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RAISING MENTALLY HEALTHY KIDS

Matt Leavenworth, MA, LCPC

Matt Leavenworth has been a licensed counselor with Yellowstone Counseling Center since 2015, and is the Vice-Chair of the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Yellowstone Valley. He graduated from Adams State University in 2015 with a Master of Arts Degree in Mental Health Counseling and is currently working through the same school towards his PhD in counselor education and supervision. He has extensive experience seeing children and adults dealing with a range of disorders, including anxiety, depression, and trauma. He has completed trainings in Trauma-Based Cognitive Behavioral Counseling and uses rock climbing as a tool to empower and heal clients. He is currently offering groups for male and female teenagers as well as individual programs that use rock climbing as an experimental template for growth and development. He has developed the Pay Love Forward mentorship system and is certified in Mentor Coaching and Leadership Development through Grandview University.  He is also an experienced rock climber, having completed multiple multi-day ascents in Yosemite, including El Capitan and Half Dome. He has a deep love for climbing and believes that the skills learned in this class translate to skills that operate in the real world.

Matt's is the third webinar in the 2022 Parent Empowerment Speaker Series. In this presentation he starts by sharing startling statistics to help us recognize the scope of the problem our children are facing with mental health challenges. He then dedicates the remainder of his presentation to empower us with tools to confront those  challenges in compassionate ways. Matt's presentation is filled with hope and encouragement. Don't miss this one.

To provide valuable feedback on Matt's presentation or to ask him a follow-up question, please complete this brief survey.

Q&A

How young is too young to talk about suicide? (A family member committed suicide)

This is such a difficult question.  Being in close proximity to suicide can set off so many alarm bells for us as parents, and it can be challenging to know when we need to prepare our children and when we need to preserve their innocence.  We live in an information age, and our children are simply confronting things that we would like them to be spared from at a much earlier age.  The average encounter with pornography is now eight years old.  Our kids are discovering things beyond their maturity level all the time.  I often tell parents, “if you don’t teach your child about healthy sexuality, the internet will.” 

 

I am a believer in honesty with our children.  Children are incredibly courageous and capable of engaging in meaningful ways with the information we give them.  They do so well with what they can prepare themselves for emotionally.  I see children do poorly with things that are hidden from them.  Finding out you are adopted late in life is an example of a profoundly traumatic discovery for a young person.  Trust the resilience of your child.  Trust in their inner capacity to learn and overcome.  Those are the qualities that, when nurtured, really enable us to be successful not just as children but as they grow into healthy adults. 

 

Eight is definitely a little bit on the young side for talking about suicide.  There are many variables to consider, including the closeness of your child’s proximity to the trauma and the child’s maturity level.  I would certainly caution you about introducing unnecessary stressors to an eight-year-old, especially if they might be oblivious to what had happened.  At 11 and 12, in close proximity to suicide, you should be having a conversation with your child.  If you are concerned about their wellbeing, you need to ask direct questions.  “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”  “Do you have a plan?”  Consult your family doctor for screening if you have any concerns. 

 

This is a serious enough issue that I would recommend contacting a licensed counselor.  A trained counselor can be effective at helping you navigate difficult conversations, especially at an early age.  I would highly recommend you consult a professional or talk with your pediatrician.  Even scheduling with a counselor for some psychoeducation before sitting down with your child can be helpful and let the counselor know that you are not hoping for long-term care.  Even a single visit with your child can be a great way to screen for your child’s safety.

At what age should a child have a cell phone? 

I appreciate these questions, and I understand the desire to have a specific age for when to introduce the next major developmental milestone into your child’s life.  Unfortunately, the exact age is so dependent on your child’s maturity, circumstance, and level of supervision.   Cell phones are unique pieces of technology, and they are also essential to your child’s capacity to engage with the future in meaningful ways.  Your child needs to be educated about technology because it is a field that is developing so quickly.  It will only create that much more in the future, and the world our children inhabit will be vastly different from the one we now live in. 

 

I vividly remember playing Mario Brothers on the first Nintendo.  I grew up on two-dimensional video games.  I remember being in the office of the University where my Dad worked, where a professor showed him the internet for the first time.  The world is changing so quickly, and it will undoubtedly continue to do so.  We must make it a priority to educate our children about what the future is.  Cell phones can also offer your child the ability to contact you if they are ever in danger.  There are tons of parental controls and technologies that enable you to monitor your child’s internet and social media use.  This is absolutely something you want to do if your child receives access to the internet at an early age.  A cell phone is a privilege you pay for.  Don’t ever let your child forget this, as restriction of cell phone time is one of the best ways of enforcing consequences.

 

The internet is a vast and often unsafe place for your child to have complete access to.  Research demonstrates that early access to social media increases children’s levels of anxiety and depression, mainly if unregulated.  Social space offers access to children from predators, and there is much information about all of us out there that can be easily obtained.  Cell phones also provide complete access to your child from the outside world.  A child with full cell phone access can be constantly bullied.  When I was a kid, you could leave your bully at school.  Now, a young person can be sitting in their room on a Friday night looking at the GPS coordinates of all of their friends attending a party they weren’t invited to.    

 

Know what your child is doing on their cell phone.  Regulate use if necessary, allowing more freedom as trust is built.  Allow technology to work for your family instead of against it.  Institute rules about “no cell phones at the dinner table.”  Encourage conversation with your child.  I often use the “high, low” prompt.  What was the high of your day?  What was the low?  We go around and take turns answering.  This encourages meaningful conversation.  I cannot emphasize the importance of family dinners enough.  They create cohesion and unity in the family and allow you to stay connected with your child’s world as it goes faster and faster.          

 

I hope this helps.  Thanks for the opportunity to present on such vital topics.  Mostly, love your children and have their backs.  I do believe that love wins in the end. 

Disclaimer: The Parent Empowerment Speaker Series is provided by End Exploitation Montana as a public service thanks in part to its generous sponsors. The views expressed by the presenters are not necessarily endorsed or recommended by End Exploitation Montana or its affiliates.