by Frank C. Sacco, Ph.D., CSI President, Scholar in Residence
Reaching the Difficult Child
Part One: Digital Pressures
Urban kids in a digital era are exposed to a constant barrage of stimulation through broadcast or social media. Everything is now available IMMEDIATELY. Have a question? Google it. Need a social group, start creeping on Facebook. While there are many positive uses for these technological advances, there are just as many new ways to interfere with a child’s normal cognitive, emotional, and social development.
A parent’s job is to be a shield for the child and to let him or her venture into the world of complex stimulation in “baby steps” so the child does not become overwhelmed and develops normal curiosity and confidence. This will lead to the development of social skills acquired by supervised introduction of children to more activity and stimulation as they are able to handle it.
When the parent does not consistently protect the child, trauma builds and impacts a child in a number of different ways that result in the symptoms we see interfering with a child’s ability to function at home, in the school, and community.
Here are some of the ways Modern kids may show trauma:
- Instant Gratification: Patience and planning suffer. Instant access to information, images, and social contact. Not everything in life is instant, this poses trouble to kids who think so
- Fragmented Attention: Kids cannot exist without their phones. Face-to-face communication is a lost art. Multi-tasking has taken on a new twist in fragmenting modern children’s attention and concentration (ADHD style)
- Stimulation Addicts: Children become addicted to a certain level of stimulation. Calming is more difficult when a child lives with constant burdens of stimulation and communication
- Pseudo-Mature and Oversexed: Kids now have unprecedented access to aggressive and sexual images. This has caused children to act and think older than their biology.
- Hostile Dependency: As children seek independence, they experience a lack of skills to engage in the competitive academic and vocational world. They develop a hostile need to be supported by an authority. This is quickly turned into criminal justice statistics
- Angry Entitlement: Modern kids expect everything delivered and resent sustained steps to achieving a goal. This makes kids angry and feel entitled to dictate the terms of living in the world known for being uncompromising
- Easily Bored: Boredom is the devils workshop. Children need adult-supervised activity otherwise they isolate or associate with trouble
So, what’s a therapist to do? First, fight the urge to make common sense suggestions. You will not get to the bottom of the story if you start trying to fix what you do not understand. Do you see any of the above in the story presented by the client? Keep the attention on what the child/teen feels is important. Try to capture the child’s experience. Instead of giving a lecture on Instant Gratification, say, “it must be hard to wait or not get an answer, must make you tense.” Seek the underlying feelings that motivated the problem and shaped its expression. Understanding requires listening and straining to understand it from the kid’s point of view. This can be done in talk or play therapy. The child/teen needs to feel your interest in their viewpoint and experiences.