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GUEST EDITORIAL: Are you doing everything you can to keep your child emotionally healthy and happy?

Greenville, SC 01/19/2023 (Steven Hawkins) - As parents, guardians, and caregivers, we would never want our children or the young people in our lives we love to be sad and hurt during their childhood. We certainly wouldn’t want our children to be or feel unsuccessful during this age or at any age. We wouldn’t want our children to hurt themselves by using or overusing drugs, and certainly wouldn’t want them to use other dangerous substances or do anything that would inflict self-harm upon themselves or perhaps even take their own life. As parents, uncles and aunts, guardians, and caring adults, we want to make sure our children feel loved and wanted. As older caregivers, There are what I will call the 4 Building Blocks to assist the young people in our lives and families to be happy and succesful.


Those 4 Building Blocks are:


1. Encourage a young person to join a youth group or become involved with an extracurricular activity during school.

2. Parents make sure your children are safe and not involved in mischief or wrong doing.

3. Teachers and school counselors should also watch out for children who are falling through the cracks.

4. Educators and parents should encourage children to finish their education to be able to obtain a good, fulfilling job that leads to a productive and happy life as they mature.


From this point forward, I will attempt to explain in more depth each of these 4 Building Blocks and how they can help. .


When children are in middle or high school, the older people in their lives should encourage them to get involved in extracurricular activities and join some type of youth group or club that makes them feel as is they are a part of something. This could include, but is certainly not limited to the school’s band, little league, and Pop Warner or a junior league sports team. Don’t forget that every child’s personality is different, and their, not our own interest, is what’s important when looking for the right fit to fill their spare time.


Sports or outdoor activities may not be of interest to some children. Chorus and orchestra programs, the Boy or Girl Scouts, Big Brothers and Big Sisters Clubs, rocketry, robotics, photography, computer coding clubs, and others of the more intellectually based themes could quickly pique a young person’s interest that may get no joy from doing a more physical activities. Remember, it’s their interest, not yours’s you are searching for. Just because you excelled as a high school sports star, doesn’t mean that your child will be happy involved in sports. Tell the young person you’re working with that getting involved with such activities during their school years can help them meet other children with like interest, help them make new friends, and be more successful in their later lives. Your support in whatever activity they choose means a great deal. Once again, this can help to make your child a happier person who feels they are successful, thus having a healthy self-esteem. Whether it’s you interest or not, being at the science fair, the dance recital, or the spelling bee is important if your child is interested and participating.


Adults should encourage young people to enjoy themselves during their school and formative years. Feelings of isolation can seep into the lives of people of all ages, especially the young. However, pushing a child into an activity that simply doesn’t fit their personality can lead to further problems. That feeling of being alone, depressed, and angry can easily begin when a child feels they have disappointed you or that they are different than everyone else and they simply don’t fit in anywhere. This is not the case. For every interest, there are other children that share those interests.


School years can and should be some of the happiest years of a person’s life They set the tone for the years to come. Remember, stress with the child that fulfillment leads to happiness and happiness is necessary to prevent feelings of depression or failure in the future. These types of feelings can eventually allow thoughts of self-harm to plant themselves in a child's, adolescent's, or young adult’s mind. Teachers in Lexington County and all South Carolina schools should closely monitor their students and encourage them to make friends and involve themselves with the appropriate extracurricular activities during their school years. School guidance counselors are particularly adept at working with children who seem unhappy and removed from the day-to-day activities that appear to please many of the other children teachers see and work with daily. Close communications between a school's educational team and a child’s parent or legal guardian may prevent tragedies that range from self-harm to some of the acts of abhorrent violence we’ve seen perpetrated by teens and young adults against others nationwide.

Second, parents should want their children to be safe and not be involved with mischief or misdeeds during their school years and beyond. People should encourage children not to be involved with the wrong crowd in school or at home. Often, people who act as friends, mentors, or supporters do not truly have your young person’s back. They don't really want what’s best for the child in the long run. This type of unhealthy relationship can lead to a child being sexually abused or into situations where they began to have negative contacts with the law enforcement in school or your community. No matter how busy you might become, blindly trusting your child’s care with someone who seems to have your child’s best interest at heart can be dangerous and lead to a multitude of negative results. Use caution!


Parents and guardians also want to educate and encourage young people not to smoke, drink, or take drugs, especially at a young age. These dangerous substances are not good for anyone’s health and young people often use illegal or inappropriate substances to self-medicate when a qualified doctor is what is truly needed if a child is struggling with emotional health issues. Don't be afraid to seelk professional help if neccesary. It's okay to admit that you could be over your head on some issues. Drugs and alcohol distort the mind and often cause people to act out of character. This is especially true for children. If you see these types of behaviors cropping up, ask a child's pedeatrician or a school's guidance team for support in finding the appropriate person or practice with expertise in children's emotional health and wellness. The mind of a child is vastly different than that of a mature adult and this should be recognized when looking for help.


Parents should encourage students to stay at home with them as much as possible when they are young. As your child grows older and begins to build a group of friends, often when they approach their teenage years and puberty, and wants to begin “hanging out” away from home, vet those friends and their families carefully. If a friend’s parents are not willing to openly communicate with you regarding what the young people are doing while they are away from your home, they certainly wouldn’t seem to have the best interest of the young people at heart. Questions like, will there be an adult present during the entire time you and your friends are hanging out, who is that adult, and how can I reach them quickly if I need to, should be easily answered. If not, this should be a huge RED FLAG and you should thoughtfully reconsider how much time your child spends with that friend!


Thirdly, teachers and guidance counselors are some of your best allies when you are working to steer your child down the right path in their formative years. Communicate with your child’s school team to prevent students from falling through the cracks. Administrators, teachers, and guidance counselors are there for the support of the student, their parents, and other stakeholders that come into contact and work with your child. You are your child’s best advocate when it comes to education. While in most cases, educators do have the best interest of all students at heart, watch closely. If they’ve been using the same general educational plan for multiple years with your student and you see your child’s education stall, regress, and not progress, this should indicate that what’s being used is inappropriate. If your child is falling behind, showing bad behavior at school, or simply seems unhappy after school each day, it may be time for you to step in and fight for a change in your child’s school experience. Perhaps what you see and hear at home might change the plan the school is using to educate your child. They should listen to you and what you have to say. Who would know your child better?


If a student recently lost a loved one, someone like a grandparent, sibling, friend, or close acquaintance, the support of a school guidance counselor or their teachers is extremely important. They can offer prayers, kind words, and gestures during these trying time. Teachers and educators should also join you in ensuring young people that if they’ve recently lost somebody they love, the good memories of the loved one will last forever however the crushing feeling of despair and the search for understanding in the loss will eventually pass. We may never understand why someone we love has passed, especially if they were young, however we can assure the child that this person is no longer suffering or in pain and is at peace. If you’re a Christian, a child should eventually understand that they will some day be reunited with the individual they’ve lost.


Teachers and educators can be a parent’s best ally when young people reach an age where peer pressure and curiosity can promote trying drugs, alcohol, or addictive tobacco products. In the public school system, the use or possession of these illegal substances on campus is almost always an expellable offense. In most cases, the behavior can also involve the school’s resource officer and your child can quickly find themselves facing a trip to Family Court and whatever punishment comes from that. If a child’s grades, behavior, and attitude quickly changes for the worse at school or home, communicating with that child’s educational team should be a first step to finding the root cause of these behaviors so that they can be addressed and quickly brought to a stop.


Lastly, parents and educators should encourage young people to get a good education so they can be productive citizens and obtain a career that is fulfilling after they have completed their education. Again, you are your child’s advocate with the school system should include your child’s interest and abilities when working with the educational team to establish a course work schedule. In today’s school system, several tracts or often available depending on whether your child has an interest in going straight into a career or going on to a college or technical school. If you are proud of your work and make an honest living by holding down a job you love, that sets an example for your young person as they mature. Remember that fulfilment is the key to happiness, not the size of the salary a person earns. If you involve yourself with good honest work and can make a living while being happy at what you do, your work can be a great source of pride. Work, and the ability to make a living, shows that you will labor and persevere. A young person should understand as they grow that working and having a career will be a significant part of their lives as they grow older. School consumes between 12 and 14 years of a child's life depending on what age they began kindergarten. Their work should keep them both happy and healthy as they age. After all, it will consume the greatest portion of their lives.


Childhood is the most idealistic and grand part of a person’s life. Young people often miss the fact that this is the time when the world is their oyster. It puts them on the path to reaching all their dreams. We would never want to exasperate our children to the point where they don't feel safe and loved. This can easily make them question their existence and they may eventually want them to hurt themselves in some way. These frustrating feelings can even lead to suicide. As parents, we should want our children to feel happy and ensure that they reach their full potential. Hopefully, this will lead them to a happy, healthy life.

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Steven Hawkins is a Freelance writer from Greenville SC. Hawkins was once a Peer Counselor with the South Carolina Department of Social Services Greenville office.


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