Psych expert calls out ‘finger pointers’ in wake of violence
AS REPORTS of school-aged children bashing each other at the new Gracemere BMX track abound, a psychology lecturer has called for positive opportunities for young people, and their parents, to engage with each other and the community.
Dr Cassy Dittman, an honorary researcher with the Parenting and Family Support Centre at UQ, and a lecturer at CQUniversity, said social media could be both a blessing and a curse when it came to providing parents with support.
“I think social media and instant recording increases our perception that things are going wrong more often these days,” she said.
“And I think a lot of the people complaining are at that age when they don’t have teens at home themselves anymore, so they don’t remember just how hard it is.
“Social media puts additional pressure on parents to be perfect, to do everything the right way.”
Over a long career in researching and publishing about child and parent behaviour, Dr Dittman concludes the best way to prevent issues is to monitor where the child is spending time, how and with whom.
But it’s a conversation which needs to start earlier rather than later.
“Parents need to be having those conversations with kids from the time they’re very young so they feel comfortable disclosing when things go wrong,” she said.
“Then parents can tell them they still love and support them, but will take steps to make sure the unwanted behaviour doesn’t happen again.
“If parents come across as too strict and critical, kids won’t grow up to tell them what’s going in their lives.”
Dr Dittman said initiatives such as Triple P, the Positive Early Childhood Education program, were an excellent starting point for parents but were not widely known about “outside the southeast corner”.
“The word isn’t getting out to regional areas that there are free, government-funded programs to help.”
Research out of the US suggests kids who feel “disengaged and disenfranchised” can benefit from community efforts such as after-school programs where they learn to interact with other adults in a positive manner.
“It breaks your heart to hear stories from school teachers whose students say school is the only place they can come to for a sleep, for food, or for a quiet place to get away from the stresses of their homes,” Dr Dittman said.
“There’s got to be a more empathetic, ‘wrap around’ response from the community rather than going online and calling these kids names.”
Dr Dittman said she was not qualified to comment on calls for more fostering arrangements for children from dysfunctional homes but “her hat goes off” to child protection workers who were making those decisions under difficult circumstances.
“One of the challenges is there’s no clear funding stream or line of responsibility when it comes to the governments dealing with parenting and parental support,” she said.
“Each department thinks they’ve got good ideas but they’re not coming together to show parents when and where to seek help.
“It’s important parents see early support as a natural go to, rather than it ticking the boxes on some Government-imposed work program.”
Dr Dittman said, trolls aside, social media could prove helpful for parents “putting it out there” they’re having difficulties to build support networks.
“Other parents often band around and tell them they’re not alone, offer them understanding and empathy,” she said.
And as for calls for the council to equip Gracemere BMX track with security cameras?
“They’re not a prevention; they’re dealing with the aftermath,” she said.
“I understand ratepayers want to look after and access their facilities as long as possible, but rather than name calling and finger pointing, what’s needed are some constructive community strategies.”