Are you a tiger mom? A free-range parent? How do you deal with cyber-bullying? Is it ever OK to snoop through your child’s social-media accounts?
These questions, so foreign just two decades ago, are regularly faced by today’s parents, who as a result of the unique challenges of raising this generation of children and teenagers are seeking help through parenting classes and symposiums.
In early March, 120 parents participated in a Community Parent Symposium hosted at Krieger Schechter Day School and jointly sponsored with the women’s division of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and Jewish Community Services. The evening featured a keynote address by Meredith Jacobs, vice president of marketing and communications for Jewish Women International and former editor of the JT’s sister publication, Washington Jewish Week, who discussed the ups and downs of trying to be the perfect parent. Symposium participants then had the opportunity to participate in breakout sessions tackling the rise of childhood anxiety, overly involved parents, the “selfie” generation and a spotlight on how to raise children with Jewish integrity called “Making Mensches.”
Lisa Ferentz a clinical social worker and founder of the Institute for Advanced Psychotherapy Training and Education, Inc., facilitated a breakout session titled “The Challenges and Vulnerabilities of Early Adolescence.”
Simply put, “it is different to be a kid and teenager in 2015,” said Ferentz. “Parents get hit with challenges and want to make the right choices but may feel at a bit of a loss.”
The adolescent brain, she explained to participants, is wired differently and can start developing as early as age 10 and may not finish developing into a fully “adult brain” until age 26. During that time span, the adolescent self — physical, spiritual, emotional, academic, social and social-media self — are evolving, and doing so at different rates. Teenagers are subject to peer pressure, generally have poor impulse control, a desire for risk taking and a limited ability to think in the abstract.
All of these factors combined means that more supervision is necessary, not less.
“Parents are sometimes under the impression that [teenagers] need less supervision when the opposite is true,” said Ferentz. “Parents have a right and responsibility to know what’s going on in a child’s life.”
Trust your gut, she tells parents. A certain level of moodiness is to be expected, but severe depression and anxiety are not a normal part of adolescence. If you suspect that your child is committing self-harm, being cyber-bullied or are cyber-bullying others, look into their social-media accounts and limit their screen time, she said.
Parents who feel overwhelmed, she continued, should seek professional guidance for their children and for themseelves. “A parent is not expected to be their child’s therapist.” In fact, a child may be more willing to disclose to a nonfamily member.
JCS is one community resource parents can turn to for help. Free half-hour consultations with mental health professionals are readily available. Parents can request a session through jcsbaltimore.org/parenting/consultation or fill out a form at the Owings Mills and Park Heights Jewish Community Centers. All appointments are kept confidential.
Rachael Abrams, a clinical social worker and parent outreach specialist with JCS, reiterating a common theme, said that in addition to seeking professional help, parents are looking for ways to convey safe practices to their children when it comes to technology and social media as well as to develop strategies to communicate appropriately and effectively at every stage of their child’s development.
Bullying remains a huge area of concern.
“Bullying is big,” said Abrams. “We did a large program two years ago and we were going to take a step back from the topic, but parents keep asking for it.”
In Harford County, Rabbi Kushi Schusterman, in conjunction with Harford Community College, recently concluded the six-part Rohr Jewish Learning Institute’s “The Art of Parenting.”
Each class focused on a different topic from being a parent versus a “peer ant” to issues of discipline and boundary setting to cultivating healthy self-esteem and granting appropriate responsibilities.
Schusterman told parents to “make sure that they know that you’re the parent and they’re the child, and those boundaries are in place. As opposed to being a peer, [children] want you to have a certain level of healthy authority over them, and that will give them true freedom to fly on their own, as challenging as it will be for the parent.”