As the mom of a 15 year old and an 11 year old I have been inundated with questions by them about the rash of horrible shootings and teens behaving like savages. More specifically the awful shooting that just occurred in Fort Lauderdale and the four teens who savagely taunted a mentally challenged peer. I think as a parent my most pressing concern is not only about how to keep my kid safe, but more so what are the signs that my child could potentially be harboring the feelings any of these gunmen did.
As a parent how can I identify if my child is in trouble. Apparently this latest shooter did have some mental health problems. So what were the other red flags parents and loved ones missed? I think these are all tough questions but ones parents need to ask themselves. Who are their kids hanging out with? What are their kids doing in their virtual lives? Of course the signs we need to see are in teens, as they are the ones doing the violence, but I’d just like to know about earlier signs and red flags that might even be helped in younger years.
So I asked Barbara Greenberg; Ph.D. for her thoughts on a topic that EVERY PARENT needs to be made aware of- SIGNS that your Kid is in trouble.
#1 How early can we parents see signs of trouble in our children?
Dr. Greenberg: I think the signs that a child is starting to move off the mental health positive track can be seen as soon as a child is in a group setting with other kids- and can be as early as pre-school or kindergarten and is in a group setting.
#2 Is a child troubled from birth- is it genetic or is his behavior a product of his environment and ultimately the way he/she was parented?
Dr. Greenberg: Keep in mind just because the same parents raised three kids- each kid is born with a different temperament like for example- there are some babies who are easy to pacify from birth they are natural born cuddlers while there are other babies who are irritable and slow to warm up. We all come out of the womb differently- Parents could have three children with nice and easy temperaments and the fourth doesn’t get along with the family, doesn’t interact easily with them- gets irritated by things that make their siblings laugh.
#3 So what should a parent do about a child that is different?
Dr. Greenberg: As soon as this child gets int o a group setting parents MUST stay attuned; talk to their teachers and observe how/if their child is able to interact with other kids. If your child is able to make friends that is a good thing. Kids sense things- and when kids leave out other kids and don’t want to play with them–that is a sign that something is wrong. Parents have to look at how other kids respond to other child- and parents must observe HOW their child is treating the other kids.
Parents need to observe if, in their environment/school, their child is making connections. If their child is NOT making these friends and connections parents need to keep their eye on that kid- and get him/her in a school setting that will make him/her be successful in their environment. Parents need to be cognizant that they are NOT putting their child in an environment where they are not making connections. This means their kids are not having good experiences- socially and academically. It is very important- since this could lead to problems down the line.
Kids are rarely born as BAD SEEDS- rather they act out because a lot can’t articulate at a young age what they are feeling- they don’t have language to say what’s troubling them– so they start to act out and get into trouble. For PARENTS THIS IS A RED FLAG:When you see your kid acting out- think; what is my child sad and upset about? I think sometimes we are too quick to punish- first ask what your child is sad about and what is going on.
#4 What is your take on this latest gunman’s upbringing?
Dr. Greenberg: My speculation- it would be highly unlikely that they weren’t problems from an early age– and when you see that as a parent it is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to help get your kid get in a good environment. In psychology we call this a GOODNESS of fit: how good is the fit; is my child thriving in this school? is it the right place for them– as a parent your should always be looking at the goodness of fit in terms of where you are placing your child and who they are playing with.
#5 How can a parent determine GOODNESS of Fit for a child that seems to be in trouble?
Dr. Greenberg: You talk to all your child’s teachers- find out what is going on. Take your child to a therapist to get a good evaluation. Observe your kid everywhere. Get them help and put them in right environment where they could feel better. There is hope for everyone- you need to talk to every person in your kid’s life.
#6 As children get older how can parents jeep this watchful eye on them?
Dr. Greenberg: Watch what your kids are doing in social media. They are seeing all this sexual stuff. Yes kids will be angry- parents are afraid of their kids’ anger- but parents have to remember that they are not the friend- they are the parent. It is the job of the parent to keep your child safe and healthy and if they will get angry that you are invading their privacy- so be it
#7 What should parents be looking for?
Dr. Greenberg: A change in their behavior– how your child is spending their time- what kind of social connections they have- how they are functioning in comparison to their peers- signs of acting out or social withdrawal- if you see any of these signs you RUN don’t walk and get your kids into therapy. If you feel your kid is a danger to himself and others you put him in a place that he can be watched – don’t be afraid of medications- they can save the life of your kid and people around your child.
#8 What else can parents do if they think their kids are in trouble?
Dr. Greenberg: Arrange opportunities for them to have success and pleasure and fun in their life. Every kid needs to feel loved, to play and feel necessary- But kids also need responsibility and accountability-the research shows that kids thrive with rules and they secretly want them. We all thrive with structure and rules in our lives- and if you don’t give them rules and structure the kids see their parents as negligent. Kids don’t need permissive parents- they need parents that provide rules. Parents really have to watch their kids and in the virtual world- If you are not monitoring your kids on social media – as a parent you are being negligent. Parents need to grab that window like it is nobody’s business– social media is a window into your kid’s inner life– just as our mothers looked out the window and watched us play as kids- this is a window into your kid’s life –so why would you not look into it?