Wednesday | March 29, 2023

Recognizing Early Warning Signs of Child Depression


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What if He or She Just Has the Blues?


In recent years, there has been a groundswell of activism and campaigning to reduce the stigma of depression and mental health anomalies. A number of celebrities and public figures have come forward to tell their stories of struggling with depression.

Though we accept what we hear about adults dealing with depression, it’s difficult to recognize the early warning signs of depression in children. When a child or teen is withdrawn, sullen or frequently sad, adults often assume “It’s just a phase he’s going through.”, or “She’s just hormonal!”

Maybe your child is growing through a difficult time, or their emotions are being affected by hormones. Maybe there is a long term mental health condition which you should recognize, and work with your doctor to determine the best course of treatment.

Here is some guidance we’ve curated from professionals on how to determine:

  • If your son or daughter might have a depression disorder, or just have “the blues”
  • Common symptoms and signals you can watch for
  • When you should contact your doctor, social worker or other professional

How to Spot a “Black Dog” In Your Child’s Life

Australian author Matthew Johnstone published a compelling book living with depression called “I Had a Black Dog”. It has become a global phenomenon, and inspired an awareness campaign from the World Health Organization. It identifies depression as a mood disorder, but one which can be managed by therapy, medication or a physical wellness programs.

The “Black Dog Book” identifies many of the symptoms of living with depression like:

  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Severe spikes in appetite, and weight loss or gain
  • Anger, guilt, feelings of worthlessness and/or irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping, or sleeping too much
  • Loss of interest in activities your child usually loves to do
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and social events
  • Strange aches and pains
  • Difficulty concentrating, poor performance in school
  • General negativity or ambiguous thoughts
  • Lack of interest in personal hygiene, dress or being around people

If you find your child is expressing concerns about these symptoms, or if you observe them exhibiting these signs, try and start a dialog with them. Try not to be too confrontational about it, as your child may retract and hide their feelings. Concealing depression symptoms is another sign of clinical depression. Discuss your concerns with your child or teen supportively, not accusingly.

What if He or She Just Has the Blues?

If your child or teen is exhibiting some of these symptoms suddenly, or for a short term basis, they may just have a case of “the sads”. They may just need:

  • Fresh air
  • Exercise
  • A change in nutrition choices
  • A conversation with you that is calm and patient. Allow them the time to speak their feelings
  • To distance them from video games, social media or the internet
  • Space, understanding, and recognition that their feelings are important

There may be something happening at school, with relationships with friends or romantic interests that are causing “angst” or sadness. Try to help your child through what they are dealing with. If the symptoms persist, consider speaking with your family doctor about forms of treatment. There are also support resources at the school, either to “compare notes” on symptoms you are seeing, to get referrals to community programs, or talk to counsellors about options.

If you are noticing some of these warning signs of child depression, don’t despair. If you have been experiencing signs of sadness or stress yourself, your child or teen may be picking up on your emotional cues. Recognizing whether your son or daughter is suffering from a mood disorder, or just a temporary bout of the blues is important.

If your physician diagnoses your child as being mildly or deeply depressed, there are a number of pharmaceutical options which your doctor may recommend to treat their condition. Early detection often helps to diminish depression, and alternative approaches to medicine are often effective.

Other therapeutic options include:

  • Discussions with a therapist, social worker or psychiatrist/psychologist
  • Fitness programs
  • Family sessions with a mediator
  • Nutritional consultations

Regardless of the long term plan, starting with your family doctor is often the best first step. Other community resources like the CMHA, YMCA or peer groups might be a good next step. Your child’s future can be made drastically better if you open up a dialogue with them, help them feel safe, and work towards a mentally healthy future.

May 3rd, 2018

Posted In: Education, Nutrition, Parenting, Uncategorised

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Building Positive Self Esteem in Your Teen

Being a teenager is difficult. Their bodies are changing and growing. Their hormones can make their emotions hard to control. They are meeting new friends, forming new relationships, having new experiences. There are also raised expectations that can feel daunting to meet.

All of this can cause teenagers to have low self-esteem. A teen with low self-esteem will feel unloved, have negative feelings about themselves, avoid trying new things, be easily influenced or blame others for their failures.

We want our teens to have high self-esteem, which is important for their success in life. When a teen has high self-esteem, they view themselves positively, act independently, try new things, are proud of their accomplishments and are better able to handle their emotions.

So how to we ensure our kids grow into teens who have high self-esteem? Luckily there are many ways in which parents can help facilitate a positive self-image in their teens.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]                                       “practice making positive statements about themselves.”[/pullquote]

Praise your child. You don’t want to come off as insincere and compliment everything they do at every turn. This will backfire, particularly for children who have lower self-esteem and don’t accept compliments easily. But you can make a point of letting your child know when they did a good job or that something they did caused you to feel joy or pride in them. We are so often quick to criticize—if only to help our children improve—but well-deserved praised can be very meaningful and heartfelt.

Involve your teen in discussions. Ask your child for their opinion and show them what they think matters. Whether you’re discussing the news or where to go for lunch, seek their thoughts and encourage them to voice their opinions. Teenagers tend to have lots to say and showing them you value what they think will go a long way toward building their self-esteem.

Offer constructive criticism. Rather than putting your child down or making them feel ashamed of their mistake, think about how you can frame it in a more positive light. For instance, rather than telling them how disappointed you were in their test result, let them know that this is a good starting point and that if they spend a little extra time studying, you know the next mark will be better.

​Teach them you have faith in their abilities. Help them set goals and achieve them. Rather than focus on the negative, teach them how to reframe it in a positive way.

Encourage your teen to discover their interests and talents. There’s no better way to feel good about yourself than when you’re doing something you enjoy and at which you excel. Finding that hobby or talent can be tricky, but don’t give up if they don’t find it right away.

​Have them try something new, play with them, say “yes” if they come to you with an idea of their own. This is also a great way to make like-minded friends, expand their skills and even get some exercise if sports is what they enjoy.

Teach your child to practice making positive statements about themselves. It’s so easy to get down on yourself. Too often, we find ourselves saying negative things about ourselves. Teens in particular might tell themselves they are “uncool,” “unlikeable,” “unattractive” or “not smart enough.” This will only harm their self-esteem and can lead to depression and anxiety.

​It’s so important to encourage our teens to practice saying positive things about themselves and to look at situations in a more positive light. For instance, rather than allowing your teen to be upset that their team lost the baseball game, encourage your teen to think about all they fun they had playing. Remind them that they tried their best and that their next game represents a whole new opportunity to have fun, try hard, and maybe even win.

Remind your child that everyone is good at different things. It’s easy for teens to compare themselves to other teens. They tend to notice if others are better at them in certain subjects and feel bad about themselves in comparison.

​Encourage your teen to think about all the things they do well. Let them know it’s great for them to be proud of their friends for their accomplishments. Their friend is sure to compliment them right back when your child excels at something else. This is a great way to spread the goodwill and ensure your child and their social group becomes supportive, rather than competitive.

View mistakes as valuable. We can’t excel at everything and be our best all the time. Sometimes we make mistakes or experience a failure of some sort. If your child is feeling down, encourage them to view mistakes as learning opportunities. What do they think went wrong? How can they improve or act differently to have a more positive outcome next time?

​Growing up is about making mistakes and learning from them. It’s how you progress. Let your teen know you’re proud of them for trying and for learning from their mistake.

Self-esteem is very important and we all want our teens to grow into adults who think positively about themselves and can be happy with their place in the world. With these tips, you’re sure to get your teen off to the best possible start.

March 1st, 2018

Posted In: Community, Education, Nutrition, Parenting, Uncategorised

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Devices and Your Teen’s Developing Brain

We all know that too much screen time is bad for little kids. This includes time spent using iPhones, iPads, video games and computers. Many studies have exposed that too much screen time for little kids can cause permanent damage to their brains. In fact, it can interfere with a child’s ability to focus, concentrate and communicate as they grow older.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]                      “over use of social media can lead to anxiety“[/pullquote]

But do high-tech devices have the same impact on our teenager’s brains, or is more screen time okay for teenagers? It seems to all depend.

​Some screen time is important and even essential for teens. Using a computer is a great way to conduct research or type up school assignments. Phones are an important method of communication and have become increasingly important as a way of interacting with peers. Video games and time spent playing on an iPad are fun and can be a great way to unwind with friends.

But moderation is the key. This is especially important since a person’s brain isn’t fully developed until age 25. This means that too much screen time can definitely negatively affect a teenager’s developing brain. Here’s how:

Too much screen time can lead to dangerous addiction. According to one 2013 study, addiction is linked with depression, impulsiveness and traits associated with autism. It occurs when addicts turn to technology to experience a rush, which is what happens when dopamine floods the brain. The need for this pleasurable sensation fights with the brain’s ability to think rationally and use restraint.

Though you might not think getting a rush from technology is a particular problem, it can actually be deadly. What happens when a teenager is so addicted to their phone that it interferes with their ability to drive safely? They might text and drive or check their phone while behind the wheel, which is dangerous. It can also be illegal depending on where you live.

Technology is not only addictive to the teenaged brain, but over use of social media can lead to anxiety, depression and a loss of interest in socializing face-to-face. Experts have seen an alarming rise in tech-related mental health issues. Parents are being called upon to limit their teen’s time spent on social media, to enforce tech-free family time and eliminate phones from their teenager’s bedrooms at night. It’s all in an effort to ensure their teenager has a healthy balance of socializing, exercise and interaction outside of the virtual world.

Too much screen time can also affect a teen’s ability to sleep. Sleeping and dreaming are essential to developing and maintaining long-term memory. When a teenager is on their phone late into the night, they aren’t getting the sleep they need for their brains to properly function.

In addition to its impact on the brain, over use of technology can have negative physical side effects as well. Too much screen time can lead to eye strain, headaches, tendonitis of the wrist and pain in the neck, shoulders and back.

While technology can have negative impacts on the developing teenager’s brain, we must also recognize it’s an important part of life today. In fact, we can’t live without it. The key is to ensure our teens have balance in their lives. It’s important they socialize with friends, interact with real people, get enough sleep, and not let technology interfere with their physical safety and mental well being.

February 19th, 2018

Posted In: Community, Education, Parenting, Technology, Uncategorised

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How to Help Your Child Decipher Fake News

In today’s political climate, we hear a lot about fake news. These are stories that are “planted” in social media outlets, such as Facebook. Fake news is mistakenly and easily trusted because these stories seem like real news the stories and they are widely shared even though they are inaccurate or just plain wrong.

A recent Pew Research Centre survey found only 39 percent of American adults felt “very confident” in their ability to know when a news story is fake. Twenty-three percent even said they shared a fake news story online.

If adults have trouble deciphering fake news from real news, the situation is more troubling for teens and children. This especially the case considering that studies show teens turn to Facebook as their primary social media news source. For tweens, YouTube is their most trusted source online.

If teens and tweens didn’t care about the news or pay attention to it, parents might not worry as much about the topic. However, studies show that these demographics value the news. In a study titled “News and America’s Kids,” 70 percent of respondents ages 10 to 18 said the news made them feel knowledgeable. Almost 50 percent said the news was important to them.

Show them bad news, however, and it can negatively impact their mood. Sixty-three percent said the news makes them feel  angry, afraid, sad or depressed.

So how can we teach our kids the difference between real and fake news? How can we ensure they are relying on trusted information? Here are a few ideas:

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]                                                 “Talk to your kids about the news “[/pullquote]

Make sure you know where your children are getting their news. While tweens still tend to get most of their news information from parents and teachers, that begins to change as tweens become teens. Teens begin to rely more heavily on social media, websites and apps for their news. They start to turn less to parents and traditional media sources, leaving them exposed to fake news.

​How much time does your child spend on social media? Do you know what they’re doing online? Be aware of the sites they use, what they’re reading online and how much time they’re spending on it. How do you find out? You can monitor their usage on tracking apps, viewing their browser history and by asking.

Talk to your kids about the news and fake news. Open a dialogue with your child. Do they have any questions about anything they’ve read online recently? Talk about issues at the dinner table. Watch the news together in the evening or turn it on in the car when you’re driving. They will naturally absorb whatever information they overhear.

Raise the topic of fake news. Talk to them about what it is and how to recognize the signs—by questioning what they read online, using more traditional media channels and talking to trusted adults about anything that doesn’t sound quite right, especially before they are tempted to share it with friends. They might not even be aware that some stories are untrue. This will help your child become more social media savvy and politically aware.

Teach them to be skeptical. Let your child know it’s okay—even good—to question what they read online or hear from friends. If they notice a red flag, question it, think critically about what they’ve heard and talk to an adult. Let them know they can talk to you about any questions they might have and that no question is a bad one or “dumb” one.

Encourage them to be skeptical about what they hear and especially to place less value in the stories they read online. Talk to them about how else they might go about verifying a story that seems dubious. Suggest asking a parent or teacher, watching the news on TV, listening to the radio or reading the news either in print or online from a trusted source.

Speak to your child’s teacher about how current events are handled in the classroom. If your child’s school doesn’t have a specific course on current events, perhaps your child’s teacher discusses various newsworthy subjects in class. Perhaps they would discuss current events more often if they knew it was of concern to parents. Is there a course or unit on media literacy that could reinforce the warnings you’re teaching at home? You and your child’s teacher are a team and you all want the same positive outcomes for your child.

Fake news is a very real concern today and we don’t want our teens and tweens to fall victim to it. While even adults can be easily duped by a fake news story, there are things you can do as parents to make your kids more aware of what fake news is and where to turn for more accurate information.

February 8th, 2018

Posted In: Community, Education, Parenting, Technology, Uncategorised

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Is the Internet Harming Your Kids?

Without a doubt, technology has changed our children’s lives. The emergency of things like the internet, smart phones and social media has dramatically altered their childhood from the childhood we knew when growing up. Things we as parents didn’t worry or think about as children are now front and centre when it comes to raising our own children. Why the worry?

According to a MediaSmarts survey, “Young Canadians in a Wired World”, nearly all Canadian children are going online. In fact, of all students surveyed, 99 percent responded that they have access to the internet outside of school and across a variety of devices. Twenty-four percent of Grade 4 students own a cell phone or smart phone while more than half of Grade 7 students and 85 percent of students in Grade 11 have them. What’s more, the survey found that more than half of students in Grade 11 report sleeping with their phones in case they get a call or text at night.

While technology and the internet can be a great thing, the current trend is often alarming to parents and experts alike. They worry about the adverse impact the extensive use of the internet might be having on our children. Challenges include everything from cyberbullying and posting or viewing inappropriate content to a reduction in attention spans and even increased rates of depression.

It makes sense: the more time kids spend texting one another, they less time they’re spending developing social skills, participating in extra-curricular activities and even sleeping. On top of it all, their brains haven’t fully developed enough to understand that what they post now can have short and long-term consequences. What they might think is an innocent mistake can cost them a job in future or even make them a dangerous target for predators. It all adds up to a big concern: is the internet harming our kids?

It doesn’t have to. There are things parents can do to ensure their children are using technology in a way that is empowering. We can ensure our kids are accessing the internet in responsible and appropriate ways.

Talk about it. The first thing parents can do is have an open discussion with your children. Let them know the advantages as well as the dangers of going online.

Advantages can include researching a project, communicating with friends and even having fun by playing video games online.

​There are many dangers. Some of these can include using social media at the expense of other activities or not considering the consequences of posting inappropriate photos or comments on social media. Talk to your child about these dangers so they are aware. Ask them how they intend to use the internet, how often is appropriate, and what sites are safe vs unsafe.

Set the rules. The MediaSmarts survey showed that household rules have a major and advantageous impact on childrens’ online behaviour. It has been shown to reduce risky behaviour like posting contact information, visiting gambling or pornographic sites and talking to strangers online.

​It’s up to you as parents to decide when your child can get a phone, where they can keep the phone, how often they can use it and what sites they can visit. You might consider allowing your child to have an email address but holding off on a Facebook account or Twitter until they are older, more mature or understand how to use it responsibly.

[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Let your child know they can talk to you[/pullquote]

​Check these social media sites to see what they recommend and if there are any age limits. You might allow your child to use their phone once their homework is complete, but decide there are certain times that will be cell phone free. You might want to all take a break during dinner or family time and set an example yourself. You might also restrict the use of phones when homework is being done and when it’s time for bed, as the phone can be a distraction from concentrating and resting.

Monitor behaviour and use controls. Numerous parents like to check in on their children’s social media use. They might regularly visit their child’s Facebook page or see what they’re posting on Instagram. Let your child know you’ll be watching so they understand there are limits to how they use the internet.

​You can also change the control settings on devices to block your child from accessing certain sites or even using their devices at certain times. Often, these controls can be found in your Settings and are easy to apply and change as your child gets older.

Let your child know they can talk to you if they have questions or concerns about using the internet and social media safely and responsibly. The internet can hurt children, but it doesn’t have to.


January 22nd, 2018

Posted In: Community, Education, Parenting, Technology, Uncategorised

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