Daniela Ginta, The Mindful Writer

Freelance Writer and Photographer, Author of the Mindfulness Blog

Tag: teenagers

Weekly Column: Restriction On How We Use Cannabis Have Their Place

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on October 15, 2018. 

October 17 is just around the corner. Cannabis will be legal (and the province expects a hit from the first orders, predicted to come as a huge wave as many want to make history by ordering as soon as cannabis becomes legal,) and many others are bracing for what the legalization brings about.

One of the concerns is driving while under the influence.

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Weekly Column: Our Teenagers Are Vaping Away At The Cost Of Their Health

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops on September 17, 2018 and also published at www.danielaginta.com

On August 30, 2018, the San Francisco-based company Juul Labs Inc. announced its arrival to Canada. Their products will be available for sale starting this month. The Juul memory stick-like vaporizers contain nicotine in variable amounts, as high as 59 micrograms per milliliter of liquid. The amount of nicotine contained in a pod could be as high to two packs of cigarettes, according to one source. The nicotine salts deliver a head rush like no other, users say. Plus, it’s slick and easy to conceal.

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Do We Need To Redefine Adolescence?

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on January 22, 2018. 

When I was 12 or so, I became aware that some elderly people around me, relatives or not, had been married or were forced by various life circumstances to become an ‘adult’ early on, at the age of say 16 or slightly older, but under 20. There were a few stories of people whose fathers died suddenly, which meant that the eldest in the family had to work a lot harder to compensate for the loss.

I kept asking my mom about how someone just a couple of years older than me could know enough to take care of a home, or a family. Her answer was that they likely didn’t, but learned as they went along. It made sense then as it does now. Being around my parents during the times I was not at school, or doing my homework, playing, or reading, I got to learn so much just by spending time with them, watching them do things, asking questions, or being given various tasks.

It takes being there and being present, and having the awareness of time spent that way, something I often wonder about regarding our children and more so, our teenagers, nowadays. We cannot make up our minds on whether they are growing up too fast or if they need some extra time allocated to mature and leave the nest.

Throughout the last decade, there have been many books written about the teenage brain and its mysterious ways. The library of knowledge is growing, yet here we are still scratching our heads and wondering if we understand our teens as much as we thought we did.

As of last week, another stick was thrown in a parent’s rather shoddy (at times) wheel. In an op-ed piece published in the journal Lancet Child & Adolescent Health Journal, Professor Susan Sawyer, Director of the Centre for Adolescent Health in Melbourne, argues that we ought to rethink the definition of adolescence and redefine existing age brackets as to include all our young ones between 10 and 24 years of age. One of the reasons, she says, is that young people do things such as leaving home, gaining financial independence, and starting a family, a lot later than they used to.

One wonders whether calling a 24-year-old a teenager will solve all those issues. If back in the day kids often had no choice but to grow up fast and fill whatever size shoes life threw at them, nowadays most of them (on this side of the world, anyway,) have the luxury of not worrying too much about providing for their families and instead indulging a lot more in what is generally known as ‘chilling’. On the other hand, a ludicrous minimum wage coupled with education-related high debt can lock young people into living with their parents past the age of 20.

There are, indeed, many facets to having teenagers transition from living with their parents to being financially-independent, and affordable secondary education, and a decent minimum wage can make the process a lot smoother without having to expand the teenage years past the actual ‘-teen’ numbers.

Allowing one to not have any responsibilities has never been a recipe for developing resilience or a dependable character, nor has excusing one’s questionable behaviour or downright defending it. The latter has been increasing over the years, according to many teachers who have had to deal not only with their students’ challenging behaviour, but also with the parents’ resentment over their children being disciplined.

Some of the conclusions streaming out of the neuroscience labs point to the teenage years as essential for brain development (as opposed to just early childhood.) Some scientists concluded that activities involving learning (reading, being involved in various tasks that involve both brain power and hands-on projects) help increase teenagers IQ during the ages of 12 and 16.

On the other hand, a substantial body of research points to the teenage brain being easily highjacked by addictive activities such as gaming, drinking, smoking, or using recreational drugs such as pot, all of which can reduce their ability to perform at their highest potential. In other words, they are vulnerable. Not in a ‘let’s bubble-wrap them’, but in a ‘let’s provide what they need such as a listening ear, time spent together, dialogue, and not least, boundaries.’

It’s the age of digital tech connectivity and life in the fast lane; fewer and fewer families sit down for meals together, or spend enough time with each other to truly stay connected. While defining life stages and pouring over books discussing behaviour and arguing for this or that is great and a good conversation tool, truth is, what we most need, to know, understand, and connect with our growing children, is time. Also, if we want to be able to count on our teenagers to be dependable and trustworthy, we must provide them with good examples to follow, solid boundaries and enough opportunities to learn to grow.

It may not be the definition from outside bodies that counts the most, but rather empowering our teenagers to see themselves from inside as capable to raise up to challenges, instead of letting their spirit succumb to immaturity, a narrative we are collectively suggesting to them, albeit with the best of intentions.

The Case of Missing Innocence – A Sequel

Last night I attended Jesse Miller‘s talk about kids and social media: the good, the bad and the ugly. As expected, ugly can get uglier with a click and Miller explained how.

The topic is as heavy as it is complicated. The recurring refrain was the one that seems to be the only viable solution, yet somehow the hardest to apply: dialogue. Children love to talk and they have a hefty amount of common sense which gets diluted with time.

If there was ever a time when parents have to hold on to their kids for dear life, I’d say this is it. The ever expansive social experiment of already gargantuan dimensions keeps on growing and the risk of losing ourselves and our children in it grows with it.

Children are barely prepared for life when they make their debut on any social media, that is a fact. Miller emphasized that. Children have the means to understand tech, they have the firing synapses that allow them to understand how the internet works and, thanks to their parents and a killer set of nag-plea-implore-till-you-get strategies, they have access to the latest in smartphone innovation.

But, they miss life experience. And it shows, sooner than expected. That’s where the parents come in. Ideally, through open dialogue that happens regularly rather than when the unthinkable happens, which is why last night’s talk took place to begin with.

Interestingly enough though, many parents commit their children to the unforgiving forces of social media very early on. The perspective offered by Miller was an eye-opener for many I hope. Parents dump folder after folder of family photos on Facebook and Instagram; instances of their children’s life milestones, from the trenches of potty training to the glamour of graduation, and everything in between.

Many children who are now tweens and teens – the high risk category for offending, are becoming offenders or victims – have had a camera pointed at them since they can remember. Miller aptly points to the obvious: What are they going to do when they are given their own device? That’s right: Click and post.

The question that is always left unanswered in my opinion is this: Why do we feel the need to share so much detail with strangers? I am challenged by the notion of friendship of Facebook, I said it before. How did we become comfortable with the idea of sharing life bits? Why do we allow hundreds of people, Facebook friends, Instagram or Twitter followers, peek at our life events while still insisting on pulling the curtains at night?

There were a handful of take home messages last night, such as:

  • Establish some good boundaries that will allow you to set a good example (no touching the phone while driving for example, no phone at the dinner table, and disconnect during family time)
  • Talk to your kids about the dangers of sharing personal details with hordes of strangers (a couple of high school kids in the audience confirmed that many of their peers take photos of their driver’s license and post it online)
  • Everything (or almost everything) that one posts online stays somewhere online. Scary to think about now that so much of your life is out there? That’s the point. Privacy is no longer to be expected.

There wasn’t a lot of talking about the sensible topic of inappropriate ‘selfies’ (the word of the year in 2013, and yes feel free to cringe) which caused an uproar at the South Kamloops Secondary School, but these share the same fate with the rest of things shared: They’ll be somewhere out there long after one wishes they’ll be gone. what’s worse, they become grounds for cyber bullying, shaming and, as seen over the last few years, they can push young people to commit suicide.

A chilling fact shared by Miller last night was the high number of views Amanda Todd’s You Tube video got after she died. In the millions that is. Sadly ironic, she was trying to attract attention to her case so that bullying would stop. It didn’t, until she took her own life.

‘Trending’, another strong social media term, makes no distinction between good and bad. if it gains audience it trends. Children should not be expected to make fair judgment calls about the content they see. Social media where information, questionable or not, piles up like a hundred avalanches a day, will keep being what it is: A repository that may or may not contain your child’s life bits, photos and opinions about life.

That’s why parents need to step in and provide guidance. it’s a learning experience for parents and children, but clumsiness makes both parties endearing to each other rather than resentful, so indulge. let loose, show that you’ve never done the social media thing before but maintain the one thing every parent should: That you know more about life and that puts you not in the friend seat but the parent seat. it’s a privilege and a challenge, and believe it or not, children know it and expect it.

For now, it comes down to this: boundaries and common sense have to be there. They have no expiration date because no matter where you are in life, if you make them your allies, you’ll be on solid ground.

I left the room last night with a lot of questions, and with an enhanced perspective over an issue that has been with me for a long time now.

in 2012, following Amanda Todd’s death, I left Facebook. I did not want to be a bystander. I knew, just like I know today, that children younger then 14 are allowed on Facebook when they should not be and that is akin to allowing them to drive long before they have the skills or maturity to do so. I knew, just like I know today, that in some parts of that virtual space someone is being bullied and someone might just decide to end their life to stop their suffering and the public shaming.

More than a year after that, I made my appearance on Facebook again, with the sole intention of sharing my writing, which, I was told, might just be a shame to miss if the issue is worth sharing.

My personal page though, which I need to have in order to have an author page, has been stripped to almost nothing. I took down the few photos I shared back when I thought Facebook to be a connection tool with faraway family and friends because I find no reason to share life bits like that. Sure it takes effort and time to maintain correspondence with those who matter, but then again, such efforts are nothing but an illustration of our caring for them, and the other way around.

I don’t expect anyone to share my beliefs, and I also fear that pending lack of engagement on the said platform over issues that I write about and I consider important, I might opt out again.

The thing is, there is a lack of strict boundaries that troubles me. One could argue that the plethora of social media platforms makes the denial of one almost insignificant. True. But I would like to take one of the messages from last night’s talk and solidify it: Do as you expect your children to do.

I have an open dialogue with my sons. To a fault, one could say. Yes, that close, and I am nothing but grateful for it. There is nothing we shy away from when it comes to talking and debating. To listening. I want to keep that alive: the openness, and the gratefulness attached to it.

But I also want to set boundaries that I hope will inspire my sons to think that in all the craziness of hurried, privacy-robbed times, our living space maintained enough common sense to spill into their decisions as they grow up.

One could hope.

 

 

The Case Of Missing Innocence

It happened again. The ill combination of tech devices, hormones and bad judgment, plus a lack of boundaries has a handful of students from South Kamloops Secondary School (SKSS) in Kamloops in a painful knot.

Will there be charges of child pornography laid in the latest case of inappropriate content swapping among high school students? After all, an incident in Victoria ended up with a girl being charged.

wrote before about children nowadays having unrestricted access to online pornography. And how perhaps we should heed the British PM’s proposition that internet providers install filters to prevent access. I also said that my sons are still so young that I should not be personally concerned just yet, but when the time comes I will not shy from having ‘the talk.’

The reactions then and since went from ‘It’s OK to lighten up about the issue, it is the 21st century after all…’ to ‘Yes, this is a scary reality.’ Parents of children my oldest son’s age tell me their children are far from even knowing about online pornography let alone searching for it, yet my son hints to an alternate truth. He knows because he’s in the middle of it.

Children nowadays know more than we think they do, and they are, like all children, curious. Teens and preteens get to play grown-ups too soon and too aggressively; they act like adults and make many adults cringe. Then again, truth be told, many people who have subscribed to the new best-seller Fifty Shades of Gray  believe that being liberated is a desirable attitude in today’s world. Note: I will discuss the questionable nature of such claims spurred by the book in a later post.

Tempted to ask why children hurry and open the ill Pandora’s box all too soon? Because it’s there and it’s tempting and because even if you know you’re not supposed to, peer pressure is a huge factor in tweaking will power to the dark side…

In other words, you don’t want to be the one that is not up to speed when someone asks the question… So you go and look. And learn, wrong things included, and thus the dark secrets steal innocence and widen the gap between children and adults.

So they know porn is there, they know how to access it and they are also told through sexual education sessions that sexual explorations are OK as long as precautions are taken. And explore they do, with disastrous consequences.

From accessing online pornography which paints a skewed image of real sex, to snapping and exchanging indecent photos and thus hurting fellow classmates and friends, breeding a new form of bullying and pushing some towards terrible definitive decisions, to playing ‘relationship’ before they know what a relationship entails, children are hit by the sexual liberation tsunami harder than we can imagine and the consequences are worse that we might ever hope to find solutions to.

So we know all of that. We know what they can do and we’re getting to know what’s out there in cyber space. Lots of unfiltered information that can hurt.

Though sad, stunning stories of teenage suicide caused by sexual harassment and cyber bullying, as well as of stories of indecent photo swapping are darkening the horizon, I believe there is still time to act. Not by leaving it to others to address it as they see fit, but by finding the courage to look our children in the eye and call it as it is.

Knowing the truth provides solid ground to stand on and look for solutions. Or to start brainstorming at least.

***

Fact: Children have tech devices that allows them to access a flurry of information online, pornography included.

Possible solution: If needed for communication purposes (as if) perhaps opting for the basic tech device rather than the latest model. With explanations as to why that is. Though they may pout, all children appreciate being taken care of and feel safe when they know boundaries are in place.

Fact: The said tech devices nowadays have cameras. Taking inappropriate photos just for fun is a mistake but it is not a deadly mistake. Or is it?

Solution: The explanation that any kind of indecent photo of anyone under the age of 16 that is sent, received or traded means possession and/or trafficking of child pornography and any association with such photos could lead to criminal charges. Which makes possession or swapping of inappropriate photos a deadly mistake.

***

A certain expected disconnect between parents and their growing children has always been there, but we’re witnessing an all-new, all-engulfing generational gap nowadays. It’s a social experiment with no precedent and while we often hear of parents and children bonding over electronic games played on the family console, many of those kids will be sucked into the dark reality of playing naughty.

To that, no amount of talks at school or media awareness campaigns will help if the parents do not step up to the new, granted, overfull plate and have ‘the talk(s).’

Innocence lost is a crushingly sad reality. It is what my son wonders about. If we adults let our children be robbed of it so easily, how can they be expected to hold onto it? Most children are too young to even know that such things exist, let alone understand the wrongness of the crime once they are exposed to it.

Not taking the proverbial bull by the horns in this situation is akin to leaving our children in harm’s way hoping they will not be harmed simply because we’ve been imbued with too many happy ending scenarios along the way.

Life is real and we cannot eschew ourselves from any reality that comes our way. ‘Head in the sand’ leaves the rest exposed, and that includes the children we cradle so dearly to our hearts. No ‘I’m sorry’ can ever make up for it. Because there is no going back.

Which is why the time to act is now and not a second later.

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