transitional times like freshman year in college for, you know, a whole cohort of kids. youth.
So it is too early to say for sure, because as I mentioned, one of the main conclusions of developmental psychology is that young people are almost always more resilient than initially thought.
That being said, among people with pre-existing vulnerabilities, including pre-existing mental health issues, this pandemic is likely to pose a significant challenge and burden.
CBC KW: For parents who may notice that their kids or teens seem to be feeling more angry these days, what advice would you give them to help their kids get through those feelings?
Something we could try to avoid, and it doesn’t just apply to children, it can apply to our partners, parents, coworkers, coworkers [is] when we are initially faced with the distress or negative emotions of a loved one, often our first tendency is to reassure and reject them. We say things like, “Oh, don’t worry, honey, it’s going to be okay. “
And in fact, we don’t want to do that because, although it’s well intentioned, it can actually run the risk of telling, for this example, to the young person in our life that we don’t understand how bad this has been. been difficult.
So rather than doing that, we first want to validate. We validate the perceived emotional experience in our child or loved one.
We say something like, “you know, it makes sense that you are really angry right now because it seemed like things were going back to normal. And now we hear that in the New Year it might not get back to normal. If anything, it could get worse. “
“So it makes perfect sense that you are angry and frustrated. You know what? I am also angry and frustrated.
This is the first step. And then the second step is to provide emotional support, some solace, or some solace. It could be a redirect to try to do something else now. Try to find another activity to, you know, plan an outing, have a special time to connect, to reorient yourself, as they say.
CBC KW: In what ways can parents or maybe even young people themselves reach out if they feel like they’re not in the headspace they want to be?
Well one thing I say that comes as a licensed clinical child psychologist is to seek help.
I think over the last few years the stigma around seeking professional help has diminished, I believe, and I think that’s a good thing.
So I always suggest parents and young people, even if they want to tell their loved ones about it, to ask for help before they think it is too late.
A simple Google search for psychotherapy or therapy or counseling in the Waterloo region will yield a plethora of clinics, professionals, and counselors to do this type of work.
And thanks to technology, much of this work is now available online.
At the University of Waterloo, we have a clinic where many of our students offer psychotherapy services online during the pandemic season.
That being said, we still have a systemic problem in Ontario, Canada, where we do not have fully publicly funded therapy and counseling services for anyone, including young people.
State-funded services have a notoriously long queue, so this remains an urgent issue and I think we need to keep putting pressure on our elected officials.
LISTEN | UW’s Dillon Browne on what parents can do if they find their kids are feeling a lot more anger lately.
Morning Edition – KW11:27Are the children okay? UW expert on how to talk to kids and teens who may be angry
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