After the crisis of a global pandemic and an era of rapid technological consumption, according to Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, the resilience and emotional regulation of our younger generation are being put to the test.
Experts say that the early years are of critical importance when cultivating resilience in kids. Co Founder and Lead Occupational Therapist at Kids Shine Therapy Kendra Sunits says, “The majority of the brains growth and development occurs during the first 5-6 years of life.”
Julie-Ann Pooley is an Associate Dean of Psychology and Social Science at Edith Cowan University and an expert in resilience.
Professor Pooley explains that children are models of their parents. So, when parents are struggling, they emulate this.
Further, although there are added pressures from societal changes, most parents of primary school children have not experienced such tragic and significant events until the COVID-19 epidemic. So, their ability to handle adversity is much lower than before.
Over fifty years ago, children and families were dealing with post-World War stress; children were taught to ‘toughen up’ and dust themselves off whilst a caring mother was at home slaving away. Nowadays, both parents are hustling hard at their careers, trying to nurture their future generation whilst dealing with the stresses of technology and the added societal pressures of “doing it all”.
There are questions about the role of technology in all of this, too.
EsafteyCommissoner states that 94% of children in Australia have access to technology by the age of four. Most have an iPad, phone, laptop or all three. This that one could not turn off from the global crisis that was COVID-19 – it was on every screen in every bedroom and living room. It was of little wonder that anxiety levels skyrocketed.
Jackie Lee has been a practicing school psychologist for 16 years:
She works with students to build their resilience and confidence: “I see kids who don’t recognise their emotions and can’t cope when things get tricky. Especially in school, things are constantly hard.”
Ms Lee explains that these critical life skills aren’t being taught enough.
Parents are opting to pack their children’s lunch, dismiss their feelings, and distract them with a blue screen. While making the parent’s lives easier, these practices hinder a child’s independent development and ability to regulate emotions.
Jackie Lee says that students are bringing these behaviours onto the school grounds. Add the rise of technology, children constantly find “shortcut” solutions. The new AI tool, Chat GBT, is a huge hit. Assignments are ready to go without the child having to use their brain. “Teachers are picking it up, even in primary school students. It’s obvious as you ask them what the word means, and they don’t know it.”
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that Australia is ranked one of the worst schools in disruption in developed countries. Primary schools are grappling with the weekly norm of bullying incidents. Taking a toll on classroom teachers’ confidence and children’s learning environment.
Experts say that if these students keep refusing and scapegoating stressful situations, they will never learn to cope with challenging environments, and their behaviours will worsen. Whether they are 2 or 12, anxiety and mental health issues will keep knocking at their doorsteps.
However, both experts are careful not to blame parents who they feel are simply trying to navigate the new world themselves.
It’s even more challenging when many parents struggle to regulate their emotions. Regardless, children still need to learn; the best way is from their parents.
Professor Pooley also highlights that it’s not just up to the parents, “It’s a nestling effect. A sense of community and a support system is vital for the child and the parents. It teaches us that we are not alone, how to adapt and that it’s okay for others to lend a helping hand.”
In today’s fast-paced world, it’s even more challenging to create than ever before, especially when we are still learning and developing our strategies and can’t keep up.
Ironically, despite Australia being the world’s most expensive childcare system, there are questions about whether the workers remain adequately compensated.
Add in inflation, technology and lack of community and coping skills, and it is no wonder why, as a society, we are struggling to teach our future generation how to succeed and build resilience.
As we navigate the complexities of modern life, we must ask: are we exacerbating these challenges, or do we possess the necessary resources to address these challenges effectively?
With 15 years of experience in parental courses and weekly host on sunshine FM, Graham talks to me about how parental styles plays a huge role in a child’s ability to learn resilience
Graham Irvine on parenting styles and resilience. Interview by Sharne Wakefield.