Tag Archives: research

Parental Mental Health

In recent years, a great deal of work has been done both in Northern Ireland and more globally to combat the stigma associated with mental health issues. We now know that about one in five people will suffer a mental illness serious enough to require treatment throughout their lives (Mental Health Foundation, 2016). The exact causes of various mental illnesses are highly complicated – they are a complex mix of genetics, experiences in life and random chance.

Certain factors can make mental ill health more or less likely, or can increase or decrease the length of illness. One such factor is being a parent. Rates of clinical depression can be as high as 35% in mothers with young children (Smith, 2004). Being a parent is stressful, and when combined with other potential stresses like being a single parent, poverty or physical illness the likelihood of causing a drop in mental wellbeing, such as anxiety or depression is higher.

Being a person with mental ill-health is extremely challenging. There is an enormous stigma associated with being mentally unwell – despite concerted attempts to address it. Research has suggested that people with mental illnesses are among the most devalued of all people with disabilities (Lyons & Hayes, 1995). This is especially true of parents with mental illness. There is a perception that parents with mental illness are unfit or unable to parent their children (Bassett et al, 1999) in society. Such parents feel that the healthcare and social services systems treat them poorly.

Despite this, many people with mental illness have children. One study found that as many as 60% of people with serious, chronic mental illness had a child under the age of 16 (Smith, 2004). For those parents, there are a number of specific challenges, such as (from Bassett et al 1999):

* Their existence as parents was often ignored. Poor link ups between adult mental health and children’s services made it hard for treatment to acknowledge their parenthood;
* They feared losing custody of their children;
* If they were hospitalised, they were often traumatised by this;
* They are socially isolated;
* They worried about the care of their child if they became ill;
* They struggled to access help and support;
* They faced stigma.

For more information on the impacts and seeking support you can read the full report in the link below.

Read the full report

Click here to download the full article and find out more about the research around parental mental health. Our Support Line is also available on 0808 8010 722.

You can also have a listen to our latest podcast episode where we chat to Tinylife about their Positive Minds for Premature Parents project and talk to mums about their experiences with mental health after having a premature baby.

Call for research participants

The lived parental experience of child- to-parent abuse in Northern Ireland

Invitation

If you have completed the Parenting NI ‘walking on egg shells’ programme you are being invited to take  part in a research study which seeks to explore the experiences of parents and carers who have encountered child-to-parent abuse. Before you decide it is important for you to understand why the research is being undertaken and what it will involve. Please take time to read the following information carefully and discuss it with others if you wish. Please ask if there is anything that is not clear or if you would like more information.

The study is being undertaken by Elizabeth Cowdean, an MSc Psychology student at Queens University Belfast and is being supervised by Dr. Katrina Mc Laughlin. This research study has been approved by the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Ethic Committee at Queen’s University Belfast.

What is the research about?

Child and adolescent abuse towards their parent/s or carer/s is a worldwide phenomenon and furthermore is increasing at an alarming rate.  However, to date very little research has been taken into this area (as opposed to other forms of family violence). Therefore, the main aim of this research is to understand this experience that is present within many homes and effects many families. We want to learn more about what parents and carers have to say about child-to-parent abuse and what can be done to prevent it. We also want to find out about the ‘Walking on eggshells’ programme and what it was like taking part in it.

What would I be asked to do if I took part?

The interview will be conducted by Elizabeth Cowdean, an Msc Psychology student from Queens University Belfast who will help you talk about your experiences by posing a few questions. This interview is an opportunity for you to tell your story.  Elizabeth will help you identify which aspects you most want to talk about and will be interested in hearing whatever you think is important about your experiences of child-to-parent abuse.

The interview will take approximately 60 minutes and will take place in the Parenting NI Belfast office, within a room where other people cannot hear what you are saying and in which you feel comfortable. This interview will be recorded so that there is an accurate record of what has been said. You can ask for the recording to be stopped at any time during the interview.

What about confidentiality?

After the interview, Elizabeth will listen to the recording and type up what was said, your interview will then be deleted from the audio recorder. All recording equipment and typed up interviews will be kept securely in a locked environment. Within any written transcripts or finished typed materials your name (and the names of any other identifiable people or places) will be changed to aid anonymity.

Everything you say in the interview is completely confidential and will be anonymised within the written dissertation. However, if someone who is being interviewed did say that they, or someone else, were at risk of harm or danger then Elizabeth would be obliged to inform another person about this.

What happens to the collected data?

When the interviews have finished Elizabeth will look at the interviews that have been conducted as she will want to use quotes from interviews in the written material she will produce from this research. Elizabeth will remove any information which could be used to identify you or anyone else you have mentioned during the interview. The written material will be used to help those who work in the area of child- to-parent abuse to better understand the perspectives of parents and carers affected by this form of abuse/violence.

What happens if I do not want to take part or change my mind?

You do not have to take part in the research if you do not want to. Feel free to ask Elizabeth any questions that you have about taking part and if you do decide to take part, you do not have to answer any questions you do not want to answer.

If you change your mind about being involved in the research you can stop the interview at any time without having to explain your reason for doing so.

If you wish to withdraw from the study after your interview has taken place you can do so and ask that any information you supplied (which will now be in the form of an audio recording or a typed transcript) be withdrawn or destroyed. Elizabeth must be contacted and informed of your decision no later than one week after the interview has been conducted.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact Elizabeth. Please do so by emailing: ecowdean01@qub.ac.uk

Active Dads: Parents Article on Dads & Exercise

Fathers play an important role in the lives of their children. Children who have supportive, close and positive relationships with their fathers do better mentally, academically and physically in life. In addition, studies have shown that children whose fathers embrace being a parent confidently have lower levels of behavioural issues as teenagers. Despite this, many fathers struggle with practical actions that they can take to have a constructive impact on their children.

One key area that fathers have been shown to have a particular role to play is physical activity. Parental levels of activity in general and supportive attitudes are important indicators of how active a child is. The most important single factor, however, is paternal activity levels. In other words, having a physically active father makes kids more likely to be active too.

Research has found:

  • a consistent relationship between the child’s activity level and the father’s activity level
  • results were the same irrespective of age or weight
  • children are twice as likely to be active if their mother was, but three and a half times more likely if their father is
  • dad’s physical activity had a bigger impact on girls than boys
  • children who have one parent who is supportive of physical activity are more likely to continue being active, and even more likely if both parents are

How do I do it?

The easiest and potentially most rewarding way to encourage physical activity in your children as a father is to include them where possible in the activities you do. The NHS has a helpful guide for how much physical activity is suitable for children of various ages:

  • Babies should be encouraged to active throughout the day e.g. When they begin to crawl, stimulating play is good;
  • Toddlers who are able to walk unaided should be active for around 3 hours a day. Active play, such as at a play park, ball games or skipping is suitable;
  • As children get older, from age 5 until 18, it is recommended that they are active for at least 60 minutes a day. This should be moderate to vigorous activity such as sports, running or other exercise.

Click here to read the full report. 

Reading with your Children

Reading to your children, particularly in the form of a bed-time story is one of the great joys of parenthood. 

Reading brings parents and children closer together, gives you an opportunity to spend quality time with your child and can also be beneficial for your own mental wellbeing.

Finding time to read with your children can often be a challenge, as well as how to get the most out of reading. Parents often put pressure on themselves to spend long periods of time reading with their child. However, research suggests that even 10 minutes of reading a day can have a dramatic impact (BBC, 2013).

BookTrust, the UK’s largest children’s reading charity notes that it is never too early to start reading with your children. Even an unborn child can hear you after 18 weeks – and will recognise your voice. Reading to your infant in the early stages can help to build a strong, loving relationship with your child.

In addition, some parents are unsure if it is valuable to continue to read to children once they reach young primary age – around 7 years old. However, children themselves suggest that they would like reading to continue. A report in February 2018 found that only half of pre-school children were read to daily. Parents gave a range of reasons why this was the case – around a fifth said that they struggled to find the energy at the end of the day. Only 16% said that their children preferred to do other things (Flood, 2018).

A key question is, does it help them to learn? Does reading to your child help them to develop reading and language comprehension skills? A series of studies have been done with parents and children across the world to help determine what (if any) affect reading to your child has on their learning. The good news is, research which examined programmes to help promote books and reading to babies and young children demonstrate positive long-term effects on their development (Vanobbergen, 2009). In particular, children who are more familiar with books show improvements in reading, social skills, language development and other areas.

Another benefit of reading with your children is that it can reduce behavioural problems. A study by the New York University School of Medicine found that reading with children can reduce aggression, hyperactivity and difficulty with attention (Mendelsohn, 2018). One theory suggests that the reason for this is that children who are read to and engaged with are happier, and parents who read to their children enjoy this time. This helps to foster a positive relationship which has positive outcomes for mental health and behaviour.

Some studies have found that if parents are trying to improve their child’s own reading ability it may not be enough to just read to a child. Instead, a form of interaction that involves dialogue – children asking and being asked questions – has a more dramatic effect on their learning. It is important when reading to your child to name letters, make the sounds and otherwise encourage them to interact with the book or story. (Phillips et al. 2008). When reading to your child, answer the questions that they pose about the book. By doing so, you can help to teach them that print conveys information. Providing them with experiences of story-books helps to build a foundation that translates directly into a more formal reading situation (Saracho & Spodek, 2010).

These advantages can be particularly important for children who have reading difficulties, or who are behind in their learning. Children who had poor vocabulary in preschool showed improvement when they were introduced to new words and expressions via print and illustrations (Hargrave & Sénéchal, 2000). As with all reading, these improvements were reliant on active participation by the child in reading.

Some parents struggle because their children do not seek out, or do not seem to enjoy reading. Only about 55% of children said that they enjoy reading by age 15 (Clark, 2016). However, it is possible that at least part of the reason that some children do not enjoy reading because they find it difficult. Much higher percentages of children who are high-achieving at school say that they enjoy reading. Previous studies have outlined that early reading experiences, including shared reading with parents help promote stronger reading skills later in life.

PBS, the US public service broadcaster, gives three tips for parents seeking to encourage a reluctant reader:

* Hone in on your child’s interests. If you have an interest in sport, or a particular genre of material, choose reading experiences centred on those;

* Start small – pick easier to read, shorter reading experiences at first and build up to more substantial books;

* Practice “shared” reading. Make sure that you child is engaged and interested in the books you read together. Ask questions, and encourage them to ask about anything they do not understand.

It can be difficult to find the time and energy to read with your children. Especially if you are seeking to read in an engaged manner. However, the experts are clear that the benefits are dramatic. As with most parenting support, communication can be key to success. Talking to your children about the importance of reading, taking time to ensure that you are reading what they are interested in and modelling good behaviour by reading yourself are all useful in encouraging your child’s literary curiosity.

Listen to our podcast on this topic:

More about Reading

Read other Parenting NI tips and articles on reading.

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Parents have little hope for Children’s future in Northern Ireland

Leading parenting support charity have launched the findings from a first of its kind study, revealing the realities of parenting in Northern Ireland.

A survey carried out with 1,192 parents across Northern Ireland in the latter part of 2018 has found that parents are worried about their children’s future. 66% of parents said they were more worried than hopeful about parenting in the future. Parents overwhelmingly identified more challenges than opportunities for their children, with their main concerns being the impact of technology and social media on young people, mental health and the cost of childcare.

Many parents also expressed frustration at the current political uncertainty; they conveyed concern that important decisions are not being made which is having a deleterious impact on health and education budgets. This in turn is putting more pressure on families, with long waiting lists for services and parents being asked to plug the funding gap in schools.

Another worrying figure is that 82% of survey participants said they do not feel parents get enough support. Parents’ answers indicated that they felt that society was not very supportive of those in a parenting role and that more could be done to make parents aware of the services that are available to them.

Jenny Smithson, a mother to 3 daughters, spoke of her parenting experiences,

“I am generally an optimist, but even the most optimistic parent has concerns. And even the most confident parent has moments when they think - I’m nowhere near up to this task.

I have concerns about keeping my children safe online and worry about the impact that social media might have. I hope that it won’t shape my girls identity - that the number of likes/followers or whatever else won’t become more important to them than life outside the screen. I also worry about the impact this has on young people’s mental health and trying to teach my children how to deal with their emotions is something that I have found really challenging.

So much of the concerns of a parent are navigating new fears, things that didn’t exist when we were kids, or maybe even the same things, that now seem very different when it is our children facing them.  The world may in many ways seem more daunting, and unstable than it has been, and in general it seems as though hope is at a low ebb. We must not put our heads in the sand.”

Charlene Brooks, Chief Executive at Parenting NI said,

“The findings from this report are deeply concerning. Parents are telling us that they have serious concerns about their children’s future in Northern Ireland and have little hope that it will get better any time soon. We are calling on those in policy making / commissioning roles to give parents a reason to be hopeful again. A lot of the issues parents are concerned about cannot be addressed without a government; we need to have decisions made on policies and strategies that will work to the benefit of families in Northern Ireland.”

Full Report

Read the full report here

Executive Summary

Look at the key findings from the report

For more information...

For media enquiries contact Parenting NI Marketing and Communications Officer Emma Lyttle on 028 9031 0891.

Parent’s Guide: Children & Video Games

Is your child a gamer? Would you like to know more about what your children are playing?

In this special feature, we look at the research and offer some guidance on things to be aware of when it comes to your children’s gaming.

Playing video games has been a popular form of entertainment since the 1970’s. However, has technology has developed and advanced so too has the impact and influence of video games.

Video games can address and explore a wide range of issues just as other forms of media like books, television and films do. But parents are rightly concerned when the content of games like Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto include theft, terrorism and murder. Additionally, there are new and emergent problems such as simulated and real gambling and online gaming with strangers.

“Do video games have a negative impact and should I stop my child from playing them?”

There have been a wide range of studies on video game content, however as technology moves at breakneck speed it is easy to get left behind when it comes to advice and guidance. This puts parents in a difficult situation when weighing up protecting their children from potentially harmful content or inhibiting on their children’s social life. 

The Facts… 

Violence
There is no absolute consensus regarding the impact of video games on children’s health and development. Some studies suggest that children who are exposed to violence in media may become numb to it and show more aggressive behaviour. They also say that younger children and those with emotional, behavioural or learning difficulties may be more influenced by violent images.

On the other hand, many researchers dispute this idea that there is a link between violence in video games and violent behaviour in children. Instead, they suggest that the link between violent content and aggressive behaviour is reliant upon the child’s character. Author and clinical psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore noted:

“People with a personality constellation of being 1) easily upset (high neuroticism), 2) showing little concern for other people’s feelings (low agreeableness), and 3) having a tendency to break rules or act without thinking (low conscientiousness) are particularly susceptible to the negative effects of violent video games”

Additionally, a 2017 study in the Netherlands found that:

“Exposure to ‘violent’ video games at age 9 was not predictive of aggression or reduced prosocial behaviors one year later. Overall gaming, likewise, was unrelated to most mental health issues including attention problems or reduced social functioning, or total mental health difficulties”

It is difficult for parents who are not gamers or have little understanding of it to know whether the games their children ask for are age appropriate from the titles alone. With names that only make sens in context, such as “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” or “Mario & Rabbids: Kingdom Battle”, it is unreasonable to expect parents to know if the content contained in these titles would be suitable for a 7, 10 or 15 year old child. Additionally, every child is different which therefore makes it even more challenging to decide on suitability. Just as with films, what one 12 year old might find exciting or funny may make another anxious or frightened. Truthfully, with regards to violent content in video games only the parent themselves knows their child well enough to make a choice.

Spending

While the majority of concern regarding video games relates to violent imagery, as games have matured the problems they present have developed as well. Recently, there has been a great deal of concern regarding the use of real money in video games to simulate gambling. The most recent example of this was exhibited in “Star Wars Battlefront II”, while Star Wars has a PEGI rating of 16, the use of Star Wars characters makes it popular and much desired by very young children. While the content of the game is fairly tame (mild fantasy violence), worries have been raised regarding “lootboxes” in game.

The concept of “lootboxes”, or extra paid content in games is a difficult subject for parents to understand, even when they have some experience of video games themselves. Lootboxes are a form of “Downloadable Content”, or “DLC”. DLC can take the form of major changes or additions to games, or minor cosmetic upgrades, and is released separately from the core game. It must be paid for separately, and is designed to prolong the life cycle of the game.

The issue with DLC like lootboxes is the manner in which it simulates gambling, in particular slot machines. A player pays real-money for a lootbox (in the case of children, this is typically parents money) and receives a number of randomised items. The issue is that the item which the player wishes to get – a character or weapon, for example – is not guaranteed to be in the box. An example is shown below:

The problems with this system can be seen for adults, but the effect of promoting such pseudo-gambling behaviour to children is potentially dangerous. The addition of popular children’s characters such as Luke Skywalker or Yoda to the mix only increases the issue. The game’s publisher, Electronic Arts has vigorously denied that these mechanics are gambling, stating:

“Creating a fair and fun game experience is of critical importance to EA. The crate mechanics of Star Wars Battlefront 2 are not gambling”

However, this has been contested by a number of jurisdictions. In Belgium, The Netherlands and the US State of Hawaii, formal investigations have opened into whether these mechanics are gambling.

Regardless of the exact legal nature of specific mechanics, the simple existence of the potential to spend vast sums of money (Star Wars Battlefront II, for example, could potential cost a whopping £1,600 to unlock every aspect of the game) is deeply worrying for parents. Whereas in the 80’s and 90’s, a child might at worst ask for a £60 or £70 game, today’s children potentially could end up spending much larger sums. This concern is particularly acute for children or young people who have their own money (such as teenagers).

Strangers

Much like the internet at large, video games which are played online offer a number of exciting opportunities. Children could benefit from playing with friends, especially when they are far away geographically. Team-building and co-working can help to foster good behaviours and strategies in children. A report by RMIT University in Australia found that children who played online games every day score 15 points above the average in maths and 17 points above the average in science.

Nonetheless, there is danger of so-called “grooming” by adults of children playing online games. This process operates similar to groom on social media platforms. Children are connected to strangers and adults online via video games, and this allows a potential for abuse. In January 2017, Adam Isaac was convicted of a range of criminal activities involving children he met through popular online game “Minecraft”.

The Good News…

Despite the concerns regarding video games, it is important for parents to recognise that there are distinct and unique benefits for children of playing video games. These are especially pronounced in games that have an educational aspect to them. Research professor Peter Gray Ph.D wrote that:

“Repeated experiments have shown that playing fast-paced action video games can quite markedly increase players’ scores on tests of visuospatial ability, including tests that are used as components of standard IQ tests. Other studies suggest that, depending on the type of game, video games can also increase scores on measures of working memory (the ability to hold several items of information in mind at once), critical thinking, and problem solving. In addition, there is growing evidence that kids who previously showed little interest in reading and writing are now acquiring advanced literacy skills through the text-based communication in on-line video games.”

The American Psychological Association published an extensive report in 2013 which identified a litany of potential benefits for children associated with the playing of video games. Video games were linked to improvements in spatial navigation, reasoning, memory and perception in children.

Additionally, video games can help children socially, as up to 70% of gamers play with friends in the same room and this co-play activity helps to improve prosocial activities that help with social development. In an increasingly isolated and anti-social environment that children operate in, video gaming often provides an outlet for social play.

Help is at hand

Ratings
Thankfully, parents are not alone in this. In addition to voluntary services (such as the Parenting NI helpline), video games in Europe are rated by PEGI. This rating, which must be listed on the box of a game, or on the store page if the game is listed online, gives an idea of what sort of content is included. The criteria are listed below:


PEGI 3: The content of games given this rating is considered suitable for all age groups. Some violence in a comical context (typically Bugs Bunny or Tom & Jerry cartoon-like forms of violence) is acceptable. The child should not be able to associate the character on the screen with real life characters, they should be totally fantasy. The game should not contain any sounds or pictures that are likely to scare or frighten young children. No bad language should be heard.

PEGI 7: Any game that would normally be rated at 3 but contains some possibly frightening scenes or sounds may be considered suitable in this category.

PEGI 12: Videogames that show violence of a slightly more graphic nature towards fantasy character and/or non graphic violence towards human-looking characters or recognisable animals, as well as videogames that show nudity of a slightly more graphic nature would fall in this age category. Any bad language in this category must be mild and fall short of sexual expletives.

PEGI 16: This rating is applied once the depiction of violence (or sexual activity) reaches a stage that looks the same as would be expected in real life. More extreme bad language, the concept of the use of tobacco and drugs and the depiction of criminal activities can be content of games that are rated 16.

PEGI 18: The adult classification is applied when the level of violence reaches a stage where it becomes a depiction of gross violence and/or includes elements of specific types of violence. Gross violence is the most difficult to define since it can be very subjective in many cases, but in general terms it can be classed as the depictions of violence that would make the viewer feel a sense of revulsion.

PEGI also lists a number of reasons for their rating, including drug use, discrimination or violence. Reading and understanding the ratings for the games your children are playing is highly recommended. PEGI is a legal mechanism, which is backed up by the government. This means that retailers must make every attempt to prevent children under the suggested age from buying the games – however, it is not illegal for children to play a game they are underage for.

Parental Settings
In addition to regulation and ratings, many game companies and publishers have installed parental settings and controls built into games consoles or games themselves. The best example recently is the parental control on the Nintendo Switch. The Switch has a sophisticated array of controls, including:

  • Control of total play times;
  • Deciding which games to allow, and which are blocked entirely;
  • Which online features are allowed

You can control this via an app installed on a tablet or phone. While Nintendo has been particularly proactive in this regard, most games consoles have at least some level of parental controls.

However, these features are almost never on by default. As such, it is essential that parents seek advice and familiarise themselves with parental controls before giving the console to the child.

Talk
As with almost every parenting issue, the single most effective tool to combat the negatives of video games is good parent to child communication. Particularly with older children, it is important that parents take the time to talk about the games their children are playing. Talking to your child about games can help you understand more about their content and voicing your concerns ensures that your child understands the risks. 

It is important that your child feels that they can come to you if something happens that worries or frightens them. They are less likely to do so if they think that you will not “get it”. By chatting about what they are doing before something happens a parent can build their child’s resilience and ensure that they talk to you when things go wrong.

In conclusion, there is no settled opinion regarding the risks versus benefits of children playing games. There are certainly issues, relating to the appropriateness of content for children, potential spending of money and online activity. However, there are equal and opposite suggestions that playing of video games can be highly beneficial for children.

Like many parenting problems, there is no simple one-size fits all solution to video games. The best and only manner in which parents can take a level of control is by taking a proactive interest in the games that their children play. While the world of video games can be particularly opaque and difficult for parents to access, particularly if they are not tech-savvy themselves, taking a level of interest is the best way to protect children.