A Ten Year Old With Problems? No Way!!!

What is wrong with these scenarios?

  • "Bobby is 10 years old and we must put him on an anxiety medication”.
  • "Doctor, what is wrong with my 13 year old son?”
  • "Well, Mrs Smith, he is suffering from clinical depression.”
  • "My 14 year old little girl is anorexic? Why? How? From what?”
  • "Mrs. Jones, this is the school counselor calling. I would like to suggest that your child be seen by a psychologist for possible depression.”
  • "But she is only 8 years old!”

Change any of these scenarios to an adult, 25 years old or older, and eliminating any physical cause, most probably we would be thinking about or investigating what stress has befallen these people so that they are unable to cope with healthfully. Anorexia is frequently a coping mechanism itself, but we certainly would not consider it a healthy coping mechanism.

So why are these children’s scenarios not so shocking any more?

I’m in my late 70s. Folks in my generation, or even those somewhat younger, at some time during their younger years, in their 20s or 30s, when life started to become real, and responsibilities started to pile up, often wished that they were "kids again.” It was not unusual to think, "I wish I were ten again and running around the playground”…or as in my specific environment…searching for a broom stick so that I could play stickball in the street. In a sense, there was almost a total lack of direct supervision; although just about every parent felt secure knowing that whatever adult might be around at the time the child was playing, he or she would be looking out for "all” of the children in the area

If we sit back today and just reflect a bit and realize that for us, during those years, there wasn’t even a need for agencies such as a Department of Child and Family Services. Oh yes, there were always Social Services, but not to the scale that we have today, and even then Social Services were probably responsive to more issues relating to adult life than to issues relating to childhood.

Of course those were simpler times when there was less paranoia relating to children’s safety. There was much less concern over abductions, abuses, diseases (except for polio and tuberculosis which were squelched pretty effectively). There weren’t malls with large crowds to be concerned about. However it was not unheard of for a parent to take a 10 or 12 year old to a professional baseball stadium and drop the child off and then pick the child up after the game. As a matter of fact in more urban settings, a 10-12 year old might be going to the game via the trains or public bus without an adult.

In school, kindergarten and first grade were more designed for social development; kindergarten through 4th and 5th grades leaned heavily on motor skills development. The school yard and recess periods were major parts of the school day for the elementary school child. Homework revolved around practicing writing so that it would become legible; looking at a map and learning where places that were difficult to pronounce, were; doing things with numbers such as adding some, dividing one into another, "timesing” one by another, or "taking away” one from another; some reading; some measuring; and some exercises in spatial relations.

Non school hours focused on such "tools” as the broom stick and rubber ball; a baseball bat that was cracked but heavily taped; a baseball with stitches opening up and thus also taped; a football with laces trying to hold in the expanding rubber lining; a newspaper rolled up and taped in case there wasn’t a football available; a bottle cap for a street game; marbles for various contests; and then there were a wide variety of games that were spontaneously invented for when there were no "tools” available. For any "sporting” game, there were not any referees, umpires or coaches. We relied on mutual agreement and perhaps some shouting which quickly subsided as the activity continued.

So it was easy to see why when one entered into the 20-30 year range of life, and there were rough decisions to be made, one might easily think, "Oh I wish I were 10 again, without a care in the world”! "Life was so easy, at that age.”

In today’s world, before the child even enters into formal education such as kindergarten, beginning with pre-school, there are regimented expectations. During the years between 4,5 to 10,12, life is quite structured for the child, both in school as well as out of school. Even "free play” today is "play date” where time, place and with whom is "arranged and supervised.” There is so much to be concerned about today in terms of the child’s safety both physically as well as from a health standpoint. Of course as the parent becomes more concerned and less secure could this increase in parental fear or paranoia (justified or not) be transferred to the child during the ages when the child is most impressionable? Add to that are the demands being made on the child at earlier ages in terms of academic development. Along with all of this has been a diminishing personal capability, and overall availability, of the child’s decision making.

Might this help explain why we seem to be seeing and "diagnosing” more and more emotional instability with the 5 – 12 year old set and more and more needs for chemical as well as counseling (therapeutic) interventions?

When an adult starts buckling under the days or life’s pressures or frustrations, they look to cope. The adult usually recognizes that life is "going south” and "something has to be done.” It may be constructive coping (e.g. talking with someone, seeking professional help, etc.). Or it may be destructive coping (drugs, denial, dropping or acting out, etc.)

The child, when confronted with the days or life’s frustrations or pressures, usually doesn’t think about it. They just "feel” and it is uncomfortable. They may act impulsively and just try to do whatever it takes to make them "feel” right again. They rarely have a sense of "coping” and thus looking for a solution constructively. The adult has problems and often thinks about how to cope. The child has problems and has no experience in finding a coping mechanism.

Another element in today’s child’s life style is the technology that they seem to master at very early ages. A technology that favors less personal contact with others, and getting accustomed to faster response times to quests and tasks. Is this technology, somehow becoming a coping mechanism….and if so is it further removing them from developing personal, and interaction skills? Even teenage socializing seems to revolve more around group dating/interacting as opposed to one on one dating. Isn’t it interesting, how coincidental it is that during the same, recent time span, we are seeing more obesity, less one on one interacting, more attempts at suicide, more categories of emotional disorders, and more drug prescriptions for youngsters.

Perhaps we should think in terms of formally teaching children about coping mechanisms, as part of their formal early education. Perhaps a child should be formally taught about coping, for example, seeking someone out to talk with; how to do the seeking; the choices available of who to seek; or any other "coping” mechanisms applicable to an age span. Such educating can probably be designed around role-playing / acting out or a variety of specially designed games. Perhaps a formal class (or classes) can be designed for the 8 year old (during the 3rd grade) and then something more apropos for the 10 or 11 year old (during the 5th or 6th grades), for reinforcement, and designed for the slightly older child.

A few generations back we could say, "What does a ten year old have to worry about?” "No way does he have problems!” Today, we don’t even ask the question….we just start making a list!


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